Consumer borrowing through the roof
Data from the Federal Reserve shows overall borrowing was up $15.9 billion in September, after a $14 billion gain the month before. Total consumer debt, which includes credit cards and auto and student loans, is now at $3.27 trillion -- an all-time high.
"This is definitely a positive," said James Hughes, dean of the Rutgers University Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. "It reflects growing consumer confidence and it also probably represents an improvement in the balance sheets of most households and the like."
Hughes said the housing market has finally stabilized and many people have gotten their financial houses together, which is a prerequisite for borrowing.
"We've had four straight years of job growth averaging 2.3, 2.4 million jobs per year," he said. "The expansion is well underway and it doesn't look like a recession is on the horizon, and if consumers are gaining more confidence, then a signal of that confidence will be increased buying."
In many cases, Hughes said, credit card debt is a temporary debt.
"People rarely pay for things in cash, so they use their credit cards and generally are diligent in terms of paying their monthly bill," he said.
A rise in auto loan debt isn't surprising at all to Hughes, because in New Jersey and across the country, "what we have is a fleet which is probably 10, 11 years of age, so in many cases these are cars that have to be replaced. You're getting rid of clunkers whose gas mileage is nowhere near today's modern achievements in terms of gas mileage."
As for the increase in student loan debt, Hughes said while it may be a long-term problem for some young people, it shouldn't be too significant in a general sense.
"It's going to depend on the health of the economy, and the prospects for landing a job coming out of school," he said.