U.S. economy crater due to coronavirus, but overdue debts are shrinking – Quartz
Americans are bracing for the biggest economic blow since the Great Depression. But even as unemployment skyrockets, delinquent consumer debt is, for now at least, falling.
The economy has entered a free fall this year, due to restrictions aimed at containing the coronavirus pandemic. Even so, the percentage of borrowers past due on auto loans, credit cards, personal loans and mortgages fell last month from March, according to data from TransUnion. Mortgage and personal loan delinquencies were also lower in April than a year ago.
The divergence between a crumbling economy and delinquent debt likely boils down to lender abstention, according to Matt Komos, vice president of research and consulting at TransUnion. Financial companies were in pretty good shape before entering this recession and they are fortified with enough capital to absorb losses for a while. Consumers have also gotten a break from the $ 2 trillion Cares Act, which includes a check for $ 1,200 for Americans and increased unemployment benefits.
Forbearance provides a temporary buffer for consumers. Leniency on mortgages, for example, could give borrowers additional short-term cash flow, which helps them keep control over other debts like credit cards and car loans, Komos says.
That said, financial stress is definitely on the rise. Financial hardship – defined as deferred payments, frozen accounts, and frozen overdue payments – is growing rapidly.
The data shows that a serious financial implosion has been delayed but not eliminated. Massive government assistance programs and leniency from financial institutions have helped keep consumers afloat, for now. But it all depends on how quickly officials manage to restart the economy, how long the emergency aid to workers and businesses lasts, and the ability of banks and financial institutions to continue to freeze accounts and defer payments on debt.
“It’s temporary shock absorption,” Komos said. “The question becomes, how long and how long will it last?”