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posted on 23 April 2017

U.S. Consumer Debt Rises Overall, Housing Debt Drops

from the St Louis Fed

U.S. real per capita consumer debt grew in the fourth quarter, though reductions in mortgage debt continue to abate overall expansion in consumer borrowing, according to the latest issue of The Quarterly Debt Monitor.

Lowell Ricketts, lead analyst at the St. Louis Fed’s Center for Household Financial Stability, found that real per capita consumer debt rose 0.4 percent in the fourth quarter. 1

While per capita consumer debt rose in the fourth quarter, the growth continued to come from a narrow range of debt.

“Without the contributions of new student and auto debt over the past few years, the deleveraging seen after the Great Recession would likely have continued," Ricketts wrote.

Changes in Debt Levels

U.S. consumers continued to lighten the burden of housing-related debt. Per capita mortgage debt declined 0.9 percent in the fourth quarter, while home equity lines of credit fell 5.0 percent.

Meanwhile, consumers don’t appear to be facing greater difficulties repaying mortgage debt. The rate of serious delinquency for mortgage debt declined by 0.5 percentage points in the fourth quarter.2

Other types of consumer debt continued to expand in the fourth quarter on a per capita basis:

  • Auto debt rose 5.1 percent in the fourth quarter.

  • Credit card debt increased 2.9 percent.

  • Student debt rose 5.3 percent.

Debt Levels within the Eighth District

Ricketts also examined debt levels in the four largest metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in the Eighth Federal Reserve District.3

Overall per capita consumer debt was unchanged in St. Louis during the fourth quarter, while the figure fell 1.5 percent in Louisville, Ky., and 0.8 percent in Memphis, Tenn. Though all three MSAs saw rising auto, credit card and student debt, declines in mortgage debt kept overall borrowing from rising.

Only consumers in Little Rock, Ark., saw an increase in their debt level. There, overall per capita debt rose 1.5 percent in the fourth quarter. Little Rock experienced a reduction in mortgage debt that was smaller than declines in the other three MSAs.

Notes and References

1 Changes in real per capita debt levels and serious delinquency rates are relative to the same quarter one year earlier.

2 The rate of serious delinquency is defined as the share of outstanding debt that has a payment at least 90 days past due. See The Quarterly Debt Monitor appendix.

3 The Eighth District is headquartered in St. Louis and includes all of Arkansas and parts of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.

Additional Resources



Views expressed are not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis or of the Federal Reserve System.

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