US Household Debt Hits Record $13.5 Trillion As Delinquencies Hit 6 Year High

Total household debt hit a new record high, rising by $219 billion (1.6%) to $13.512 trillion in Q3 of 2018, according to the NY Fed's latest household debt report, the biggest jump since 2016. It was also the 17th consecutive quarter with an increase in household debt, and the total is now $837 billion higher than the previous peak of $12.68 trillion, from the third quarter of 2008. Overall household debt is now 21.2% above the post-financial-crisis trough reached during the second quarter of 2013.

Mortgage balances—the largest component of household debt—rose by $141 billion during the third quarter, to $9.14 trillion. Credit card debt rose by $15 billion to $844 billion; auto loan debt increased by $27 billion in the quarter to $1.265 trillion and student loan debt hit a record high of $1.442 trillion, an increase of $37 billion in Q3.

Balances on home equity lines of credit (HELOC) continued their downward trend, declining by $4 billion, to $432 billion. The median credit score of newly originating mortgage borrowers was roughly unchanged, at 760.

Mortgage originations edged up to $445 billion in the second quarter, from $437 billion in the second quarter. Meanwhile, mortgage delinquencies were unchanged improve, with 1.1% of mortgage balances 90 or more days delinquent in the third quarter, same as the second quarter.

Most newly originated mortgages continued went to borrowers with the highest credit scores, with 58% of new mortgages borrowed by consumers with a 760 credit score or higher.

The median credit score of newly originating borrowers was mostly unchanged; the median credit score among newly originating mortgage borrowers was 758, suggesting that with half of all mortgages going to individuals with high credit scores, mortgages remain tight by historical standards. For auto loan originators, the distribution was flat, and individuals with subprime scores received a substantial share of newly originated auto loans.

In what will come as a surprise to nobody, outstanding student loans rose $37BN to a new all time high of $1.44 trillion as of Sept 30. It should also come as no surprise - or maybe it will to the Fed - that student loan delinquencies remain stubbornly above 10%, a level they hit 6 years ago and have failed to move in either direction since...

... while flows of student debt into serious delinquency - of 90 or more days - spiked in Q3, rising to 9.1% in the third quarter from 8.6% in the previous quarter, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The third quarter marked an unexpected reversal after a period of improvement for student debt, which totaled $1.4 trillion. Such delinquency flows have been rising on auto debt since 2012 and on credit card debt since last year, which has raised a red flag for economists.

Auto loan balances also hit an all time high, as they continued their six-year upward trend, increasing by $9 billion in the quarter, to $1.24 trillion. Meanwhile, credit card balances rose by $14 billion, or 1.7%, after a seasonal decline in the first quarter, to $829 billion.

Despite rising interest rates, credit card delinquency rates eased slightly, with 7.9% of balances 90 or more days delinquent as of June 30, versus 8.0% at March 31. The share of consumers with an account in collections fell 23.4% between the third quarter of 2017 and the second quarter of 2018, from 12.3% to 9.4%, due to changes in reporting requirements of collections agencies.

Auto loan balances also hit an all time high, as they continued their six-year upward trend, increasing by $27 billion in the quarter, to $1.265 trillion. Meanwhile, credit card balances rose by $15 billion to $844 billion. In line with rising interest rates, credit card delinquency rates rose modestly, with 4.9% of balances 90 or more days delinquent as of Sept 30, versus 4.8% in Q2.

Overall, as of September 30, 4.7% of outstanding debt was in some stage of delinquency, an uptick from 4.5% in the second quarter and the largest in 7 years. Of the $638 billion of debt that is delinquent, $415 billion is seriously delinquent (at least 90 days late or “severely derogatory”). This increase was primarily due to the abovementioned increase in the flow into delinquency for student loan balances during the third quarter of 2018. The flow into 90+ day delinquency for credit card balances has been rising for the last year and remained elevated since then compared to its recent history, while the flow into 90+ day delinquency for auto loan balances has been slowly trending upward since 2012. About 215,000 consumers had a bankruptcy notation added to their credit reports in 2018Q3, slightly higher than in the same quarter of last year. New bankruptcy notations have been at historically low levels since 2016.

This quarter, for the first time, the Fed also broke down consumer debt by age group, and found that debt balances remain more concentrated among older borrowers. The shift over the past decade is due to at least three major forces. First, demographics have changed with large cohorts of baby boomers entering into retirement. Second, demand for credit has shifted, along with changing preferences and borrowing needs following the Great Recession. Finally, the supply of credit has changed: mortgage lending has been tight, while auto loans and credit cards have been more widely available.

In addition to an overall increase in the share of debt held by older borrowers, there has been a noticeable shift in the composition of debt held by different age groups. Student and auto loan debt represent the majority of debt for borrowers under thirty, while housing-related debt makes up the vast majority of debt owned by borrowers over sixty.

Confirming what many know, namely that Millennial borrowers are screwed, the Ny Fed writes that older borrowers have longer credit histories with more borrowing experience, as well as higher and typically steadier incomes; "thus, they often have higher credit scores and are safer bets for lenders." Tighter mortgage underwriting during the years following the Great Recession has limited mortgage borrowing by younger and less creditworthy borrowers; meanwhile, student loan balances - and as most know "student" loans are usually used for anything but tuition - and participation rose dramatically and credit standards loosened for auto loans and credit cards. Consequently, there has been a relative shift toward non-housing balances among younger borrowers, while housing balances moved to the older and more creditworthy borrowers with lower delinquency rates and better performance overall.

And since this is a circular Catch 22, absent an overhaul of how credit is apportioned by age group, Millennials and other young borrowers will keep getting squeezed out of the credit market resulting in a decline in loan demand - and supply - which is slow at first and then very fast.