Summary: 2010 Survey Of Consumer Finances


Consumer Finance Survey


The Federal Reserve Bank recently released the results of its 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances (“SCF”). This survey’s results are particularly significant because they illustrate the impact of the recent recession on U.S. families.

During the recession, U.S. Gross Domestic Product dropped 5.1%, the unemployment rate increased to 9.5% and major stock market indexes fell nearly 50%.

What is the SCF?

The regular Survey of Consumer Finances is conducted every three years to provide detailed information on the finances of U.S. families. No other study for the country collects comparable information. Data from the SCF are widely used, from analysis at the Federal Reserve Bank and other branches of government to scholarly work at the major economic research centers.

Respondents are selected randomly and participation in the consumer finance study is strictly voluntary. However, because only about 6,500 families were interviewed in the most recent study, every family selected is very important to the results.

Highlights from the 2012 Survey:

  • Not surprisingly, the study found that median family income fell 7.7% to $45,800 from 2007 to 2010. The drop was experienced across most demographic groups. Retirees and non-working families were the notable exceptions.
  • The median net worth declined a staggering 38.8% during the same three-year period. The survey confirmed that the drop in net worth was driven primarily by the broad collapse in home values.
  • Overall, from 2007 to 2010, the proportion of families that reported that they had saved in the preceding year fell substantially, from 56.4% to 52.0%. That decrease pushed the fraction of families reporting saving to the lowest level since the SCF began collecting such information in 1992.
  • In 2010, 6.0% of families reported that their spending usually exceeds their income; 19.6% reported that the two are usually about the same; 34.8% reported that they typically save income “left over” at the end of the year or “unusual” additional income; and 39.6% reported that they save regularly.
  • Families may hold stocks in publicly traded companies directly or indirectly. When direct and indirect forms are combined, the 2010 data show a decline in stock ownership to levels not seen in the SCF since the late 1990s. Between 2007 and 2010, the fraction of families holding any such stock fell 3.3% to 49.9%, a level well below the 2007 peak.
  • Vehicles continue to be the most commonly held nonfinancial asset. From 2007 to 2010, the share of families that owned some type of vehicle edged down 0.3% to 86.7%.
  • The home ownership rate fell 1.3% over the 2007 to 2010 period, to 67.3%. Home ownership had fallen in the previous three-year period as well after reaching a peak of 69.1% of families in 2004. The 2010 home ownership rate was roughly the same as it was in 2001.
  • Paralleling the drop in homeownership, the share of families with debt secured by a primary residence declined in the most recent period, ending a long upward trend dating back to at least the 1989 SCF.
  • The share of families with any type of debt decreased 2.1% to 74.9% over the 2007–10 periods, reversing an increase that had taken place since 2001.
  • The SCF contains a self-assessment of families’ intensity of shopping for borrowing services. In 2010, 53.0% of families reported that they undertake a moderate amount of shopping for borrowing. Only 26.2% of families reported shopping a great deal for loan term information used for decisions about borrowing. The chart below illustrates the percentage of respondents using information when making decisions about borrowing:


Calling Around27.0
Magazine, Newspapers, Other media14.5
Material in the Mail28.3
Friends, Relatives, Associates43.9
Bankers, Brokers and other Sellers of Financial Services39.5
Lawyers, Accountants and other Financial Advisers19.5
Does Not Borrow14.6


  • Installment borrowing is used for a wide variety of purposes. In 2010, 45.1% of such borrowing was related to education, 39.3% was related to the purchase of a vehicle, and 15.6% of outstanding installment debt was owed for other purposes. In 2010, 46.3% of families had installment debt, a decrease of 0.6% from the level in 2007.
  • As with installment loan borrowing, the carrying of credit card balances is widespread, but it is considerably less common among the highest and lowest income groups. The proportion of families carrying a balance, 39.4% in 2010, was down 6.7% from 2007. The decreased prevalence of credit card debt outstanding was widespread and noticeable across most of the demographic groups. Overall, the median balance for those carrying a balance fell 16.1% to $2,600; the mean fell 7.8% to $7,100. These decreases reversed some of the preceding run-up in credit card debt.

The information provided above just scratches the surface on the enormous amount of data included in the SCF. A summary of the data can be accessed for free here.




Briana Fabbri is a personal lending expert and knows the benefits of great budgeting. She currently works as Head of UK Business for Enova International.