Eighty-five percent of all American households owed money at some time last year - on mortgages and automobiles, credit cards and department store wares.

U.S. household debt nearly tripled in the past decade, according to a Federal Reserve study. But analysts say there's no need for alarm."I don't think it's dangerous," economist Bruce Steinberg of Merrill Lynch Capital Markets said. "I don't think it means mass consumer bankruptcies or that people are going to lose their homes.

Still, the record debt could slow consumer spending and thus temper a recovery from the recession.

"In the '90s, at best, consumers' spending will keep track with their incomes, unlike the '80s, when debt spending grew so much faster than incomes," Steinberg said.

Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of all economy activity and is critical to the strength of a recovery from the recession.