Consumers may be permanently lowering debt load, analysis shows

American credit card holders may be in the process of a structural move away from the historically high levels of credit card debt that existed before the recent economic downturn, according to Gerson Lehman analyst Richard Bialek.

Bialek asserts that a “perfect storm” of events – including new regulations from the federal government, changes in consumer behavior, and outside economic occurrences – all contributed to the unprecedented rapidity of the shift away from new consumer debt.

He also warns that this could have a deleterious effect on consumer credit in the future: “Given the reasons for the decline on consumer credit card debt it is likely that the absolute level of consumer debt will continue to decline for the next two quarters and possibly through year end 2010. The secular shift from credit card to debit card usage will not change. CARD Act legislation has and will dampen credit growth.”

Further federal regulation of the financial sector is pending, with Wall Street reforms currently making their way through both houses of Congress.