American Household Debt Hits New Record High

It beats the previous record ... set immediately before the 2008 recession
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted May 17, 2017 7:04 PM CDT
American Household Debt Hits New Record High
Stock image   (Getty Images/mphillips007)

It's beginning to look a lot like 2008. The New York Times reports Americans had $12.7 trillion in household debt during the first quarter of 2017—a record high beating out the previous peak, which came immediately before the financial crisis. The new record was announced Wednesday by the Federal Reserve of New York. While it means many Americans have rebuilt their credit since the recession and are feeling optimistic enough to take out loans, the record also comes with risk. The debt held by American households could keep them from buying houses and other large purchases that spur economic growth and possibly trigger another round of defaults, as happened in 2008. The record debt "is not a marker we should be super excited to get back to," says the executive director of a liberal think tank.

But a research officer at the Federal Reserve tells the Los Angeles Times the record is "neither a reason to celebrate nor a cause for alarm." In fact, there are a number of differences between 2008 and 2017. For one, mortgage and credit card debt is lower than it was before the recession, with the difference being made up by an increase in student loan and auto debt, CBS News reports. There are better employment levels now, and more loans are held by older, typically wealthier Americans. Consumers are delinquent on only 4.8% of the total debt, compared to 11.9% in 2009. Finally, current household debt makes up less of the US economy than it did in 2008. (More debt stories.)

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