American households currently have nearly $17.1 trillion in consumer debt, with balances standing $2.9 trillion higher than before the lockdown-induced recession, according to data released on Monday from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Household debt in the first quarter of 2023 increased $1.2 trillion from the first quarter of 2022. Mortgage debt, typically the largest category of consumer loans maintained by households, now surpasses $12.0 trillion, a phenomenon that comes as the elevated interest rate environment forces prospective homebuyers to assume considerably higher mortgage rates. Student and automotive debt are each $1.6 trillion, while credit card debt neared $1.0 trillion.
Shares of mortgage debt in serious delinquency doubled from 0.3% to 0.6% over the past year, while automobile debt in serious delinquency rose from 1.6% to 2.3%, and credit card debt in serious delinquency rose from 3.0% to 4.6%.
Mortgage debt, which rose $864 billion over the past year, composed 71.7% of the overall household debt increase. Automobile debt rose $93 billion, and credit card debt rose $145 billion, marking 7.7% and 12.0% shares of the broader debt increase, while student loan debt was comparatively flat.
High mortgage rates, caused by actions from the Federal Reserve meant to combat inflation, have significantly decreased affordability for potential homebuyers in recent months. The 30-year fixed mortgage rate was below 3% in the two years after the lockdowns, according to data from government-backed mortgage company Freddie Mac, but the rate has risen to 6.4% as of last week, with the increases coming after the Federal Reserve hiked interest rates.
“The pandemic boom in purchase originations was driven by many factors: low mortgage rates, strong household balance sheets, and an increased demand for housing,” analysts from the Federal Reserve said in an analysis. “Homeowners who refinanced in 2020 and 2021 benefitted from historically low interest rates and will be enjoying low financing costs for decades to come.”
Median home sale prices increased from $322,600 in the second quarter of 2020 to $467,700 in the fourth quarter of 2022, according to data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, followed by a moderate decline to $436,800 in the fourth quarter of 2023. Lower home prices in recent months come as a result of the high mortgage rates, which apply downward pressure on demand as families delay new home purchases.
Wage increases have failed to keep pace with inflation over the past two years, pressing consumers to finance more of their household expenditures with debt. The average age of cars and light-duty trucks on American roads has reached record levels as buyers likewise delay new purchases over elevated price levels and interest rates, according to a report from S&P Global.
Americans are more pessimistic about their finances than at any time since the Great Recession: half of the respondents in a February survey from Gallup said they are “financially worse off” compared to one year ago, while low-income Americans were the most likely to say they have less robust finances since last year.
Economic growth declined to a 1.1% annualized rate in the first quarter, marking a significant decrease as economic headwinds slow recovery from the recession and the interest rate hikes decrease consumer demand, according to an estimate from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.