Germans and Japanese are culturally averse to borrowing and didn't build up debt before the crisis. Nevertheless, they've cut back since — 1 percent and 4 percent, respectively.
"We don't want to take out a loan," says Maria Schoenberg, 45, of Frankfurt, Germany, explaining why she and her husband, a rheumatologist, decided to rent after a recent move instead of borrowing to buy. "We're terrified of doing that."
Such attitudes are rife when it has rarely been cheaper to borrow around the world. German lenders are dangling mortgage rates at 2 percent. In normal times, record low rates would trigger a borrowing boom like few in history.
"But that was the world we knew before 2008," says Jim Davies, an economist at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. "People have a lot of worries and concerns about whether they can make the payments."
And a lot of anger, too.
Anita Williamson of Bristol, England, says she and her husband were wrong to borrow so much during the boom — 1.3 million pounds ($2.1 million), much of it to buy a home. But she says the banks were far too eager to lend. One bank allowed a loan to be "self-certified," a practice mostly banned now that allowed lenders to take the word of borrowers that they could afford the debt.
"It's very easy for people to believe the so-called experts at the bank," says Williamson, 55, who had to declare bankruptcy to get out of most of her debt. When it comes to finances, she adds, she won't touch a bank again with a "barge pole."
Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo, the fourth-largest U.S. bank, warns not to see a popular revolt behind every dollar in debt that's shed. He notes that populations are aging in many countries: People don't need to borrow as much as they did when they were raising families.