Americans saving more, paying down debt faster than expected

That bodes well for the recovery. Once Americans get their savings to a comfortable level, they can increase their spending all over again – but this time without necessarily going into hock – and give the economy a badly needed lift.

Compared with the summer of 2008, when consumer debt peaked, Americans now have 7 percent less mortgage debt, 12 percent less in auto loans and 15 percent less credit card debt, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Loan payments last year were at their lowest level in a decade.

Meanwhile, Americans are saving at nearly triple the rate they did between 2007 and 2009, setting aside 5.3 percent of their disposable income in December, according to the Commerce Department.