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Michael R. Strain

U.S. Consumers Are Piling Up Debt, and That’s Fine

Millennials can safely afford to buy houses, for one thing.

Saving and borrowing, two sides of the same coin.

Saving and borrowing, two sides of the same coin.

Photographer: Ron Antonelli/Bloomberg

Consumer debt is rising in the U.S., and the reaction to this news has been both heated and predictable: “Americans in record debt: It’s our own fault,” read one headline in a conservative publication last week. A business website went with something more colorful: “The State of the American Debt Slaves, Q4 2019.” And presidential candidates have chimed in to express concern.

Here are some data points: Household debt has hit a record high, totaling $14.2 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2019. Overall last year, household debt balances increased by $601 billion, marking the largest annual increase since 2007. Households have been adding debt for 22 consecutive quarters.