Economy Watch: Consumer Debt, Homeownership and Money Woes

The Federal Reserve finds Americans borrowing more in July than June, and young renters cite money woes as the main obstacle to home buying in a new Consumer Expectations survey.

Americans borrowed more in July than in June, according to the Federal Reserve on Monday, with U.S. consumer credit increasing at an annualized rate of 9.7 percent during the month, compared with 7.1 percent in June. That’s the highest rate since well before the recession (since 2001, in fact). Both revolving and non-revolving credit came in at higher annualized rates: 7.4 percent and 10.6 percent respectively for July, up from 2.5 percent and 8.8 percent.

Total outstanding consumer debt has reached about $3.237 trillion, up from $3.056 trillion in the third quarter of 2013. Both revolving (credit cards and the like) and non-revolving credit totals have increased since this time last year, with revolving up $27 billion during that period, and non-revolving up $154 billion.

Non-revolving debt—especially car and student loans—have grown faster than revolving debt in recent years. Banks still hold more debt than any other class of lender, about $2.347 trillion, but the federal government has been gaining fast as a creditor, currently holding $786.7 billion in non-revolving debt (mostly student loans). As recently as 2009, the government held only $223.1 billion.

Younger renters cite money woes as main obstacle to home buying

Separately, the Federal Reserve released an analysis of house-buying habits among younger American adults on Monday, and the findings weren’t particularly sanguine for the residential real estate industry. For one thing, the rate of homeownership nationwide has fallen from just over 69 percent in 2005 to 65 percent in the first quarter of this year, and ownership totals among younger adults is particularly depressed.

The analysis is based on a New York Fed’s Survey of Consumer Expectations survey of 867 homeowners and 344 renters earlier this year. The renters were asked why they rent, as opposed to owning a home, and more than half cited not having enough money saved, or not having a high enough income, or both, as the main reasons. Only about a quarter said it was more affordable to rent than buy, and 18.7 percent said they didn’t want to tie up their money in a house (respondents could pick more than one answer). That goes against the conventional wisdom that the rising generation doesn’t want to buy because of the housing crisis beginning in 2008.

Very few respondents said that they were worried that home prices would fall—only 7.9 percent. Also, a majority of renters said that a house was either a “very good” or “somewhat good” investment—just over 59 percent—while about a third were neutral on that question. Only 9.6 percent of renters called ownership “somewhat bad” and 2.3 percent said it was “very bad.”

Wall Street had a mixed day on Monday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 25.94 points, or 0.15 percent, while the S&P 500 was off 0.31 percent. The Nasdaq gained 0.2 percent.