Federal student loan relief was recently extended through August 31, 2022, marking the sixth extension during the pandemic. Such debt relief includes the suspension of student loan payments, a waiver of interest, and the stopping of collections activity on defaulted loans. The suspension of student loan payments was expected to help 41 million borrowers save an estimated $5 billion per month. This post is the first in a two-part series exploring the implications and distributional consequences of policies that aim to address the student debt burden. Here, we focus on the uneven consequences of student debt relief and its withdrawal. With the end-date of the student loan relief drawing near, a key question is whether and how the discontinuation of student debt relief might affect households. Moreover, will these effects vary by demographics?
The United States has experienced a considerable rise in inflation over the past year. In this post, we examine how consumers’ inflation expectations have responded to inflation during the pandemic period and to what extent this is different from the behavior of consumers’ expectations before the pandemic. We analyze two aspects of the response of consumers’ expectations to changing conditions. First, we examine by how much consumers revise their inflation expectations in response to inflation surprises. Second, we look at the pass-through of revisions in short-term inflation expectations to revisions in longer-term inflation expectations. We use data from the New York Fed’s Survey of Consumer Expectations (SCE) and from the Michigan Survey of Consumers to measure these responses. We find that over the past two years, consumers’ shorter-horizon expectations have been highly attuned to current inflation news: one-year-ahead inflation expectations are very responsive to inflation surprises, in a pattern similar to what we witnessed before the pandemic. In contrast, three-year-ahead inflation expectations are now far less responsive to inflation surprises than they were before the pandemic, indicating that consumers are taking less signal from the recent movements in inflation about inflation at longer horizons than they did before. We also find that the pass-through from revisions in one-year-ahead expectations to revisions in longer-term expectations has declined during the pandemic relative to the pre-pandemic period. Taken together, these findings show that consumers expect inflation to behave very differently than it did before the pandemic, with a smaller share of short-term movements in inflation expected to persist into the future.
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.
Today, the New York Fed’s Center for Microeconomic Data released its Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit for the third quarter of 2021. Overall debt balances increased, bolstered primarily by a sizeable increase in mortgage balances, and for the second consecutive quarter, an increase in credit card balances. The changes in credit card balances in the second and third quarters of 2021 are remarkable since they appear to be a return to the normal seasonal patterns in balances. In a Liberty Street Economics post earlier this year we wrote about some demographic variation in these balance changes and the likely role of stimulus checks and forbearance programs in helping borrowers pay down expensive revolving debt balances. Here, we’ll take a fresh look at credit card balances and at the dynamics behind new and closing credit card accounts and limit changes, to examine how credit access and usage continue to evolve. The Quarterly Report and this analysis are based on our Consumer Credit Panel, which is itself based on Equifax credit data.
With the recent surge in inflation since the spring there has been an increase in consumers’ short-run (one-year ahead) and, to a lesser extent, medium-run (three-year ahead) inflation expectations (see Survey of Consumer Expectations). Although this rise in short- and medium-run inflation expectations is relevant for policymakers, it does not provide direct evidence about “un-anchoring” of long-run inflation expectations. Roughly speaking, inflation expectations are considered un-anchored when long-run inflation expectations change significantly in response to developments in inflation or other economic variables, and begin to move away from levels consistent with the central bank’s (implicit or explicit) inflation objective. In that case, actual inflation can become unmoored and risks drifting persistently away from the central bank’s objective. Well-anchored long-run inflation expectations therefore represent an important measure of the success of monetary policy. In this post, we look at the current anchoring of consumers’ long-run inflation expectations using novel data from the Survey of Consumer Expectations (SCE). Our results suggest that in August 2021 consumers’ five-year ahead inflation expectations were as well anchored as they were two years ago, before the start of the pandemic.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Center for Microeconomic Data today released its Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit for the second quarter of 2021. It showed that overall household debt increased at a quick clip over the period, with a $322 billion increase in balances, boosted primarily by a 2.8 percent increase in mortgage balances, a 2.2 percent increase in credit card balances, and a 2.4 percent increase in auto balances. Mortgage balances in particular were boosted by a record $1.22 trillion in newly originated loans. Although some borrowers are originating new loans, struggling borrowers remain in forbearance programs, where they are pausing repayment on their debts and creating an additional upward pressure on outstanding mortgage balances.
Forbearance on debt repayment was a key provision of the CARES Act, legislation intended to combat the widespread economic losses stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. This pause on required payments for federally guaranteed mortgages and student loans has provided temporary relief to those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and servicers of nonfederal loans often provided forbearances or other relief on request as well. Here, using a special survey section fielded with the August 2020 Survey of Consumer Expectations, we aim to understand who benefitted from these provisions. Specifically, were there differences by age, race, income, and educational background? Did individuals who suffered job or income losses benefit differentially? Did renters receive more or less nonhousing debt relief than homeowners? Answers to these questions are not only key for understanding the economic recovery and implications for inequality and equitable growth, they can provide important insight into the expected effects of more recent and potential future legislation.
It is common during recessions to observe significant slowdowns in credit flows to consumers. It is more difficult to establish how much of these declines are the consequence of a decrease in credit demand versus a tightening in supply. In this post, we draw on survey data to examine how consumer credit demand and supply have changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The evidence reveals a clear initial decline and recent rebound in consumer credit demand. We also observe a modest but persistent tightening in credit supply during the pandemic, especially for credit cards. Mortgage refinance applications are the main exception to this general pattern, showing a steep increase in demand and some easing in availability. Despite tightened standards, we find no evidence of a meaningful increase in unmet credit need.
We’ve spent the first three posts of this series discussing who has entered mortgage forbearance, and how their personal finances have developed during the course of the pandemic. In this fourth and final post, we will use Consumer Credit Panel (CCP) data to examine the profiles of those who remain in forbearance and those who have exited, and how the performance of household credit may evolve as the force of the pandemic begins to ebb and the economy reopens and normalizes.
In our first post in this series we showed that mortgage provisions under the CARES ACT and its subsequent extensions resulted in a rapid take-up of mortgage forbearances, under which borrowers had the option to pause or reduce debt service payments without inducing a delinquency notation on their credit reports. Here we examine the forbearance take-up rate of a group of mortgage borrowers we expect to have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic recession: small business owners. Relatively little is known about how small business owners have fared over the past year in terms of their personal finances. Were they able to continue making mortgage payments on their homes? Did they draw on home equity to help fund their business operations?