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Credit card balances hit new high among U.S. consumers

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York finds consumer debt continues to mount.

Even though consumer-level inflation in the United States is pulling away from early-year highs of more than 9%, a report from the New York Federal Reserve finds consumer debt continues to mount. File Photo by Gary C. Caskey/UPI
Even though consumer-level inflation in the United States is pulling away from early-year highs of more than 9%, a report from the New York Federal Reserve finds consumer debt continues to mount. File Photo by Gary C. Caskey/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 15 (UPI) -- While inflationary pressures are easing, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said Tuesday that consumer debt was on the rise, with credit card balances jumping by $38 billion year-over-year.

A report on debt from the New York Fed finds that total consumer debt increased by $351 billion between the second and third fiscal quarters to reach $16.5 trillion. Household debt is now $2.36 trillion higher than at the end of 2019, before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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That debt comes despite the massive amount of federal stimulus put forward in response to the pandemic. Three rounds of consumer-level stimulus put thousands of extra dollars in the pocketbooks of U.S. taxpayers, though the New York Fed found credit card balances surged by $38 billion.

"The 15% year-over-year increase in credit card balances represents the largest in more than 20 years," the Fed stated.

That comes as consumer-level inflation slows down from the spikes of more than 9% year-on-year from earlier in 2022. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics last week showed inflation increased 7.7% over the 12-month period ending in September.

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Among the staples, grocery prices are up 12.4%, while rents and mortgages are up 6.9% over the 12-month period.

"Credit card, mortgage, and auto loan balances continued to increase in the third quarter of 2022 reflecting a combination of robust consumer demand and higher prices," said Donghoon Lee, an economic research advisor at the New York Fed.

The U.S. Federal Reserve is working to both curb demand and lower inflation by increasing its key lending rates.

In October's Beige Book, a gauge of economic conditions across each Federal Reserve district, the New York Fed said that most of its business contacts reported prices were on the rise, though prices for some essentials such as lumber and fuel were moderating.

Consumer spending, meanwhile, was relatively muted amid expectations of a "tepid" holiday sales season. Some retailers, however, reported improvement in sales that came as more workers returned to the office.

On consumer debt, the New York Fed said student loan debt stood at $1.57 trillion, though only about 4% of total loans were 90 days delinquent or in default during the third quarter. The amount of student debt reported had declined because of some payment relief, though debt could mount as President Joe Biden's loan-forgiveness program remains stuck in the courts.

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Low defaults are somewhat isolated to student loans, however. The New York Fed found delinquencies increased for nearly all debt types, following two straight years of improvement.

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