American households added $193 billion of debt in the fourth quarter, driven by a surge in mortgage loans, and overall debt levels rose to a new record at $14.15 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Mortgage balances rose by $120 billion in the fourth quarter to $9.56 trillion, the New York Fed said in its quarterly report on household debt. Mortgage originations – pushed up by an increase in refinancing – also rose to $752 billion in the fourth quarter, reaching the highest volume since the fourth quarter of 2005.
Student loan balances grew by $10 billion in the fourth quarter, a slower pace when compared to five years ago. However, the total $1.51 trillion outstanding in student loan debt could be holding back young consumers trying to build up credit, the researchers found.
Credit card debt, which typically rises in the fourth quarter when consumers are doing their holiday shopping, rose by $46 billion last quarter, an amount economists said was larger than usual.
“Mortgage originations, including refinances, increased significantly in the final quarter of 2019, with auto loan originations also remaining at the brisk pace seen throughout the year,” said Wilbert Van Der Klaauw, senior vice president at the New York Fed. “The data also show that transitions into delinquency among credit card borrowers have steadily risen since 2016, notably among younger borrowers.”
Some 2.36% of loans became more than 90 days delinquent in the fourth quarter, up from 2.27% in the third quarter. New foreclosures remained low by historical standards, with 71,000 notations added to credit reports between October and December.
However, delinquencies rose more substantially for credit cards, auto debt and student loans – with young borrowers seeing the biggest increase. New York Fed economists said the rising delinquencies among borrowers in their 20s and 30s could be related to high levels of student loan debt, which could make it difficult for consumers to afford their bills.