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New York Fed Q3 Report Shows Continued Decline in Consumer Debt

Nov 22, 2010

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has released its Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit for the third quarter of 2010, which shows that consumer debt continues its downward trend of the previous seven quarters, though the pace of decline has slowed recently. Since its peak in the third quarter of 2008, nearly $1 trillion has been shaved from outstanding consumer debts. Additionally, this quarter’s supplemental report addresses for the first time the question of how this decline has been achieved and notes a sharp reversal in household cash flow from debt, indicating a decrease in available funds for consumption. According to newly available data through year end 2009, the payoff of debt by consumers reduced their cash flow by about $150 billion, whereas between 2000 and 2007, borrowing had contributed more than $300 billion annually to consumers’ cash flow. Excluding the effects of defaults and charge-offs, available data show that non-mortgage debt fell for the first time since at least 2000. Also, net mortgage debt paydowns, which began in 2008, reached nearly $140 billion by year end 2009. These unique findings suggest that consumers have been actively reducing their debts, and not just by defaulting. “Consumer debt is declining but only part of the reduction is attributable to defaults and charge-offs,” said Donghoon Lee, senior economist in the research and statistics group at the New York Fed. “Americans are borrowing less and paying off more debt than in the recent past. This change, which we continue to study carefully, can be a result of both tightening credit standards and voluntary changes in saving behavior.” Also noteworthy in the third quarter: ►Household delinquent debt continues to decline and currently account for about $1.3 trillion or 11 percent of consumer debt, representing an 8.2 percent decline from a year earlier; ►The proportion of current mortgage balances that transitioned into delinquency rose slightly from 2.6 percent to 2.7 percent, after about a year of decline. ►Given the similar pattern observed in the third quarter of 2009, one might suggest this is a seasonal effect, though the New York Fed continues to closely monitor such developments. About 457,000 individuals received home foreclosure notices on their credit reports between July 1 and September 30, 2010, a 5.5 percent decrease from the second quarter and a 6.4 percent drop from a year earlier. ►The number of new bankruptcies noted on credit reports fell 16 percent from the previous quarter (from 621,000 to 522,000), but is 1 percent higher from a year earlier. ►This information is aimed at helping community groups, small businesses, state and local government agencies and the public to better understand, monitor and respond to trends in borrowing and indebtedness at the household level. The report is based on a nationally representative random sample drawn from data provided by the New York Fed’s Consumer Credit Panel. For more information, visit www.ny.frb.org.
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