Using coronavirus relief to pay down credit cards
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The Federal Reserve Bank of New York released new numbers on consumer debt Thursday showing that we’re borrowing less.
Household debt fell in the second quarter of this year — the first decline since 2014. But our lower debt load appears to be the result of government pandemic relief programs. And some of them, like the $600-a-week supplemental unemployment benefit, have expired.
The report says credit card debt was down by $76 billion in the second quarter, the steepest decline in card balances since the New York Fed started tracking them. One reason? People aren’t going out as much.
But Jay Shambaugh, professor of economics at George Washington University, said there’s something else going on.
“Many people don’t put their money in a savings account — they don’t have an active savings account,” he said. “What they have is a credit card balance that fluctuates. And if they get a jolt of income, they’re going to pay down the balance.”
That jolt of income? It was the $1,200 relief checks and the $600-per-week unemployment supplement — which just expired. AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the job site Indeed, said the $600 weekly payments were roughly 5% of all disposable personal income in June. To make ends meet without them?
“At first, it would be digging into one’s savings and after that probably turning towards the credit cards,” she said.
But credit cards may not be an option. Joelle Scally, a senior data strategist at the New York Fed, said banks have cut their credit card customers’ credit limits. She added that low-income consumers may have as little as $150 of available credit to begin with.
“For lower-income borrowers, they really may not have very much credit at all to draw on,” she said. “This reduction in credit limits may actually affect them.”
So people in precarious financial situations are caught between the end of some benefits and having no — or very little — credit to turn to.
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
With a slow vaccine rollout so far, how has the government changed its approach?
On Tuesday, Jan. 12, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced changes to how the federal government is distributing vaccine doses. The CDC has expanded coronavirus vaccine eligibility to everyone 65 and older, along with people with conditions that might raise their risks of complications from COVID-19. The new approach also looks to reward those states that are the most efficient by giving them more doses, but critics say that won’t address underlying problems some states are having with vaccine rollout.
What kind of help can small businesses get right now?
A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.
What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?
New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.
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