Consumer Debt Falls — To $11.4 Trillion. : Planet Money Household debt is down from its peak, but it's still high by historic standards.

Consumer Debt Falls — To $11.4 Trillion.

The financial crisis was exceptional in its magnitude. But it shared some basic DNA with all financial crises.

It got easier and easier to borrow money. Banks made lots of loans to people and businesses who in ordinary times wouldn't have qualified. Household debt skyrocketed. Then the loans started going bad, and everything fell apart.

There's a new snapshot of America's household debt out today, courtesy of the New York Fed. The data show that household debt continued to fall through the end of last year. But household debt — at well over $11 trillion — is still way higher than it was before things got crazy a few years back.

As you can see, decline in household debt has been driven largely by a fall in mortgage debt — which in turn has come largely from write-downs banks are taking on bad mortgages.

Still, the mortgage picture seems to be improving.

One way to see that is to look at what's happening with people who are a few months behind on their mortgage. Are they falling even further behind, and therefore more likely to default? Or are they getting caught up on their payments?

The next chart answers that question. Again, the picture is improving, but still not back to normal. More people are getting caught up, fewer people are falling further behind. But the percentage of people falling further behind is still very high.