Americans reduced their outstanding credit card debt substantially last year. - 

There’s word that you, me and all our friends used our credit cards a lot less in 2011. An outfit called CreditKarma, which helps consumers monitor their credit scores, crunched the numbers and found Americans cut their credit card balances by 11 percent last year. The average credit card balance across the county is $6,576.

Lynn Franco is the director of the Consumer Research Center at the Conference Board. She points out an annual average doesn't tell the whole story. Consumers have tended to take on more credit when they feel more confident, and there was an uptick of sorts toward year’s end as holiday deals lured shoppers in during the holidays.

Still, Franco says the next three months are critical, especially as consumers are still fighting against strong headwinds, such as not being employed or working fewer hours than they need. Franco says it may still be a while before consumers are ready to go "hog wild." In fact, they may just keep paying down those balances, bit by bit, through 2012.

Follow David Brancaccio at @DavidBrancaccio