Americans are racking up debt at record rates.
Consumer debt levels for March 2022 climbed by $52.4 billion, an annual increase of 14%, seasonally adjusted, according to Federal Reserve data released Friday.
Revolving credit, which includes credit cards, surged by 21.4%.
Despite robust wage growth – over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have gone up by 5.5% – consumers are seeing those gains eroded by the highest inflation in 40 years. The cost of food is up nearly 9% over the last year, and a gallon of gas now averages $4.279 at the pump.
Paying off credit card debt is about to get even more difficult for those who don’t make the minimum monthly payment: The Federal Reserve on Wednesday announced a half-point rate hike as part of a series of actions intended to address rampant inflation. That means interest rates will rise on everything from credit cards to car loans, pressuring household budgets even further.
“All of this newfound debt that Americans have is only going to get more and more expensive in the coming months,” said Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst for Lending Tree.
The rise in debt levels is likely driven by two factors, Schulz said. First, there is some pent-up spending after lockdown. Then there are other cash-strapped individuals who are turning to credit cards to pay for basic needs that have grown more expensive, he said.
“An increase in credit card debt can be a sign of confidence, or it can be a sign of concern,” Schulz said. “I think we’re seeing both of those simultaneously right now in this country, and it’s just another example of how different people have been impacted in the wake of the pandemic.”