Interest Rate Roundup

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Surging consumer credit – and what it means

Late yesterday, we got some startling statistics. In the month of March, consumer credit outstanding (auto loans, credit cards, and other non-real estate loans) surged $15.3 billion. That was the biggest rise since November and much more than the $6 billion economists were expecting. In fact, consumers took out $34 billion in consumer loans during the first quarter, the most since 2001.

It’s generally considered healthy when consumer borrowing rises. It shows that consumers are ready and willing to borrow and spend, promoting growth. But that’s only if the economy is strong and consumer balance sheets are in good shape. And you probably don’t need me to tell you that is most definitely NOT the case right now.

Instead, I think consumer borrowing is surging for two UNHEALTHY reasons ...

* First, falling home values and tighter mortgage lending standards have all but shut down the “housing ATM.” Borrowers had grown accustomed to taking out home equity loans and lines of credit, then using that money to pay for vacations, boats, RVs, and more. They can’t do that any more – either because their equity has evaporated or because banks no longer want to lend against what remains out of fear home prices will fall further – leaving them holding the bag.

* Second, surging food and energy prices have left consumers with few options. Their incomes generally aren’t keeping pace with inflation, so they’re being forced to use credit cards to finance even everyday purchases.

In other words, this surge in consumer credit isn’t a sign of strength. It’s a sign of weakness. It also leads me to believe that delinquency rates on consumer loans will continue their upward trend.


  • I think you are 100% correct! Credit cards used to be for clothes, vacations and all the "stuff" everyone "needed". Now it is for gas, food and bills. Not a good sign for the consumer or the consumer driven economy.

    By Anonymous Jeremy, at May 9, 2008 at 9:34 AM  

  • man they should but how many people follow those guidelines

    credit repair

    By Blogger credit savvy, at May 12, 2008 at 1:59 PM  

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