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Charted: U.S. Consumer Debt Approaches $16 Trillion

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U.S. consumer debt approaches $16 trillion

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Charted: U.S. Consumer Debt Approaches $16 Trillion

According to the Federal Reserve (Fed), U.S. consumer debt is approaching a record-breaking $16 trillion. Critically, the rate of increase in consumer debt for the fourth quarter of 2021 was also the highest seen since 2007.

This graphic provides context into the consumer debt situation using data from the end of 2021.

Housing Vs. Non-Housing Debt

The following table includes the data used in the above graphic. Housing debt covers mortgages, while non-housing debt covers auto loans, student loans, and credit card balances.

DateHousing Debt
(USD trillions)
Non-Housing Debt
(USD trillions)
Total Consumer Debt
(USD trillions)
Q1 20035.182.057.23
Q2 20035.342.047.38
Q3 20035.452.107.55
Q4 20035.962.108.06
Q1 20046.172.138.30
Q2 20046.342.128.46
Q3 20046.642.208.84
Q4 20046.832.229.05
Q1 20057.012.199.20
Q2 20057.232.269.49
Q3 20057.452.359.80
Q4 20057.672.3410.01
Q1 20068.022.3610.38
Q2 20068.352.4010.75
Q3 20068.652.4611.11
Q4 20068.832.4811.31
Q1 20079.032.4611.49
Q2 20079.332.5311.86
Q3 20079.562.5812.14
Q4 20079.752.6312.38
Q1 20089.892.6512.54
Q2 20089.952.6512.60
Q3 20089.982.6912.67
Q4 20089.972.7112.68
Q1 20099.852.6812.53
Q2 20099.772.6312.40
Q3 20099.652.6212.27
Q4 20099.552.6212.17
Q1 20109.532.5812.11
Q2 20109.382.5511.93
Q3 20109.282.5611.84
Q4 20109.122.5911.71
Q1 20119.182.5811.76
Q2 20119.142.5811.72
Q3 20119.042.6211.66
Q4 20118.902.6311.53
Q1 20128.802.6411.44
Q2 20128.742.6411.38
Q3 20128.602.7111.31
Q4 20128.592.7511.34
Q1 20138.482.7511.23
Q2 20138.382.7711.15
Q3 20138.442.8511.29
Q4 20138.582.9411.52
Q1 20148.702.9611.66
Q2 20148.623.0211.64
Q3 20148.643.0711.71
Q4 20148.683.1611.84
Q1 20158.683.1711.85
Q2 20158.623.2411.86
Q3 20158.753.3112.06
Q4 20158.743.3712.11
Q1 20168.863.3912.25
Q2 20168.843.4512.29
Q3 20168.823.5412.36
Q4 20168.953.6312.58
Q1 20179.093.6412.73
Q2 20179.143.6912.83
Q3 20179.193.7712.96
Q4 20179.323.8213.14
Q1 20189.383.8513.23
Q2 20189.433.8713.30
Q3 20189.563.9513.51
Q4 20189.534.0113.54
Q1 20199.654.0213.67
Q2 20199.814.0613.87
Q3 20199.844.1313.97
Q4 20199.954.2014.15
Q1 202010.104.2114.31
Q2 202010.154.1214.27
Q3 202010.224.1414.36
Q4 202010.394.1714.56
Q1 202110.504.1414.64
Q2 202110.764.2014.96
Q3 202110.994.2415.23
Q4 202111.254.3415.59

Source: Federal Reserve

Trends in Housing Debt

Home prices have experienced upward pressure since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is evidenced by the Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, which has increased by 34% since the start of the pandemic.

Driving this growth are various pandemic-related impacts. For example, the cost of materials such as lumber have seen enormous spikes. We’ve covered this story in a previous graphic, which showed how many homes could be built with $50,000 worth of lumber. In most cases, these higher costs are passed on to the consumer.

Another key factor here is mortgage rates, which fell to all-time lows in 2020. When rates are low, consumers are able to borrow in larger quantities. This increases the demand for homes, which in turn inflates prices.

Ultimately, higher home prices translate to more mortgage debt being incurred by families.

No Need to Worry, Though

Economists believe that today’s housing debt isn’t a cause for concern. This is because the quality of borrowers is much stronger than it was between 2003 and 2007, in the years leading up to the financial crisis and subsequent housing crash.

In the chart below, subprime borrowers (those with a credit score of 620 and below) are represented by the red-shaded bars:

Mortgage originations by Credit Score

We can see that subprime borrowers represent very little (2%) of today’s total originations compared to the period between 2003 to 2007 (12%). This suggests that American homeowners are, on average, less likely to default on their mortgage.

Economists have also noted a decline in the household debt service ratio, which measures the percentage of disposable income that goes towards a mortgage. This is shown in the table below, along with the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate.

YearMortgage Payments as a % of Disposable IncomeAverage 30-Year Fixed Mortgage Rate
200012.0%8.2%
200412.2%5.4%
200812.8%5.8%
20129.8%3.9%
20169.9%3.7%
20209.4%3.5%
20219.3%3.2%

Source: Federal Reserve

While it’s true that Americans are less burdened by their mortgages, we must acknowledge the decrease in mortgage rates that took place over the same period.

With the Fed now increasing rates to calm inflation, Americans could see their mortgages begin to eat up a larger chunk of their paycheck. In fact, mortgage rates have already risen for seven consecutive weeks.

Trends in Non-Housing Consumer Debt

The key stories in non-housing consumer debt are student loans and auto loans.

The former category of debt has grown substantially over the past two decades, with growth tapering off during the pandemic. This can be attributed to COVID relief measures which have temporarily lowered the interest rate on direct federal student loans to 0%.

Additionally, these loans were placed into forbearance, meaning 37 million borrowers have not been required to make payments. As of April 2022, the value of these waived payments has reached $195 billion.

Over the course of the pandemic, very few direct federal borrowers have made voluntary payments to reduce their loan principal. When payments eventually resume, and the 0% interest rate is reverted, economists believe that delinquencies could rise significantly.

Auto loans, on the other hand, are following a similar trajectory as mortgages. Both new and used car prices have risen due to the global chip shortage, which is hampering production across the entire industry.

To put this in numbers, the average price of a new car has climbed from $35,600 in 2019, to over $47,000 today. Over a similar timeframe, the average price of a used car has grown from $19,800, to over $28,000.

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Investor Education

The Top 5 Factors Shaping Client-Advisor Dynamics

Here are the most common drivers for hiring a financial advisor, along with the top reasons for firing one.

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The following content is sponsored by Morningstar

The Top 5 Factors Shaping Client-Advisor Dynamics

What drives investors to hire a financial advisor?

From saving for a down payment to planning for retirement, clients turn to advisors to guide them through life’s complex financial decisions. However, many of the key reasons for hiring a financial advisor stem from emotional factors, and go beyond purely financial motivations.

We partnered with Morningstar to show the top reasons clients hire a financial advisor—along with the reasons for firing one—to provide insight on what’s driving investor behavior.

Top Reasons for Hiring a Financial Advisor

Here are the most common reasons for hiring an advisor, based on a survey of 312 respondents. 

Reason for Hiring% of Respondents
Citing This Reason
Type of Motivation
Specific goals or needs32%Financial-based reason
Discomfort handling finances32%Emotion-based reason
Behavioral coaching17%Emotion-based reason
Recommended by family
or friends
12%Emotion-based reason
Quality of relationship10%Emotion-based reason

Numbers may not total 100 due to rounding. Respondents could select more than one answer.

While financial factors played an important role in hiring decisions, emotional reasons made up the largest share of total responses. 

This illustrates that clients place a high degree of importance on reaching specific goals or needs, and how an advisor communicates with them. Furthermore, clients seek out advisors for behavioral coaching to help them make informed decisions while staying the course.

Key Takeaways

With this in mind, here are five ways advisors can provide value to their clients and grow their practice:

  • Address clients’ emotional needs early on
  • Demonstrate how you can offer support
  • Use ordinary language
  • Provide education to help clients stay on track
  • Acknowledge that these are issues we all face

By addressing emotional factors, advisors can more effectively help clients’ navigate intricate financial decisions and avoid common behavioral mistakes.

Top Reasons for Firing a Financial Advisor

On the flip side, here are the top reasons clients terminated their advisor, based on a separate survey of 184 respondents:

Reason for Firing% of Respondents
Citing This Reason
Type of Motivation
Quality of financial advice
and services
32%Emotion-based reason
Quality of relationship21%Emotion-based reason
Cost of services17%Financial-based reason
Return performance11%Financial-based reason
Comfort handling financial
issues on their own
10%Emotion-based reason

Numbers may not total 100 due to rounding. Respondents could select more than one answer.

While firing an advisor is rare, many of the primary drivers behind firing decisions are also emotionally-driven.

Often, advisors were fired due to the quality of the relationship. In many cases, this was due to an advisor not dedicating enough time to fully grasp their personal financial goals. Additionally, wealthier, and more financially literate clients are more likely to fire their advisors—highlighting the importance of understanding the client. 

Key Takeaways

Given these driving factors, here are five ways that advisors can build a lasting relationship through recognizing their clients’ emotional needs:

  • Understand your clients’ deeper goals
  • Reach out proactively
  • Act as a financial coach
  • Keep clients updated
  • Conduct goal-setting exercises on a regular basis

By communicating their value and setting expectations early, advisors can help prevent setbacks in their practice by adeptly recognizing the emotional motivators of their clients.

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