Car Prices Drive Up Borrowing
Total household debt increased substantially during the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a $1.02 trillion increase in aggregate debt balances, according to the Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit for the fourth quarter of 2021 from the New York Fed’s Center for Microeconomic Data. The yearly increase was the largest seen since 2007 in nominal terms and was boosted by particularly robust growth in mortgage balances, which grew by nearly $900 billion through 2021. Credit card balances, which have followed an unusual path during the pandemic, saw a large seasonal increase in the fourth quarter but remain well below pre-pandemic levels. And student loan balances increased only modestly through 2021 due to lower enrollment and also due to administrative forbearance on federal student loans—the smallest annual increase we’ve seen since 2004. Outstanding auto loan balances grew in 2021 by $84 billion. The $734 billion in newly opened auto loans through the year was the largest volume we’ve seen in our data.
The Role of Educational Attainment in Household Debt and Delinquency Disparities
This post concludes a three-part series exploring the gender, racial, and educational disparities of debt outcomes of college students. In the previous two posts, we examined how debt holding and delinquency behaviors vary among students of different race and gender, breaking up our analyses by level of degree pursued by the student. We found that Black and Hispanic students were less likely than white students to take on credit card debt, auto loans, and mortgage debt, but experienced higher rates of delinquency in each of these debt areas by the age of 30. In contrast, Black students were more likely to take out student debt and both Black and Hispanic students experienced higher rates of student debt delinquency. We found that Asian students broadly followed reverse patterns from Black and Hispanic students by age 30. They were more likely than white students to acquire mortgages and less likely to hold student debt, but their delinquency patterns were in general similar to those of white students. Women were less likely to hold an auto loan or mortgage and more likely to hold student debt by age 30, and in most cases their delinquency outcomes were indistinguishable from males. In this post, we seek to understand mechanisms behind these racial and gender disparities and examine the role of educational attainment in explaining these patterns.
How COVID-19 Affected First-Time Homebuyers
Efforts in the spring of 2020 to contain the spread of COVID-19 resulted in a sharp contraction in U.S. economic growth and an unprecedented, rapid rise in unemployment. While the first wave of the pandemic slowed the spring housing market, home sales rebounded sharply over the rest of the year, with strong gains in house prices. Given the rising house prices and continuing high unemployment, concerns arose that COVID-19 may have negatively affected first-time homebuyers. Using a new and more accurate measure of first-time homebuyers, we find that these buyers have not been adversely affected by the pandemic. At the same time, gains from lower mortgage rates have gone to existing homeowners and not to households purchasing their first home.
An Update on How Households Are Using Stimulus Checks
In October, we reported on how households used their first economic impact payments, which they started to receive in mid-April 2020 as part of the CARES Act, and how they expected to use a second stimulus payment. In this post, we exploit new survey data to examine how households used the second round of stimulus checks, abd we investigate how they plan to use the third round.
Do People View Housing as a Good Investment and Why?
Housing represents the largest asset owned by most households and is a major means of wealth accumulation, particularly for the middle class. Yet there is limited understanding of how households view housing as an investment relative to financial assets, in part because of their differences beyond the usual risk and return trade-off. Housing offers households an accessible source of leverage and a commitment device for saving through an amortization schedule. For an owner-occupied residence, it also provides stability and hedges for rising housing costs. On the other hand, housing is much less liquid than financial assets and it also requires more time to manage. In this post, we use data from our just released SCE Housing Survey to answer several questions about how households view this choice: Do households view housing as a good investment choice in comparison to financial assets, such as stocks? Are there cross-sectional differences in preferences for housing as an investment? What are the factors households consider when making an investment choice between housing and financial assets?
“Excess Savings” Are Not Excessive
How will the U.S. economy emerge from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic? Will it struggle to return to prior levels of employment and activity, or will it come roaring back as soon as vaccinations are widespread and Americans feel comfortable travelling and eating out? Part of the answer to these questions hinges on what will happen to the large amount of “excess savings” that U.S. households have accumulated since last March. According to most estimates, these savings are around $1.6 trillion and counting. Some economists have expressed the concern that, if a considerable fraction of these accumulated funds is spent as soon as the economy re-opens, the ensuing rush of demand might be destabilizing. This post argues that these savings are not that excessive, when considered against the backdrop of the unprecedented government interventions adopted over the past year in support of households and that they are unlikely to generate a surge in demand post-pandemic.
How Do Consumers Believe the Pandemic Will Affect the Economy and Their Households?
In this post we analyze consumer beliefs about the duration of the economic impact of the pandemic and present new evidence on their expected spending, income, debt delinquency, and employment outcomes, conditional on different scenarios for the future path of the pandemic. We find that between June and August respondents to the New York Fed Survey of Consumer Expectations (SCE) have grown less optimistic about the pandemic’s economic consequences ending in the near future and also about the likelihood of feeling comfortable in crowded places within the next three months. Although labor market expectations of respondents differ considerably across fairly extreme scenarios for the evolution of the COVID pandemic, the difference in other economic outcomes across scenarios appear relatively moderate on average. There is, however, substantial heterogeneity in these economic outcomes and some vulnerable groups (for example, lower income, non-white) appear considerably more exposed to the evolution of the pandemic.
Inequality in U.S. Homeownership Rates by Race and Ethnicity
Homeownership has historically been an important means for Americans to accumulate wealth—in fact, at more than $15 trillion, housing equity accounts for 16 percent of total U.S. household wealth. Consequently, the U.S. homeownership cycle has triggered large swings in Americans’ net worth over the past twenty-five years. However, the nature of those swings has varied significantly by race and ethnicity, with different demographic groups tracing distinct trajectories through the housing boom, the foreclosure crisis, and the subsequent recovery. Here, we look into the dynamics underlying these divergences and explore some potential explanations.
Just Released: Racial Disparities in Student Loan Outcomes
A $20 billion rise in student loan balances in the third quarter of this year contributed to a $92 billion increase in total household debt, according to the latest Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit from the New York Fed’s Center for Microeconomic Data. This post explores racial disparities in student loan outcomes using information about the borrowers’ locations, grouping zip codes based upon which racial group constitutes the majority of an area’s residents.
A Better Measure of First-Time Homebuyers
Much of the concern about affordable homeownership has focused on first-time buyers. These buyers, who are often making the transition from renting to owning, can find it difficult to save to meet down-payment requirements; this is particularly true in those areas where rent takes up a significant portion of a household’s monthly income. In contrast to first-time buyers, repeat buyers can typically rely on the equity in their current house to help fund the down payment on a trade-up purchase; they also have an easier time qualifying for a new mortgage if they’ve successfully made payments on a prior mortgage, thereby improving their credit score. Despite the policy focus on first-time buyers, reliable data on these buyers do not exist. In this initial post in a three-part series, we introduce a better measure of first-time buyers and examine the dynamics of this group over the past seventeen years. In our next post, we will describe the characteristics of first-time buyers. We will conclude the series by examining the sustainability of homeownership for first-time buyers.