The Economy

U.S. Household Debt Reaches Record $13.15T

“The current debt level is still manageable and is likely to grow further this year,” one economist says.
Matthew HellerFebruary 14, 2018

U.S. household debt rose in the final three months of 2017 to an all-time high, with growth particularly strong in the mortgage and credit card categories.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York said household debt rose by $193 billion to $13.15 trillion last quarter, completing the fifth straight year overall balances increased. Debt has now risen for 14 straight quarters.

According to The Wall Street Journal, “Americans’ willingness to take on additional debt and make big purchases suggests they are confident in their job prospects and about the longevity of the economic expansion, which began in mid-2009.”

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Mortgage debt balances rose the most in the latest quarter, climbing by $139 billion to $8.88 trillion from the previous quarter, while credit card debt had the second largest increase of $26 billion to a total of $834 billion. Mortgage loans account for about two-thirds of all household debt.

But as a share of U.S. economic output, household debt was about 67% last quarter, well below a high of around 87% in early 2009, and overall mortgage balances remain below prerecession levels.

“The current debt level is still manageable and is likely to grow further this year,” Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton, told the WSJ.

Most U.S. workers are expected to see larger paychecks early this year due to lower taxes but the Journal said it “remains to be seen if workers will use that windfall to boost spending further, pay down debt or add to savings.”

As MarketWatch reports, one reason for the increase in credit-card debt is “the fact that more consumers are using credit cards. Data from credit reporting company TransUnion last year suggested that more than 171 million consumers had access to credit cards backed by major banks and open network card issuers in the first quarter of 2017, the highest number since 2005.”

“Banks are offering reward programs and low-interest promotions that make credit cards an extremely enticing product to use,” said Robert Harrow, ValuePenguin’s head of credit research, “Consumers are favoring credit payments more and more.”