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Household Debt and Economic Outlook: A 2023 Q4 Analysis

February 12, 2024

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New data from the Federal Reserve Bank shows that in the fourth quarter of 2023, total household debt in the United States saw a significant increase, reaching $17.5 trillion.

This rise of $212 billion from the previous quarter was marked by notable increases across various types of debt. Credit card balances alone jumped by $50 billion to $1.13 trillion, while mortgage balances escalated by $112 billion, totaling $12.25 trillion.

Auto loans also saw an increase, continuing a growth trend to $1.61 trillion. Delinquency rates have risen for all debt categories, except student loans, which remained relatively stable.

Mortgages and Credit Expansion

The expansion in mortgage balances to $12.25 trillion highlights the continued growth in housing-related debt.

Simultaneously, home equity lines of credit balances rose by $11 billion, marking the seventh consecutive quarter of increase. Credit card debt and auto loan balances also contributed significantly to the overall rise in household liabilities.

Economic Challenges and Fed’s Rate Decisions

Amidst these debt increases, the broader economic landscape presents mixed signals.

The optimism fueled by last year’s stock and bond rallies—anticipating cooling inflation, solid growth, and potential interest-rate cuts—faces new scrutiny.

Recent business sentiment and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s comments suggest a cautious approach towards rate reductions, awaiting more definitive signs of easing inflation.

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