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Credit Card Debt Is Soaring In America, Is It A Red Flag For Recession?

Credit Card Debt Is Soaring In America, Is It A Red Flag For Recession?

credit card debt

Photo: iStock / Georgii Boronin, https://www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/GeorgiiBoronin?mediatype=photography

As Americans struggle to pay the rising cost of rent, food, and almost everything else, they’re racking up credit card debt in record-high numbers.

With inflation at a 40-year high, credit-card balances account for about $890 billion of Americans’ $16 trillion in household debt, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The total number of credit cards hit a record high of more than 500 million in the second quarter of 2022, credit reporting agency TransUnion reported. Generation Z adults age 18 to 25 led the surge.

Overall, 233 million new credit accounts were opened in the second quarter, the most since 2008, according to another New York Fed report.

Credit card balances also jumped 13 percent during the second quarter, the largest year-over-year increase in more than 20 years, CNBC reported.

Delinquencies are back near pre-pandemic levels but as long as people have jobs, “I’m not seeing anything that I would really declare as a red flag,” said Michele Raneri, vice president of U.S. research and consulting at TransUnion.

Credit card issuers Mastercard and Visa are reporting booming earnings and are tapping Americans’ hunger for debt by offering travel-related bonuses and cash back on purchases.

A Wells Fargo survey found that 49 percent of rewards cardholders are leaning on their credit card rewards to help offset some of the costs of everyday purchases.


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Americans’ borrowing grew by 6.3 percent in May and 10.5 percent in June, according to the Fed’s G.19 consumer credit report. Outstanding credit card balances rose by 7.8 percent in May and 16 percent in June.

Consumer spending raises red flags for Matt Maley, chief market strategist at Miller Tabak + Co.

“Credit card debt is now above $900 billion — an all-time high — and revolving debt, which of course includes credit card debt, is $1.4 trillion,” Maley said. With real earnings coming down, “the only reason why consumer spending is holding up is because people are going further into debt to do it. And that can’t last forever.”

As big banks increase provisions for client loan defaults, some investors see this as a warning sign, Bloomberg reported.

“When they increase bad loan reserves, it’s because they’re fearing that companies, people, clients, are not going to be able to return the money that is being loaned to them,” said Fiona Cincotta, senior financial markets analyst at City Index Ltd.  “This is just another warning signal that we are seeing, that the markets are reading into that we need to be concerned about a recession in the coming months.”

Shawn Cruz, head trading strategist at TD Ameritrade Inc., described a scenario of more-or-less business as usual. “If you look at loan reserves as a percentage of loans outstanding, it’s more or less in line with what we’ve seen or what we would expect to see for a loan book of that size.

“If all of a sudden they start saying, ‘look, a lot more of these loans that we have out there are going to start seeing some trouble or becoming a little bit more uncertain as a percentage of the overall book,’ that would be, I think, a little bit more of a warning sign. But for now they’re not seeing any flashing warning signs that there’s a huge reckoning coming for the credit market.”

Photo: iStock / Georgii Boronin, https://www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/GeorgiiBoronin?mediatype=photography