Category Archives: US household debt

12/6/20: American Love Affair with Debt: Part 2: Leverage Risk

I have earlier updated the data on the total real private economic debt in the U.S. as of the end of 1Q 2020 here:

So, just how much is the U.S. economic growth dependent on debt? And have this dependency ben rising or falling prior to COVID19 pandemic onset? Well, here is your answer:

Using data through 1Q 2020, U.S. dependency on debt to generate economic growth in the private sector shot through the roof (see dotted red line above). In other words, U.S. corporate sector is leveraged to historical highs when the corporate debt levels are set against corporate value added.

All we need next is to see how 2Q 2020 COVID19 pandemic figures stack against this. A junkie hasn't been to a rehab, and the methadone clinic is closed...

12/6/20: American Love Affair With Debt: Pre-COVID Saga

Latest data for debt levels at the U.S. non-financial businesses and households (including non-profits) is out this week. So here are the charts and some stats:

There has been a bit of rush back in 1Q 2020 (the latest data available) to load up on loans by both private households and private businesses. 
  • Non-financial business debt rose 7.86% y/y in that quarter, before COVID19 pandemic fully hit the U.S. economy. For comparison, previous quarter, debt rose *just* 4.81% y/y and 8 quarters annual growth rates average through 4Q 2019 was *only* 6.21%. Not only the U.S. businesses levered up over the last two years at a pace faster than nominal GDP growth, but their reckless abandon went into an overdrive in 1Q 2020.
  • U.S. households and non-profit organizations serving them were not far behind the U.S. businesses. Debt levels in the U.S. households & NPOs rose 3.75% y/y in 1Q 2020, up on 3.26% y/y growth rate in 4Q 2019 and on 3.32% average growth rate over the two years through 4Q 2020. Which, in part, probably helps explain how on Earth financially-stretched American households managed to buy up a year worth of toilet paper supplies in one week in April.
Thus, overall, real private economic debt in the U.S. has ballooned in 1Q 2020, rising to USD 33.092 trillion. This marked y/y growth rate of 5.80% in 1Q 2020, up on 4.03% growth in 4Q 2019 and on 4.73% average growth over two years through 4Q 2019:

And yes, leverage risks in the private sector have increased as the result of these figures. At the end of 1Q 2020:
  • U.S. non-financial businesses debts stood at 78.07% of GDP, an all-time high since the post-WW2 data started;
  • U.S. households and NPOs debts stood at 75.6% of GDP, marking an official end to the post-Global Financial Crisis 'deleveraging' period that saw debt/GDP ratio declining to the low of 74.2% in 4Q 2019.
  • Total non-financial private real economic debt stood at 153.67%, the highest level since 1Q 2011.

26/3/20: Why "Families First Coronavirus Response Act" Can’t Fix America

I have written extensively about the fact that U.S. public has severely restricted access to healthcare and other basic services, primarily because of the illusion of insurance: the fact that many people in the U.S., even when covered pro-forma by insurance contracts, have no cash to cover the massive deductibles carried by these contracts.

Here is some recent (2018) evidence on the fact, via

"AARP's latest study tracking U.S. household savings is based on a “yes” or “no” response to the following question: “Does your household have an emergency savings account?” ... A majority of respondents answered "no," and even respondents who answered "yes" may not have a significant amount saved."

  • "...researchers note, "A broad interpretation of the question could count any plan for coping with an emergency, including borrowing from family and friends, as having an emergency savings account. Under this interpretation, even a household without savings in cash or a bank account may still answer 'yes' to the survey question."
  • "Fed data shows that 40% of US households would not be able to come up with $400 for an emergency expense," Deutsche Bank Securities chief economist Torsten Sløk notes.
Now, average deductible for U.S. healthcare insurance plan is now in excess of $1700 per person per annum. That is more than 4 times the $400 amount referenced in the Fed study.

Look at  higher earners in this:

A full quarter of those with household incomes in excess of $150,000 have no emergency savings. These families are  not covered by the Congressional aid passed yesterday. For those who are covered, the entire package will not cover average health insurance deductibles for two people in a household, let alone leave any money to help with rents, mortgages, utility and credit cards payments. 

21/1/18: FT Warns on Credit Cards Delinquencies: High or Hype?

The FT are reporting a 20% rise in credit cards delinquencies across major U.S. banks in 2016, compared to 2017 (see here: Which sounds bad. Although, of course, neither new nor completely up-to-date. That is because the NY Fed give us the same figures (for all U.S. households) through 3Q 2017.

So here is the analysis of the Fed figures:
Despite these worrying dynamics, the levels of delinquencies are still low. In 2007-2008, credit card delinquencies rates were around 9.34% and 10.84%, respectively. In 2006, these were 8.54%. In fact, current running average for 1Q-03Q 2017 is 6.14% or lower than for any year between 2003 and 2012. 

As the chart below shows, the real crisis is currently unfolding not in the credit cards debt, but in Student Loans with 10.05% average delinquency rate for 2017 so far. Credit crds delinquencies are only fourth in terms of severity. 

In terms of total volumes of debt in delinquency, 3Q 2017 data shows credit cards with USD12.3 billion, against mortgages at USD88.56 billion, student loans at USD 30.16 billion and auto loans at USD 17.05 billion. 

Even in terms of transition from shorter-term delinquency (30 days-89 days) to longer-term delinquency (90days and over), credit cards are not as prominent of a problem as student loans:

In summary, thus, the real crisis in the U.S. household debt is not (yet) in credit cards or revolving loans, and not even (yet) in mortgages. It is in student debt, followed by auto loans.

21/1/18: Student Loans Debt Crisis: It Only Gets Worse

A new research from the Brookings Institution has shed some light on the exploding student debt crisis in the U.S. The numbers are horrifying (for details see (emphasis mine):

"Trends for the 1996 entry cohort show that cumulative default rates continue to rise between 12 and 20 years after initial entry. Applying these trends to the 2004 entry cohort suggests that nearly 40 percent may default on their student loans by 2023." In simple terms, even 12-20 years into the loan, default rates are rising, which means that after we take out those borrowers who are more likely to default (earlier defaulters within any given cohort), the remaining borrowers pool is not improving. This applies to the cohort of borrowers who entered the labour markets at the end/after the Recession of 2001 - a cohort that started their careers before the Global Financial Crisis and the Great Recession, and that joined the labor force at the time of rapid growth and declining unemployment.

"The new data show the importance of examining outcomes for all entrants, not just borrowers, since borrowing rates differ substantially across groups and over time. For example, for-profit borrowers default at twice the rate of public two-year borrowers (52 versus 26 percent after 12 years), but because for-profit students are more likely to borrow, the rate of default among all for-profit entrants is nearly four times that of public two-year entrants (47 percent versus 13 percent)." Which means that the ongoing process of deregulation of the for-profit education providers - a process heavily influenced by the Trump Administration close links to the for-profit education sector (see and  - is only likely to make matters worse for younger cohorts of Americans.

On a related: "Trends over time are most alarming among for-profit colleges; out of 100 students who ever attended a for-profit, 23 defaulted within 12 years of starting college in the 1996 cohort compared to 43 in the 2004 cohort (compared to an increase from just 8 to 11 students among entrants who never attended a for-profit)." So not only things are getting worse over time on their own, but they will be even worse given the direction of deregulation drive.

"The new data underscore that default rates depend more on student and institutional factors than on average levels of debt. For example, only 4 percent of white graduates who never attended a for-profit defaulted within 12 years of entry, compared to 67 percent of black dropouts who ever attended a for-profit. And while average debt per student has risen over time, defaults are highest among those who borrow relatively small amounts." This highlights, amongst other things, the absurd nature of the U.S. legal frameworks governing the resolution of student debt insolvency: the easier/less costly cases to resolve (lower borrowings) in insolvency are effectively exacerbated by the lack of proper bankruptcy resolution regime applying to the student loans.

Some charts:

Data above clearly highlights the dramatic uplift in default rates for the more recent cohort of borrowers. At this point in time, borrowers from the 2003-2004 cohort already exhibit higher cumulative default rates than the previous cohort exhibited over 20 years horizon. Worse, the rate of increases in default rates is still higher for the later cohort than for the earlier one. Put differently, things are not only worse, but are getting worse faster.

And here is the breakdown by the type of institution:
For-profit institutions' loans default rates are now at over 50% and rising. In simple terms, this is a form of legislatively approved and supported debt slavery, folks.

Beyond the study, here is the latest data on student loans debt. Student loans - aggregate - transition into delinquency is highest of all household credit lines:

And the total volume of Student Loans debt is now second only to mortgages: