Americans fall deeper into debt than ever before

Debt now surpasses previous 2008 peak

Household debt just hit a new all-time high, surpassing the 2008 peak, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit.

Household debt just reached a total of $12.73 trillion in the U.S. during the first quarter of 2017, according to the report, which uses data from Equifax. This surpassed its previous peak of $12.68 trillion in 2008. The first quarter increased 1.2% by $149 billion from the fourth quarter.

“Almost nine years later, household debt has finally exceeded its 2008 peak but the debt and its borrowers look quite different today,” said Donghoon Lee, New York Fed research officer. “This record debt level is neither a reason to celebrate nor a cause for alarm.”

Among non-housing debt, the landscape changed over the past few years. Student loan debt, for example, increased its mark significantly, growing from $260 billion in 2004 to $1.34 trillion in the first quarter this year.

Over time, however, the change is much more significant. The New York Fed added the longer household liabilities time series from the Flow of Funds, now known as the Financial Accounts of the United States, together with the detailed data from the Fed’s Consumer Credit Panel to create a 72-year picture of household borrowing.

The chart below shows that the decline in debt between 2008 and 2013 was an alteration from the 63-year upward trend. After the recession, it took almost nine years for total debt to catch up with its 2008 level.

With the levels of debt in American households mounting, one might expect delinquency rates to rise, but generally, that hasn’t been the case.

“While most delinquency flows have improved markedly since the Great Recession and remain low overall, there are divergent trends among debt types,” Lee said. “Auto loan and credit card delinquency flows are now trending upwards, and those for student loans remain stubbornly high.”

However, earlier this week, a study from TransUnion looked at delinquency rates after 12 months for consumers who possess and are current on all four credit products at the beginning of the respective performance measurement period.

That study showed, unlike the chart above in which mortgages hold low delinquency rates compared to other loan types, that Americans are actually more likely to default on their mortgages when faced with the choice of which debt to pay in a financial crisis. Click here to read more about that.

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