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Household debt up 4% in the first quarter

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A line of new houses in Ontario, California.

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A new report from the Federal Reserve this week says debt held by households increased by almost 4% in the first quarter. Much of that increase happened before the pandemic started. But what does that say about where we are headed now?

Some people are digging deeper into debt during the pandemic. Greg McBride at Bankrate.com said about 1 in 6 households reports having more debt now than before the crisis.

“And that’s 1 in 4 for those that have suffered some sort of income disruption,” McBride said.

A separate report from the New York Fed says the average debt per capita rose to $52,000 in the first quarter, about 3% more than the year before.

But economist Tim Quinlan at Wells Fargo said the government’s stimulus has caused many people’s incomes to rise, too.

“April, for example, was the best month on record for personal income. That was the month that the stimulus checks got counted,” Quinlan said.

He said savings rates have also gone up, given the restrictions on in-store shopping.

And, some consumer credit has slowed, Warren Kornfeld at Moody’s said.

“It’s down very, very significantly with auto, because auto sales are down,” Kornfeld said.

He said the concern is whether borrowing will start to rise more as the government’s stimulus wears off.

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