Household Debt Soars To Highest Level Since 2008 Financial Crisis
Guido Mieth via Getty Images

American household debt rose $320 billion in 2022, marking one of the highest increases over the past two decades and reaching the highest level since the 2008 financial crisis.

Households owe a combined $17 trillion as a result of their mortgages, student loans, credit cards, and auto loans, according to an analysis from WalletHub. Current debt levels are approaching the $18 trillion held by households in 2008, the year in which the American housing market collapsed, and the world was plunged into a severe recession.

The typical American household had nearly $142,700 in debt at the end of 2022, much of which came from an average of $100,700 in mortgage debt. An average auto loan balance of $13,100 and an average student loan balance of $13,500 composed much of the remaining balance. A separate study published by WalletHub last month indicated that average credit card debt increased from $8,500 in the first quarter of 2021 to $9,300 in the third quarter of 2022.

The increased debt levels come as inflationary pressures continue to affect consumers. Inflation reached a 6.4% year-over-year rate as of January 2022, according to a report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics last week; prices for groceries, energy, and other necessities rose even as inflation continued to fall from the 9.1% year-over-year rate recorded in June 2022.

Overall food inflation reached 10.1% last month, considerably exceeding the 6.4% headline inflation rate. The national average price of gasoline is currently $3.39 per gallon, constituting a 42% increase since President Joe Biden assumed office in January 2021, according to data from the Energy Information Administration.

During his recent State of the Union address, Biden asserted that inflation is “coming down” despite the persistently high costs for critical products. “Inflation has been a global problem because of the pandemic that disrupted supply chains and Putin’s war that disrupted energy and food supplies,” he said. “But we’re better positioned than any country on Earth.”

The commander-in-chief also claimed ahead of his speech that the United States had witnessed the “fastest gas price decline in eight years” and annualized headline inflation which has declined for “six months” due to his economic policies. Both assertions ignored the reality that energy costs and overall price level increases were much lower before he assumed control of the Oval Office.

Meanwhile, data indicate that Americans continue to spend beyond their means on some products despite the economic pressures, relying upon a combination of consumer debt and savings accumulated during the lockdown-induced recession. The average amount of debt among those who spent beyond their means during the most recent holiday shopping season rose to $1,549, marking a 24% increase from the previous year, according to a survey from LendingTree. The percentage of debtors who expect to take five months or more to pay off their debt rose from 28% to 37%.

The total level of consumer loans increased from $1.5 trillion at the beginning of the Biden administration to $1.8 trillion, according to data from the Federal Reserve. The personal savings rate has dropped from 20% to slightly more than 3% over the same period, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, marking a significant decline from typical rates witnessed before the lockdown-induced recession.

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