Americans stepped up their borrowing in the fourth quarter, with mortgage activity leading other categories.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York said Tuesday that outstanding household debt increased $117 billion from the third quarter of last year to the fourth, putting total indebtedness at about $11.8 trillion as of the end of 2014.
Balances went up across most categories, led by a $39 billion increase in mortgage debt to a total of $8.2 trillion. Student loan debt—a commonly cited obstacle for recent college graduates interested in owning a home—followed closely, increasing $31 billion to a total of $1.2 trillion.
As student debt rose, delinquencies worsened, with about 11.3 percent at least 90 days past due compared to 11.1 percent at the end of Q3.
"Although we've seen an overall improvement in delinquency rates since the Great Recession, the increasing trend in student loan balances and delinquencies is concerning," said Donghoon Lee, research officer at the New York Fed. "Student loan delinquencies and repayment problems appear to be reducing borrowers' ability to form their own households."
Mortgage originations, measured as appearances of new mortgage balances and refinance mortgages, increased to $355 billion, still low by historical standards, the New York Fed said.
Among other findings: both auto loan and credit card debt also increased, rising $21 billion and $20 billion, respectively. Outstanding debt for home equity lines of credit fell, meanwhile, dropping $2 billion to a total of $510 billion.
Meanwhile, the number of credit inquiries within six months—tracked as a gauge of demand for consumer credit—increased by 4 million quarter-over-quarter, reaching 175 million.