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Economy

Household debt nears $16 trillion despite rising rates and inflation

Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) joins activists in a demonstration outside an entrance to the White House calling for the cancellation of student debt in Washington, US, April 27, 2022.

Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

Even with rampant inflation and rapidly accelerating interest rates, household borrowing climbed to start 2022 and hit a new record, the Federal Reserve reported Tuesday.

Consumer debt and credit rose 1.7% in the first quarter to $15.84 trillion. The rise in total household credit was propelled largely by a $250 billion increase in mortgage debt, which now stands at $11.18 trillion, an increase of 10% from the first quarter in 2021.

Credit card balances actually fell during the three-month period by $15 billion but still remained $71 billion, or about 9% higher than they were for the same period a year ago. Auto loan originations declined in the first quarter after what the New York Fed described as “a historically brisk 2021,” in which used vehicle prices soared by nearly 27%.

Student loan debt climbed by $14 billion in the first quarter, bringing the annual increase to 6.5%.

The acceleration in debt overall comes with consumer price inflation up 8.5% over the past year through March and with interest rates surging to multiyear highs. Thirty-year mortgage rates are now running around 5% after being closer to 3% just a year ago, according to Freddie Mac.

Mortgages make up 71% of all household debt, a number that has consistently climbed.

Households have originated $8.4 trillion in new mortgage debt since the Covid pandemic began, the result of a relocation trend out of cities and into the suburbs, a move that has coincided with a massive rise in prices, the New York Fed reported. The median home price has soared 30% over the past two years to $428,700, according to census data.

The New York Fed added, though, that it appears the refinance boom that coincides with falling mortgage rates is waning as rates are rising.

To combat soaring inflation, the Fed has approved two rate increases this year totaling 0.75 percentage point and is expected to approve a series of additional hikes through the end of the year.

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