By Trevor Hunnicutt
NEW YORK (Reuters) – More people in the United States appear to be struggling to keep up with their credit card and student loan debt, which could put pressure on one of the strongest drivers of economic growth.
U.S. credit card balances grew to $868 billion in the second quarter, from $848 billion in the previous three months, and the proportion of those balances seriously past due is on the rise, according to Federal Reserve Bank of New York data released on Tuesday.
U.S. consumer debt has continued to hit new peaks, rising $192 billion, or 1.4%, to $13.86 trillion in the second quarter. The figure is higher than the previous peak of $12.68 trillion before the 2008 global financial crisis, according to the New York Fed’s U.S. household debt and credit report.
While total student loan balances decreased slightly, from $1.49 trillion to $1.48 trillion in the quarter, the share of those loans being left unpaid for several months increased.
Payments on some 9.9% of student loan balances started being at least 90 days late during the three months that ended in June, compared with 9.4% in the January-March period.
A comparable measure shows credit card users, too, are falling behind. Payments on about 5.2% of those balances were 90 days overdue in the latest quarter, up from 5.0% in the first quarter. The figure has been on the rise since 2017. Similar delinquency rates declined for auto loans, home equity lines of credit, mortgages and other debt categories.
Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of activity in the world’s largest economy, and a growing job market and higher wages have helped the longest U.S. economic expansion on record continue this year.
But fears the U.S.-China trade war and other issues could cloud that economic picture led the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates for the first time since 2008 late last month. That could ease pressures for some borrowers and cause consumers to load up on more debt to make purchases, a short-term stimulus for the economy.
“We may see more consumers making a large purchase they had been putting off because it seems relatively more affordable,” said Dieter Scherer, a financial planner at Adaptive Wealth Solutions LLC.
“We’ll likely see credit card rates decline by a small amount in response to the cut in the target federal funds rate. However, charge-off rates have been increasing over the past few years, which has also contributed to increased credit card rates among less credit-worthy consumers. So, I’d expect the effect to be more muted among those with low credit scores.”
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