Posted by on December 5, 2018 2:05 am
Categories: Economy

Consumer credit recently hit a new all-time high, mainly on the back of newfound love with credit cards.

In the last 12 months, no major US metropolitan area experienced a surge in credit card balances than Austin, Texas.

It could be a sign that Austinites (mostly millennials) might be struggling with increasing household expenses, stuck in the gig economy: lower wages, horrible benefits, no job security, and heighten debt loads.

The study, published by credit card platform CompareCards, found credit card balances soared 12% from $6,165 to $6,924 during Sept. 2017 to Sept 2018.

CompareCards examined data from My LendingTree to compare the average credit card balance in the nation’s 50 largest cities. Austin was one of three cities that saw double-digit increases in credit card balances during the one year. The others were St. Louis and San Jose, California.

This type of credit growth was widely expected, considering our October report on consumer credit hit record highs. The Federal Reserve data showed that Americans’ revolving credit (credit cards) balances expanded 3.7% nationwide during the same period, hitting to a record $1.041 trillion.

CompareCards provides an analysis of why Austinites are resorting to credit cards at a much higher rate than the rest of the country:

“Austin, Texas — the city with the fastest-growing card debt — has seen years of rapid population and job growth, transforming the Texas capital into perhaps the most expensive big city in Texas. For example, reports showed that rents in Austin hit an all-time high of nearly $1,300 per month in June. Those high cost-of-living expenses, paired with the student loan debt issues that come with being the home of the University of Texas, one of the nation’s biggest colleges, mean that many Austinites may be leaning a little more heavily on credit cards these days.”

Cities With The Biggest Percentage Growth In Credit Card Balances, Sept. 2017 to Sept. 2018 

Top 20 Cities Ranked By Average Credit Card Balance Change %, Sept. 2017 to Sept. 2018

Matt Schulz, the chief industry analyst at CompareCards, told CultureMap that Austin’s growth of credit card debt could be an indicator of consumer confidence.

“If you feel great about your job and your economic future, you may not sweat a little bit of a credit card balance because you firmly believe that you’ll be able to pay it off in relatively short order,” he said.

“Some people may even use credit card debt as a short-term investment, whether you’re remodeling a house or trying to start a business. That’s the kind of thing that could certainly be happening in a booming city like Austin, because people feel emboldened by a good economy.”

Although, when consumers acquire high debt/ savings ratio — even when the reason is well-intended, their savings levels plunge to extreme lows that could be problematic in the next economic downturn, according to Schulz.

“That’s scary, because that means that when the next downturn comes, people might find themselves in a worse financial situation than they needed to be in, simply because they were overconfident,” he warned.

As economic storm clouds gather ahead of 2019, Austinites seem to be in a tough position of high debt loads, and limited savings, a perfect concoction for deleveraging as credit markets continue to tighten.

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