In a previous post, we highlighted that financially fragile households are disproportionately likely to use “buy now, pay later” (BNPL) payment plans. In this post, we shed further light on BNPL’s place in its users’ household finances, with a particular focus on how use varies by a household’s level of financial fragility. Our results reveal substantially different use patterns, as more-fragile households tend to use the service to make frequent, relatively small, purchases that they might have trouble affording otherwise. In contrast, financially stable households tend to not use BNPL as frequently and are more likely to emphasize that BNPL allows them to avoid paying interest on credit-finance purchases. We explore below what drives these differences and consider the implications for future BNPL use.
Editor’s note: Since this post was first published, percentages cited in the first paragraph have been corrected. (February 7, 1pm)
Following our post on racial and ethnic wealth gaps, here we turn to the distribution of wealth across age groups, focusing on how the picture has changed since the beginning of the pandemic. As of 2019, individuals under 40 years old held just 4.9 percent of total U.S. wealth despite comprising 37 percent of the adult population. Conversely, individuals over age 54 made up a similar share of the population and held 71.6 percent of total wealth. Since 2019, we find a slight narrowing of these wealth disparities across age groups, likely driven by expanded ownership of financial assets among younger Americans.
The New York Fed’s Center for Microeconomic Data released the Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit for the fourth quarter of 2023 this morning. Household debt balances grew by $212 billion over the last quarter. Although there was growth across most loan types, it was moderate compared to the fourth-quarter changes seen in the past few years. Mortgage balances grew by $112 billion and home equity line of credit (HELOC) balances saw an $11 billion bump as borrowers tapped home equity in lieu of refinancing first mortgages. Credit card balances, which typically see substantial increases in the fourth quarter coinciding with holiday spending, grew by $50 billion, and are now 14.5 percent higher than in the fourth quarter of 2022. Auto loan balances saw a $12 billion increase from the previous quarter, continuing the steady growth that has been in place since 2011. In this post, we revisit our analysis on credit cards and examine which groups are struggling with their auto loan payments. The Quarterly Report and this analysis are based on the New York Fed Consumer Credit Panel (CCP), a panel which is drawn from Equifax credit reports.
The topics covered on Liberty Street Economics in 2023 hit many themes, reflecting the range of research interests of the more than sixty staff economists at the New York Fed and their coauthors. We published 122 posts this year, exploring important subjects such as equitable growth and the economic impacts of extreme weather, alongside our deep and long-standing coverage of topics like inflation, banking system vulnerability, international economics, and monetary policy effects. As we close out the year, we’re taking a look back at the top five posts. See you again in 2024.
An important part of the mission of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is to provide affordable mortgages that both promote the transition from renting to owning and create “sustainable” homeownership. The FHA has never defined what it means by sustainability. However, we developed a scorecard in 2018 that tracks the long-term outcomes of FHA first-time buyers (FTBs) and update it again in this post. The data show that from 2011 to 2016 roughly
21.8 percent of FHA FTBs failed to sustain their homeownership.
This morning, the New York Fed’s Center for Microeconomic Data released the 2023:Q3 Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit. After only moderate growth in the second quarter, total household debt balances grew $228 billion in the third quarter across all types, especially credit cards and student loans. Credit card balances grew $48 billion this quarter and marked the eighth quarter of consecutive year-over year increases. The $154 billion nominal year-over-year increase in credit card balances marks the largest such increase since the beginning of our time series in 1999. The increase in balances is consistent with strong nominal spending and real GDP growth over the same time frame. But credit card delinquencies continue to rise from their historical lows seen during the pandemic and have now surpassed pre-pandemic levels. In this post, we focus on which groups have fallen behind on debt payments and discuss whether rising delinquencies are narrowly concentrated or broad based.
After forty-three months of forbearance, the pause on federal student loan payments has ended. Originally enacted at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the administrative forbearance and interest waiver lasted until September 1, 2023, and borrowers’ monthly payments resumed this month. As discussed in an accompanying post, the pause on student loan payments afforded borrowers over $260 billion in waived payments throughout the pandemic, supporting borrowers’ consumption and savings over the last three years. In this post, we analyze responses of student loan borrowers to special questions in the August 2023 SCE Household Spending Survey designed to gauge the expected impact of the payment resumption on future spending growth, the risk of credit delinquency for borrowers, and the economy at large. The findings suggest that the payment resumption will have a relatively small overall effect on consumption, on the order of a 0.1 percentage point reduction in aggregate spending from August levels, and a (delayed) return of student loan delinquency rates back to pre-pandemic levels. Across groups, we see little variation in spending responses but find that low-income borrowers, female borrowers, those with less than a bachelor’s degree, and those who were not in repayment before the pandemic expect the highest likelihood of missed student loan payments.
The strength of consumer spending so far this year has surprised most private forecasters. In this post, we examine the factors behind this strength and the implications for consumption in the coming quarters. First, we revisit the measurement of “excess savings” that households have accumulated since 2020, finding that the estimates of remaining excess savings are very sensitive to assumptions about measurement, estimation period, and trend type, which renders them less useful. We thus broaden the discussion to other aspects of the household balance sheet. Using data from the New York Fed’s Consumer Credit Panel, we calculate the additional cash flows made available for consumption as a result of households’ adjustments to their debt holdings. To detect signs of stress in household financial positions, we examine recent trends in delinquencies and find the evidence to be mixed, suggesting that certain stresses have emerged for some households. In contrast, we find that the New York Fed’s Survey of Consumer Expectations still points to a solid outlook for consumer spending.
A perennial challenge with China’s growth model has been overly high investment spending relative to GDP and unusually low consumer spending, something which China has long struggled to rebalance. As China attempts to move away from credit-intensive, investment-focused growth, the economy’s growth will have to rely on higher consumer spending. However, a prolonged household borrowing binge, COVID scarring and a deep slump in the property market in China have damaged household balance sheets and eroded consumer sentiment. In this post, we examine the impact of recent shocks on Chinese household behavior for clues around the outlook for reviving consumption and economic growth in China.
“Buy now, pay later” (BNPL) has become an increasingly popular form of payment among Americans in recent years. While BNPL provides shoppers with the flexibility to pay for goods and services over time, usually with zero interest, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has identified several areas of potential consumer harm associated with its growing use, including inconsistent consumer protections, and the risk of excessive debt accumulation and over-extension. BNPL proponents have argued that the service enables improved credit access and greater financial inclusion, with approval being quick and relatively easy. More research is needed to assess the overall risks and benefits of BNPL for consumers. As a first step, we draw on new survey data to examine the background and circumstances of consumers who receive and take up BNPL offers. We find both the availability and use of BNPL to be fairly widespread but see disproportionate take-up among consumers with unmet credit needs, limited credit access, and greater financial fragility. While BNPL expands financial inclusion, especially to those with low credit scores, there is a risk that these payment plans contribute to excessive debt accumulation and over-extension.