Federal Reserve warning: Record Household Debt, Jump in Delinquencies signal “worsening financial distress”

Never mind all of these full-o’-crap politicians promising to save the world and fix all of your and your family’s problems.  Check out this bit of news from the very scary but very smart folks at The Federal Reserve:

While the market remains focused on tomorrow’s CPI print, and to a lesser extent the April retail sales reports due at the same time, which will both be released at 8:30am on May 15. we should to flag another important report that doesn’t typically get a lot of attention: the New York Fed’s Household Debt and Credit Report for 1Q 2024 which was just published, and where the latest data on credit card debt and delinquencies has recently been the most important part of the report.

While we already know that in the latest monthly consumer credit report published by the Fed last week and covering the month of March, total consumer debt hit a record high (despite a sharp slowdown in credit card growth) even as the personal savings rate plunged to an all-time low, hardly a ringing endorsement for the strength of the US consumer..

… today’s report provided more granular details which however did not change the conclusion: the US consumer is getting weaker, and while not in a crisis just yet, will get there soon enough.

As the chart from the NY Fed shows, at the end of the first quarter, US household debt reached a record and more borrowers are struggling to keep up: overall US household debt rose to $17.69 trillion, the NYFed’s Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit revealed […]. That’s an increase of $184 billion, or 1.1%, from the fourth quarter.

Consumers have added $3.4 trillion in debt since the pandemic, and that increased debt bears much higher interest rates.

And with both credit card rates and total credit at all time highs, the data corroborate the mounting financial pressures on American families in an age of elevated inflation. The persistent rise in the prices of essentials such as food and rent have strained household budgets, pushing people to borrow against their credit cards to pay for necessities.

Total credit card debt stood at $1.12 trillion in the first quarter of 2024, according to the report (the number diverges from the monthly print reported last week by the NY Fed and which was much higher), but an increasing number of borrowers are behind on credit card payments. While down slightly sequentially according to this data set (if not the NY Fed’s other data set), the number in line with seasonal patterns of consumers paying debt incurred over the holidays. But as Bloomberg notes, credit card balances are up almost 25% from the first quarter of 2020.

“Credit card balances usually rise in the second and third quarters and then they really tend to spike around the holidays in Q4,” Ted Rossman, a senior analyst at Bankrate, wrote in a note to clients. “With inflation and interest rates likely to remain elevated, there’s a very good chance credit card balances will surge to new highs later in 2024.”

Meanwhile, in a blog post by NY Fed economists, they cautioned that “consumers facing a financial squeeze may be maxing out their credit cards and falling behind on payments” and added that “one observable factor that is strongly correlated with future delinquencies is a high credit card utilization rate.”

“In the first quarter of 2024, credit card and auto loan transition rates into serious delinquency continued to rise across all age groups,” said Joelle Scally, Regional Economic Principal within the Household and Public Policy Research Division at the New York Fed. “An increasing number of borrowers missed credit card payments, revealing worsening financial distress among some households.”

As of March, 3.2% of outstanding debt was in some stage of delinquency. That remains still 1.5% points lower than the fourth quarter of 2019, but delinquency transition rates increased for all product types, according to the Fed. And also interest rates before covid were about 5% lower

In a separate post, economists at the St. Louis Fed pointed out that credit card delinquency rates are returning to historically more normal levels after pandemic-related government assistance programs pushed them to unusually low numbers. They added, however, that “present levels of credit card delinquency are greater than pre-pandemic levels, suggesting that a trend which began prior to the pandemic has accelerated.”

About 121,000 consumers had a bankruptcy notation added to their credit reports last quarter, and approximately 4.8% of consumers held some debt in third-party collections. What is remarkable is that those consumers currently in collection have the highest number on record in collection amounts. Which means that once the delinquency train finally leaves the station, and creditors start collecting in earnings, the amount of debt in 3rd party collections will be literally off the chart! […]

Long story, short?  No matter what happens in November, we are soooooooooooo screwed.