Consumers continued a strong pace of borrowing money in April, but at a slower rate than March.
The Federal Reserve reports consumer credit grew by more than $13 billion in April, an annual increase of 4.5%. That was a significant slowdown from the record increase the month before.
The Fed's report measures all kinds of credit, but economists particularly follow credit card debt, since it has widespread ramifications for the overall economy.
In April, credit card debt rose 2.1%, down from a 13.3% rate in March.
A study by the personal finance site CardHub shows U.S. consumers paid down nearly $27 billion in credit card debt during the first three months of the year. But that may not be the good news it appears to be.
The study's authors note the payments come on the heels of a late 2015 spending spree. Last year consumers added $71 billion to their credit card accounts. The study notes the first quarter pay-down is the smallest first quarter reduction in credit card balances since 2008.
$1 trillion in outstanding balances possible
“As a result, CardHub is projecting that we’ll end 2016 with roughly $1 trillion in outstanding balances for the first time ever, which would bring the amount owed by the average indebted household to more than $8,500,” the authors wrote. “You therefore have to wonder how long we can keep this up.”
The report shows that consumers' payments on their credit card balances covered just 38% of the $71 billion added to the total last year. More disappointing, eight of the last 10 quarters reflect year-over-year regression in consumer performance. That's cited as evidence that credit card users are reverting to pre-Great Recession bad habits.
The authors suggest the first quarter of 2016 shares a lot of similarities with the first quarter of 2007, just before the start of the Great Recession. Those similarities include the pay-down amount, how it compares to the previous quarter’s build-up, and the charge-off rate at the time.
“That is not good news for consumers, considering the financial turmoil that followed the last time around,” the authors conclude.