U.S. Households Shoulder Record $13.15 Trillion Debt to End 2017

Strong confidence, rising wages bolster increase in borrowing for the 14th straight quarter

U.S. consumers added $26 billion to credit-card balances in the fourth quarter. PHOTO: ELISE AMENDOLA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

By Eric Morath

U.S. households carry record levels of debt but appear well positioned to manage the burden with wages increasing and tax bills falling this year.

Outstanding household debt rose by $193 billion to $13.15 trillion in the final three months of 2017, completing the fifth straight year overall balances increased, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said Tuesday.

Total debt was the most on record, though the figure wasn’t adjusted for inflation or population growth. As a share of U.S. economic output, household debt was about 67% last quarter, barely edging up from the third quarter and well below a high of about 87% in early 2009.

“The current debt level is still manageable and is likely to grow further this year,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at advisory firm Grant Thornton.

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