Wednesday, August 9, 2017
Americans hold more credit-card debt than ever, and a 'major tipping point' isn't far off
Credit-card debt in the US rose in June, surpassing the peak set just before the 2008 financial crisis.
Outstanding revolving credit, which includes credit-card debt, rose to $1.02 trillion in June, according to a monthly report from the Federal Reserve released Monday.
Missed debt payments have declined from the recession era, when several homes were foreclosed on because their owners got loans they wouldn't have qualified for with tighter rules.
But defaults are rising again for credit cards and auto loans. The New York Federal Reserve observed a 7.5% rise in the share of credit-card balances that were seriously delinquent, or at least 90 days past due, in the first quarter.
"We simply can't keep taking on credit card debt forever without it causing major problems," said Matt Schulz, the senior analyst at CreditCards.com. "This record probably won't be a major tipping point, but it likely isn't too far off."
Besides the New York Fed, several credit-card providers are reporting a rise in defaults. Synchrony Financial, one of the largest providers of store cards, said its provisions for loan losses — what it uses to cover for missed payments — jumped 30% year-on-year to $1.33 billion in the second quarter. That was partly because it lent out more dollars.
At American Express, loan loss provisions rose 26% from last year. And Capital One said its charge-off rate, or the share of balances it was unable to collect, rose to 5.1% in the second quarter from 4.07% a year earlier.
"It's worrisome that we are starting to see delinquency rates now begin to rise even with the unemployment rate at a cycle low," David Rosenberg, the chief economist at Gluskin Sheff, said in a note on Tuesday.
"This tells me that we are seeing escalating credit strains that have little to do just yet with a weakening economy — evidence that once again, very risky loans were extended this cycle to marginal if not sketchy borrowers."
Rosenberg said credit growth had run far in excess of work-based wage growth. And if banks tighten their lending standards, it could reduce the contribution that spending makes to economic growth.
"This record should serve as a wake-up call to Americans to focus on their credit card debt," Schulz said.