Credit card debt surges as inflation pushes Americans to borrow more


Credit card debt surged in the United States from April through June as Americans borrowed billions of dollars to continue spending in the face of growing inflation, according to a Tuesday report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Credit card balances increased $46 billion in the second quarter, a 5.5 percent increase from the first quarter, and there was also an uptick in new credit card accounts. The 13 percent increase from the second quarter of 2021 to the second quarter of 2022 was the biggest such jump in more than 20 years.

“Americans are borrowing more, but a big part of the increased borrowing is attributable to higher prices,” researchers for the New York Fed said in a news release.

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The numbers provide new context for a consumer spending report released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis last week, which showed that spending in June climbed 1.1 percent. Similar to the New York Fed’s findings, gas prices, which surged past $5 a gallon in many parts of the country in the second quarter, and inflation, which jumped 9.1 percent year over year in June, were the likely drivers of the increased debt.

A rise in new credit card accounts in the second quarter — 233 million — marked a high not seen since 2008, according to Tuesday’s report. But researchers for the New York Fed noted that delinquency rates for credit card debt is still relatively low. Despite a slight increase, it is still below pre-pandemic numbers. The total outstanding credit card debt rose to $890 billion in the second quarter, a $100 billion increase from the same time last year.

The report released Tuesday found that household debt increased in the second quarter by $312 billion, or 2 percent, compared with the first quarter. Total balances are now $2 trillion higher than before the pandemic.

Mortgage balances saw the highest increase, which is in line with the central bank’s raising interest rates to cool down the blazing hot housing market. Auto loans also went up, with balances in the second quarter increasing by $33 billion, which is on track with increases since 2011, according to the report.

“The second quarter of 2022 showed robust increases in mortgage, auto loan, and credit card balances, driven in part by rising prices,” Joelle Scally, administrator of the Center for Microeconomic Data at the New York Fed, said in a news release. “While household balance sheets overall appear to be in a strong position, we are seeing rising delinquencies among subprime and low-income borrowers with rates approaching pre-pandemic levels.”

The increased credit card debt reflects consumers’ struggles to keep up with inflation. Stubbornly high prices on groceries, gasoline and other basic needs have changed how Americans spend their money — forgoing the clothing and technology aisles to afford household necessities.

Some retailers have displayed warning signs. Last week, Walmart slashed its quarterly and full-year profit forecasts, announcing aggressive markdowns on merchandise to ease its inventory pileup. The move rocked Wall Street, with the stock for the nation’s largest retailer tumbling 7.6 percent and dragging down other major retailers, including Target, Macy’s and Kohls.

Best Buy chief executive Corie Barry also noted last week that consumers’ being more savvy and purposeful about their spending has caused demand for electronics to decline. Consumer product companies have also recently hinted at declines. Procter & Gamble executives warned that the company expects a tougher 2023.

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