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U.S. household debt rises above pre-pandemic levels due to mortgages

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(Reuters) - U.S. household debt rose in the third quarter due to an increase in mortgage balances as consumers took advantage of low interest rates to buy homes and refinance loans, according to a survey released by the New York Federal Reserve on Tuesday.

Total household debt increased by $87 billion to $14.35 trillion in the three months ending Sept. 30, the New York Fed’s Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit found. That counteracted a drop from the second quarter, when consumers paid off credit card debt and cut back on nonessential spending because of lockdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The total debt load has now surpassed the levels seen in the first quarter of this year.

Households reduced their credit card balances for the third straight quarter, but the $10 billion decline during the third quarter was only a fraction of the $76 billion drop in the second quarter. Altogether, consumers shed $120 billion in credit card debt in the first three quarters of 2020, cutting debt by 13% from the end of 2019.

(GRAPHIC: Credit card debt drops - )

Reuters Graphic

Mortgage balances increased by $85 billion to $9.86 trillion, driven by a combination of refinancing and home purchases. The $1.05 trillion in mortgage originations was the highest since a refinance boom in the third quarter of 2003.

Balances for home equity lines of credit, which have been declining since the fourth quarter of 2016, dropped by $13 billion to $362 billion.

Consumers continued to benefit from government aid and forbearance programs offered on student loans, auto loans and mortgages during the pandemic, the New York Fed found.

The number of student and mortgage loans becoming delinquent continued to drop as people remain covered by forbearance. But delinquency rates for auto loans crept higher three and four months after entering forbearance, since forbearance varied by lender and was not legally required for those loans, the New York Fed noted in a separate blog post published on Tuesday.

Reporting by Jonnelle Marte; Editing by Paul Simao

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