Credit card balances jump 13%, highest leap in over 20 years, as inflation outpaces wage growth

Personal Finance

Wages are rising — and yet not enough to keep up with the soaring cost of living.

Although average hourly earnings are up 5.1% from a year ago, prices have been rising much faster. The Consumer Price Index, which measures the average change in prices for consumer goods and services, jumped a higher-than-expected 9.1% in June, the fastest pace in over four decades.

To bridge the gap, more consumers are relying on credit cards to get by, which has helped propel total credit card debt to $890 billion.

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Overall, credit card balances rose 13% in the second quarter of 2022, notching the largest year-over-year increase in more than 20 years, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Even so, balances remain slightly below their pre-pandemic levels, after sharp declines in the first year of the pandemic.

An additional 233 million new credit accounts were opened in the quarter, the most since 2008.

Consumers don’t feel ‘financially secure’ for a recession

In an effort to cool down the economy, in July the Federal Reserve hiked its target federal funds rate by 0.75 percentage points a second consecutive time.

Amid fears of a recession and rising interest rates, more than half, or 56%, of consumers said they are already seeing their standard of living declining, according to a recent report from digital wealth manager Personal Capital.

Even more, roughly 69%, think their income isn’t keeping up with inflation and fewer than half said they feel “financially secure enough” for another recession, according to the survey, which polled over 2,000 adults in April.

Americans now say they need to be making about $107,800 a year to feel “financially healthy,” roughly double the national average but down 13% in the past six months, the report found.

“If everything is costing more, that may reset your expectations on what you need to feel financially healthy,” said Paul Deer, a certified financial planner and vice president of advisory service at Personal Capital.

“People are putting a higher priority on simply having a job and lowering their expectations,” he added.

How to feel ‘financially healthy’

Tetra Images | Tetra Images | Getty Images

How much money you need to earn to cover expenses and save for the future comes down to understanding your net worth and your goals, Deer said.

Your net worth is essentially the sum of all of your assets, including cash, retirement accounts, college savings, house, cars, investment properties and valuables such as art and jewelry minus any liabilities, or long-term debt, such as a mortgage, student loans, revolving credit card balances and any other personal loans.

“First and foremost, is your net worth growing or shrinking over time?” If your net worth is in the red, you’ll need to work on saving more and spending less. 

First and foremost, is your net worth growing or shrinking over time?
Paul Deer
vice president at Personal Capital

From there, consider the milestones you want to achieve going forward, Deer said, whether that’s retiring, buying a home or paying for your child or grandchild’s education.

“Laying those out can really help provide clarity over what you should be prioritizing today.”

Most people agree that they need to cut costs to build up their savings, and yet reports show consumers haven’t pulled back on food, entertainment or travel.

Meanwhile, as long as consumers keep spending, there will be continued upward pressure on prices.  

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