A new report released by Experian shows that consumer debt levels have increased over the past two years. Based on an analysis of millions of consumer credit files, the average revolving and installment debt has increased from $10,371 in 2005 to $11,669 in 2006. This represents an increase of nearly 13% over the past two years. Installment debt includes auto loans, student loans, or other loans with a fixed monthly payment (excluding mortgages), and revolving debt typically includes credit cards and department store charge cards. Since the 13% figure lumps together both types of debt, we don’t know how much of the increase pertains to credit card debt versus installment debt. But the trend itself represents a significant overall increase in consumer debt levels.
Another fascinating statistic: The average number of late payments has increased more than 19% from 2004 to 2006. Back on March 28, I blogged about my prediction that credit card late payment rates will rise again after an artificial dip caused by the tidal wave of late-2005 bankruptcy filings. Again, this new Experian report lumps together late credit card payments with late payments on installment debts, so we don’t have a precise breakdown, but the overall increase supports my prediction of higher late payment ratios on credit card debt for 2006.
We can draw two general conclusions from this report: Consumers are taking on more debt than before, and they are having a more difficult time managing that debt. Add to the mix an increase in home foreclosures, plus a negative savings rate, and it’s hard to be optimistic about the financial future of the American consumer.