More Americans Paying Off Debts

You might be better off than you think! Americans owe far less money than they did five years ago before the recession, and they are paying the bills at the best rate in years. According to the latest survey by S&P Dow Jones Indices and Experian, most loan types saw a decrease in default rates. The national average has dropped for eight consecutive months.

"People are being far more disciplined than they used to be," says top S&P economist David Blitzer. "A big part of that drop has been mortgages but the decline in debt levels has not only been mortgages but has really been across the board." Auto loan default rates are close to record lows. "Those levels have really dropped down to where they were long before the financial crisis." It's a big change from the days of no-doc loans and other forms of unrestrained lending.

Most Americans still have a gloomy view of the economy, but views about the future appear to be improving. A new Associated Press poll says 61 percent of likely voters described the economy as poor and 48 percent think things will get better, up from 41 percent before the conventions. A report from JP Morgan Chase says, "More Americans believe that their personal finances and the economy are stable or improving than did a year ago."

Kohl's is hiring. American Airlines is firing. The department store chain says it will hire 52,700 store associates for the holiday season, a 10 percent increase over last year's seasonal hiring. American Airlines is sending layoff warning notices to more than 11,000 employees although it expects job losses to be closer to 4,400. American is now in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and is slashing costs. The airline says that notices went out to mechanics and ground workers whose jobs will be affected. The Chicago Tribune reports: "Cancellations of American Airlines flights have rocketed in recent days - it has scrapped nearly 250 flights so far this week, including 65 for Wednesday - as the airline spars with its pilots and plans to reduce the number of flights over the next few weeks."

It pays to live in Alaska. State taxpayers are one step closer to getting their annual dividend checks from the oil savings account. Eligible Alaskans will get $878 this year. That's significantly less than last year's dividend of $1,174, which was the smallest since 2006. Onshore oil production has declined, but it's still a pretty good deal. New residents must live in Alaska for one calendar year to benefit from the permanent fund, which was established in 1976 after North Slope oil was discovered. The state began doling out money from the Alaska Permanent Fund in 1982. Officials say residents who have received every check since then have gotten a total of $34,243.

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