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American Household Debt Hits Record $16.2 Trillion As Mortgages, Credit Card Spending Swell—Delinquencies Creep Up


Bolstered by higher interest rates and inflation, total household debt rose to a record $16.2 trillion last quarter as credit card spending posted the biggest yearly spike in more than 20 years, the New York Federal Reserve reported on Tuesday, warning that delinquencies are also starting to rise amid growing concerns over the broader economy.

Key Facts

Total household debt jumped by $312 billion, or 2%, to $16.15 trillion at the end of the second quarter—pushing balances about $2 trillion higher than at the end of 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the NY Fed’s quarterly report on Household Debt.

In a statement, the New York Fed’s Joelle Scally attributed the swelling debt load to “robust increases” in mortgage, auto loan and credit card balances, as high inflation drives up the prices of goods and services at the highest rate in 40 years.

Though mortgage originations declined slightly in the second quarter—as higher interest rates curbed home-buying demand—mortgage balances fueled much of the overall debt increase, climbing by $207 billion to stand at $11.4 trillion at the end of June, the government said.

Meanwhile, credit card balances jumped by $46 billion, or 13%—representing the largest yearly increase in more than 20 years and the second-biggest driver of overall debt last quarter.

As concerns mount over the state of the economy, Scally warned the Fed is seeing delinquencies “rising modestly” across all debt types and particularly among low-income borrowers, though she also notes household finances “appear to be in a strong position” overall.

In a potential sign that foreclosures are beginning to return to “more typical levels,” about 35,000 people saw new foreclosures on their credit reports, jumping more than 45% from the previous quarter, the government said; new quarterly foreclosures averaged about 100,000 before the pandemic but have since remained low due to various moratoria prohibiting the repossessions.

Key Background

The economy quickly bounced back after the Covid-19 recession in 2020, and consumers have remained fairly resilient throughout—even as the Fed’s efforts to fight inflation fuel fears of a looming recession. However, in a blog post on Tuesday, Fed researchers cautioned that historically low delinquency rates appear to be coming to an end. “Debt balances are growing rapidly,” they said, adding that some types of borrowers—and particularly those in lower-income areas—are beginning to show distress on their debt, with delinquency rates among zip codes with the lowest income creeping up to 2.5% from roughly 2% last year.

Big Number

9.1%. That was the annual inflation rate in June—hitting a worse-than-expected 40-year high after an unprecedented surge in gas prices.

Further Reading

GDP Flashes Recession Warning Sign: Economy Shrank 0.9% Last Quarter As Experts Warn ‘Worse To Come’ (Forbes)

‘Travel Is On Fire’: Uber, Lyft Stocks Surge As Americans Splurge Despite Skyrocketing Inflation (Forbes)