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Consumer debt has been rising recently — in the third quarter, credit card balances rose 15%, according to the New York Federal Reserve. That was the biggest increase in more than two decades.
Consumer debt first started rising during the pandemic because people felt comfortable borrowing money — thanks in large part to the strong job market.
But later, inflation picked up, said Kathy Bostjancic, chief economist at Nationwide.
“And that’s making people, especially even just on non-discretionary items, lean more and use credit more to be able to make those purchases,” Bostjancic said.
Consumer debt levels have not yet gotten to the point where they’re a major concern because people’s pay has been rising, said Shannon Seery, an economist at Wells Fargo.
“When we put it in the context of income, these debt burdens still are pretty manageable from a macro perspective,” Seery said.
But Seery said consumer debt is rising faster in certain parts of the economy.
“So balances of borrowers under 30, and in your lowest income quintile for example, are now above pre-pandemic levels, in terms of credit card debt outstanding,” she said.
Seery said lower-income groups are starting to see their wage gains slow down. That means their debt will become more of a burden.
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