Household Debt and Delinquencies Continue to Grow

Table of Contents
  1. Delinquencies are Also Growing Across Several Types of Debt
  2. Next Steps if You’re Struggling with Debt in Los Angeles

If you feel like your debt balances keep creeping upward or you’re falling further behind on your payments you are not alone. In the third quarter of 2023, total U.S. credit card debt topped $1 trillion for the first time…and then it increased again in the last quarter of the year. It’s not just credit card debt, either. Together, Americans owe $17.5 trillion in household debt. That’s an all-time high.

Almost every type of household debt is up: credit card debt, auto loan debt, mortgage debt, and home equity lines of credit (HELOCs). The only type of household debt that is holding steady is student loan debt, and that’s not because people aren’t taking out new loans. Total student loan balances have barely grown because interest on those loans was paused for most of 2023, and $160 billion in student loan debt has been forgiven.

Delinquencies are Also Growing Across Several Types of Debt

Americans aren’t just carrying more debt–they’re having more trouble paying it. That’s not a surprise to us, since we talk to people every day who are overwhelmed by debt. And it tracks with bankruptcy filings, which increased significantly from 2023 to 2024.

In the last three months of 2023, a significant percentage of credit card debt and auto loan balances fell behind by 30 days. Credit card debt was more than twice as likely to reach 90 days past due as it was in mid-2022. And, the average balance of accounts in collection jumped more than 30%.

Who is Struggling with Debt?

The short answer is “everyone.” Every age group had more credit card debt going seriously delinquent (90+ days past due). Every age group had more auto loan debt going seriously delinquent. Every age group except one (60-69) had more mortgage debt going seriously delinquent.

The pain isn’t evenly distributed, though. Young adults (18-29) had the highest serious delinquency rates for each of the three types of debt. Some reasons people in this age group may be struggling more include:

  • Median incomes are lower for younger adults, meaning they may not have as much flexibility in their budgets to absorb the increased cost of living
  • Younger adults often have less established credit and are taking out credit in a different environment, meaning they may be paying higher interest rates
  • Younger adults generally have less experience with managing finances, leading to “rookie mistakes” that can snowball

Californians are Doing Slightly Better

California households have also seen an increase in seriously delinquent debt. But, that percentage is the lowest of any of the 11 states specifically included in the report. Some states, including Florida and New York, have serious delinquency rates that are more than double the rate for Californians.

Next Steps if You’re Struggling with Debt in Los Angeles

One of the biggest mistakes people struggling with delinquent debt make is taking a “wait and see” approach. It’s natural to hope that circumstances will improve–that you’ll get a raise, or manage to get one credit card paid off and then have more money to put toward other expenses, that interest rates will go down and you can take out a lower-rate loan to cover your debts, or that your tax refund will allow you to catch up and stay there.

Unfortunately, those sorts of vague hopes can keep a person in the same place for years. That can mean throwing away thousands of dollars.

The first step when you find yourself falling behind on debt is to do some hard math. Be realistic. You will probably have an unexpected expense or two in the next year. You may not get all the overtime you’re hoping for. Budget based on what you know, and include some emergency funds.

Will your current income cover all of your living expenses, potential emergencies, and debt payments? If so, budget carefully and keep your eye on the ball as you get that debt paid down and regain control. If not, it’s time to look at your options. For example, you could:

  • Look for ways to decrease your costs on a consistent basis
  • Look for ways to increase your income, such as taking on a part-time job
  • Look for ways to reduce or eliminate your debt, such as negotiating with your creditors to make lower monthly payments or a lump-sum payoff or consulting a bankruptcy attorney

 

Sadly, many of the people who come to us to learn more about bankruptcy have already been through two, three, even five years or more of financial stress, juggling, and staying stuck in the same place. If you’ve done the math and it doesn’t work, it’s in your best interest to get information about your options as soon as possible. Some of the most burdensome types of debt, such as credit card debt and medical bills, can be discharged in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. That means they’re wiped out, clearing the way to build a better financial foundation.

At Borowitz & Clark, we’ve helped thousands of people in and around Los Angeles find that fresh start. To learn more, call us now at 877-439-9717 or fill out the contact form on this page.

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