US Household Debt Reaches Record Levels Since Great Recession

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The financial crisis roughly a decade ago was a defining moment in U.S. economics and regulation, but really this was a story of debt and who gets left holding the bag. At that time, the country had taken on an incredible amount of debt in the form of mortgages and student loans. And it seems that we have reached those levels again.

In the first quarter of 2017, household debt outstanding reached $12.7 trillion, beating the peak set back in 2008 before the precipitous fall not long after. The financial crisis as we know it was brought about by the housing market collapse, and with mortgages making a significant portion of the debt that Americans had, the market didn’t stand a chance.

For a point of perspective, household debt outstanding in the first quarter is larger than China’s economy, or nearly four times that of Germany’s.

On the other hand, household net worth is also at a record high of $94.8 trillion, surfing on the wave of perhaps one of the biggest bull markets ever. However, most of this wealth creation only benefited those at the top with the capital to invest.

According to Bloomberg:

For most Americans, whose median household income, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was at its peak in 1999, borrowing has been the answer to maintaining their standard of living. The increase in debt helps explain why the economy’s main source of fuel is providing less of boost than in the past. Personal spending growth has averaged 2.4% since the recession ended in 2009, less than the 3% of the previous expansion and 4.3% from 1982-90.

Also consider the demographics that are at play. Millennials are currently the largest living generation in the United States. There are trends within this group that affect who or how they will take on debt. For instance it’s more likely that millennials will take on debt for student loans, which might preclude them from taking on more debt with a mortgage.