American consumers are reporting improved financial health coming out of the recession, according to a recent survey.

A research study by M&T Bank found that nearly 80 percent of consumers in a national telephone survey of 1,000 randomly selected adults reported having little to no debt or a "comfortable" level of debt. Only 12 percent of those surveyed by GfK Custom Research North America reported having "more debt than is comfortable," while only 8 percent said they "have too much debt and have trouble paying bills."

The results match recently released data showing that American consumers have tightened their belts during the recession and emerged in better financial shape. Credit card defaults within the industry declined during the fourth quarter of 2010. M&T Bank's consumer loan charge-off rate dropped 23 percent in 2010. The U.S. savings rate, while declining slightly at the end of 2010, has risen from about 2 percent in January 2008 to 5.3 percent in December 2010.

“A lot of consumers gritted their teeth during the recession, and they're now breathing a sigh of relief,” said M&T Bank regional economist Gary Keith in a statement. “They’ve clearly been working hard to control their debt levels and pay bills promptly and we're now seeing a lot of signs that the resilient American consumer is in better financial health entering 2011.”

While consumers are feeling comfortable with their own debt levels, they are a little less upbeat about the health of the economy, however. A full 50 percent said they think the U.S. economy is “still in a recession.” That figure is down just 6 percentage points from 10 months ago when 56 percent of consumers said the economy is “still in recession” in a similar survey conducted for M&T Bank.

Consumers in the 25-49 age range reported the most difficulty with debts, with a combined 29 percent reporting “more debt than is comfortable” or “too much debt.” Only 7 percent of consumers ages 18 to 24, and only 17 percent of consumers ages 50 and above, reported being uncomfortable or having trouble paying debts.

When asked what they were likely to do within the next 12 months to reduce their personal debt, 65 percent responded that they were likely to “spend less,” while 25 percent responded they would “use money in savings.” Nearly two-thirds of consumers reported they “definitely would” or “probably would” be able to get another bank loan if needed.

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