"Six months older, but less deep in debt." True, the phrase doesn't have a lyrical ring to it. And the second part of it likely won't prove to be true. Nonetheless, it sums up the guarded optimism with which Americans view their finances in the near future. In Gallup polling (in conjunction with a company called Experian), adults were asked whether they reduced or increased their debt in the past six months. Twenty-eight percent said they increased it and 33 percent said they reduced it; 37 percent said it didn't change. What about the next six months? Lo and behold, the number saying they'll increase their debt fell to 15 percent, while the number saying they'll decrease their debt jumped to 52 percent. In other words, the gap between debt-reducers and debt-increasers—a mere 5 percentage points with respect to the past six months—grew to 37 percentage points when people were forecasting their behavior for the next six months. (Another 31 percent said their debt level will remain as is.) There's also a sharp disparity between the number whose debt "increased a lot" during the past six months (13 percent) and the number who expect it to increase a lot in the next six months (5 percent). Six months from now, will data show that a surge of fiscal prudence actually occurred? We'll see. In the meantime, "Takes" fearlessly predicts that the number of people vowing to cut their debt in the six months ahead will always exceed the number who took such action in the previous six months.
For now, higher interest rates are reinforcing people's virtuous impulses. Twenty percent said they're spending less due to recent increases in interest rates. When people were asked whether now is a good time to borrow money, there was an even split between those saying "good" (26 percent) and those saying "bad" (27 percent, with most of the rest saying it's neither good nor bad). Asked how matters will stand six months from now, somewhat fewer respondents said it'll be a good time to borrow (21 percent). There was also a slight drop, though, in the number saying it'll be a bad time to do so (25 percent).
If growing numbers of people are more wary of debt, it's not because they're panicked about handling their bills. Fifty percent said they're very confident about "keeping up with your monthly payments these days," with 23 percent somewhat confident; relatively few are somewhat worried (12 percent) or very worried (5 percent). Looking six months ahead, the figures are even a shade more positive: 53 percent very confident, 24 percent somewhat confident, 11 percent somewhat worried and 4 percent very worried.