Americans took on more student debt - and increased the delinquency rate for student loans - in the first quarter of 2012, while decreasing debt in every other category, according to a report released today by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Student loan debt reached $904 billion in the first quarter of 2012, an increase of $30 billion from the previous quarter, while overall consumer debt fell to $11.44 trillion. The $100 billion drop represents a 0.9 percent decrease from the fourth quarter of 2011, according to the New York Fed.
“Student loan debt continues to grow even as consumers reduce mortgage debt and credit card balances,” said Donghoon Lee, senior economist at the New York Fed. “It remains the only form of consumer debt to substantially increase since the peak of household debt in late 2008.”
The share of student loans more than 90 days behind on payments increased 0.24 percent in the first quarter to 6.13 percent – a higher delinquency rate than that for mortgages, auto loans and home equity lines of credit. The figures likely underestimated actual delinquency rates for student loans because nearly half are in deferment or grace periods, said the New York Fed, which estimates the delinquency rates for loans in the repayment cycle are likely twice as high.
Student debt is the single most significant source of debt for young Americans, according to an April survey by Millionaire Corner. More than 44 percent of investors age 40 and younger identify education costs as a source of debt, while one-fourth have debt due to unexpected medical expenses and one-fifth attribute their debt to “unrestrained personal spending” or to job loss or a cut in pay. More than one-third of these gen Xers and Millennials say they are “very concerned” or “concerned” about their level of debt, while one-fourth expressed “mild concern.”
While student debt is a growing concern, mortgage balances – as shown on consumer credit reports – fell 1 percent to $81 billion in the first quarter, said the New York Fed. Credit card balances fell to $679 billion, 21.6 percent below their peak of $866 billion in the fourth quarter of 2008.
The New York Fed’s Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit is based on a nationally representative random sample drawn from Equifax credit report data and aims to provide insight on various aspects of consumer borrowing, including student debt.