Photograph by Carsten Reisinger — Getty Images/iStockphoto

As they save less

By Lucinda Shen
May 20, 2016
May 20, 2016

Here’s another sign that consumers are ready to shake off the heavy saving habits ingrained by financial crisis.

Based on data from the Federal Reserve, outstanding credit card debt is set to hit $1 trillion in 2016, the Wall Street Journal reported. That’s a level not seen since its all-time high of $1.02 trillion in July 2008, on the eve of the crisis.

Back then, Americans’ personal savings rate was 4.4%. That number went as high as 11% in December 2012 and is currently 5.4%.

In March, the total level of outstanding credit card debt rose to $951.6 billion. That stems in part from the steadier economy and improving job market, leading consumers to think they have more to spend. Even auto loans are on the rise, while consumer sentiment has rebounded.

But there’s another side to the story. Rising credit card balances can also attributed to how banks are trying to do business in a low interest-rate environment that squeezes their profits. Banks have been aggressively seeking more business via rewards points, and, troublingly, subprime borrowers.

 

According to data from Equifax, lenders issued 10.6 million credit cards to subprime borrowers in 2015, up 25% from the year prior. It’s also the highest level since 2007.

Moreover, actual spending in the U.S. is still a mixed bag. Retail sales climbed to their highest level in over a year in April, though, as the Journal reported, there were signs that consumers were pulling back on nonessentials. The U.S.’s personal saving rate is also still hovering above pre-recession levels.

Either way, credit card companies will try to keep their profits up in a low-interest-rate environment.

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