America’s Insatiable Demand For More Expensive Cars, Larger Homes And Bigger Debts

McMansionOne of the things that this era of American history will be known for is conspicuous consumption.  Even though many of us won’t admit it, the truth is that almost all of us want a nice vehicle and a large home.  They say that “everything is bigger in Texas”, but the same could be said for the entire nation as a whole.  As you will see below, the size of the average new home has just hit a brand new record high and so has the size of the average auto loan.  In the endless quest to achieve “the American Dream”, Americans are racking up bigger debts than ever before.  Unfortunately, our paychecks are not keeping up and the middle class in the United States is steadily shrinking.  The disparity between the lifestyle that society tells us that we ought to have and the size of our actual financial resources continues to grow.  This is leading to a tremendous amount of frustration among those that can’t afford to buy expensive cars and large homes.

I remember the days when paying for a car over four years seemed like a massive commitment.  But now nearly a quarter of all auto loans in the U.S. are extended out for six or seven years, and those loans have gotten larger than ever

In the latest sign Americans are increasingly comfortable taking on more debt, auto buyers borrowed a record amount in the first quarter with the average monthly payment climbing to an all-time high of $474.

Not only that, buyers also continued to spread payments out over a longer period of time, with 24.8 percent of auto loans now coming with payment terms between six and seven years according to a new report from Experian Automotive.

That’s the highest percentage of 6 and 7-year loans Experian has ever recorded in a quarter.

Didn’t the last financial crisis teach us about the dangers of being overextended?

During the first quarter 0f 2014, the size of the average auto loan soared to an all-time record $27,612.

But if you go back just five years ago it was just $24,174.

And because we are taking out such large auto loans that are extended out over such a long period of time, we are now holding on to our vehicles much longer.

According to CNBC, Americans now keep their vehicles for an average of six years and one month.

Ten years ago, it was just four years and two months.

My how things have changed.

And consumer credit as a whole has also reached a brand new all-time record high in the United States.

Consumer credit includes auto loans, but it doesn’t include things like mortgages.  The following is how Investopedia defines consumer credit…

Consumer credit is basically the amount of credit used by consumers to purchase non-investment goods or services that are consumed and whose value depreciates quickly. This includes automobiles, recreational vehicles (RVs), education, boat and trailer loans but excludes debts taken out to purchase real estate or margin on investment accounts.

As you can see from the chart below, Americans were reducing their exposure to consumer credit for a little while after the last financial crisis struck, but now it is rapidly rising again at essentially the same trajectory as before…

Consumer Credit 2014

Have we learned nothing?

Meanwhile, America also seems to continue to have an insatiable demand for even larger homes.

According to Zero Hedge, the size of the average new home in the United States has just hit another brand new record high…

There was a small ray of hope just after the Lehman collapse that one of the most deplorable characteristics of US society – the relentless urge to build massive McMansions (funding questions aside) – was fading. Alas, as the Census Bureau today confirmed, that normalization in the innate desire for bigger, bigger, bigger not only did not go away but is now back with a bang.

According to just released data, both the median and average size of a new single-family home built in 2013 hit new all time highs of 2,384 and 2,598 square feet respectively.

And while it is known that in absolute number terms the total number of new home sales is still a fraction of what it was before the crisis, the one strata of new home sales which appears to not only not have been impacted but is openly flourishing once more, are the same McMansions which cater to the New Normal uberwealthy (which incidentally are the same as the Old Normal uberwealthy, only wealthier) and which for many symbolize America’s unbridled greed for mega housing no matter the cost.

There is certainly nothing wrong with having a large home.

But if people are overextending themselves financially, that is when it becomes a major problem.

Just remember what happened back in 2007.

And just like prior to the last financial crisis, Americans are treating their homes like piggy banks once again.  Home equity lines of credit are up 8 percent over the past 12 months, and homeowners are increasingly being encouraged to put their homes at risk to fund their excessive lifestyles.

But there has been one big change that we have seen since the last financial crisis.

Lending standards have gotten a lot tougher, and many younger adults find that they are not able to buy homes even though they would really like to.  Stifled by absolutely suffocating levels of student loan debt, many of these young adults are putting off purchasing a home indefinitely.  The following is an excerpt from a recent CNN article about this phenomenon…

The Millennial generation is great at many things: texting, social media, selfies. But buying a home? Not so much.

Just 36% of Americans under the age of 35 own a home, according to the Census Bureau. That’s down from 42% in 2007 and the lowest level since 1982, when the agency began tracking homeownership by age.

It’s not all their fault. Millennials want to buy homes — 90% prefer owning over renting, according to a recent survey from Fannie Mae.

But student loan debt, tight lending standards and stiff competition have made it next to impossible for many of these younger Americans to make the leap.

This is one of the primary reasons why homeownership in America is declining.

A lot of young adults would love to buy a home, but they are already financially crippled from the very start of their adult lives by student loan debt.  In fact, the total amount of student loan debt is now up to approximately 1.1 trillion dollars.  That is even more than the total amount of credit card debt in this country.

We live in a debt-based system which is incredibly fragile.

We experienced this firsthand during the last financial crisis.

But we just can’t help ourselves.

We have always got to have more, and society teaches us that if we don’t have enough money to pay for it that we should just go into even more debt.

Unfortunately, just as so many individuals and families have found out in recent years, eventually a day of reckoning arrives.

And a day of reckoning is coming for the nation as a whole at some point as well.

You can count on that.

Which America Do You Live In? – 21 Hard To Believe Facts About “Wealthy America” And “Poor America”

Luxury YachtsDid you know that 40 percent of all American workers make less than $20,000 a year before taxes?  And 65 percent of all American workers make less than $40,000 a year before taxes.  If you work on Wall Street, or have a cushy job with the federal government, or work for a big tech firm out on the west coast, life is probably pretty good for you right now.  But the truth is that most Americans are not living the high life.  In fact, most Americans are just trying to figure out how to survive from month to month.  For many Americans, making a choice between buying food for your family and paying the light bill is a common occurrence.  But if you don’t live in that America, hearing that people actually live like that may sound very strange to you.  After all, if everyone around you has expensive cars, the latest electronic gadgets and million dollar homes, the notion that America is in the midst of a very serious “economic decline” may seem very bizarre to you.

On Wednesday, the Dow hit a brand new record high, and Wall Street celebrated.  Since the financial crisis of 2008, stocks have been on an unprecedented run.  The top performers in the market have not just made millions of dollars – they have made billions of dollars.  Luxury apartments in Manhattan and beachfront homes in the Hamptons are selling for absolutely astronomical prices, and it seems like life in the good parts of New York City is one gigantic endless party these days.

Meanwhile, life is quite good down in Washington D.C. as well.  The wealth is spread more evenly, but on average the D.C. region actually has the highest standard of living of any major U.S. city.  The reason for this is the obscene growth of the federal government.  Over the past couple of decades, the U.S. government has ballooned in size and so have government salaries.  During one recent year, the average federal employee living in the Washington D.C. area received total compensation worth more than $126,000.

Out in the San Francisco area, Internet money is flowing like wine right now.  As I wrote about yesterday, top employees of companies such as Facebook and Twitter can make millions of dollars a year.  And if you were lucky to get a piece of the ownership of one of those companies at a very early stage, you are essentially set for life.

And with the Twitter IPO coming up, Internet euphoria is once again reaching a fever pitch.  For example, just check out what a 56-year-old administrative assistant said this week about why she is going to buy Twitter stock

“I’m just buying because everybody’s talking about Twitter,” she said. “I’m just gonna take a chance.”

Is that how we should make our investment decisions from now on?

Just buy a stock because everybody’s talking about it?

That is the kind of insanity that is going on in “wealthy America” right now.

Unfortunately, the gap between “wealthy America” and “poor America” is greater than ever before.

If you live in “wealthy America”, what you are about to hear next will probably sound very strange.

CNN recently profiled a 44-year-old overnight prison guard named Delores Gilmore.  She works really hard, but a lot of times she simply does not have enough money to pay all of her bills…

“The first of the month, I pay the rent,” she said. “The next check, I pay my light bills. Sometimes I won’t pay my rent and I pay the light bill from last month — if they cut if it off. Then I pay the rent the end of the month.”

Her life consists of going to work, taking care of her children, going to sleep, and then getting back up and repeating that same cycle once again…

“I’m not fooling anybody,” she told me. “I don’t have any friends. And that’s sad. … I go to work, come home, take them where they gotta go, if they gotta go somewhere, come back home, lay down, go to work.

“That’s what I do. All day, that’s what I do.”

Sadly, the truth is that tens of millions of Americans can identify with what she is going through on a daily basis.  In millions of families, both the husband and the wife work multiple jobs and it is still not enough.

If we truly did have a free market capitalist system, the entire country would be a land of opportunity and things would be getting better for everybody.  Unfortunately, that is not the case at all.  The following are 21 facts about “wealthy America” and “poor America” that are hard to believe…

#1 The lowest earning 23,303,064 Americans combined make 36 percent less than the highest earning 2,915 Americans do.

#2 40 percent of all American workers (39.6 percent to be precise) make less than $20,000 a year.

#3 According to the Pew Research Center, the top 7 percent of all U.S. households own 63 percent of all the wealth in the country.

#4 On average, households in the top 7 percent have 24 times as much wealth as households in the bottom 93 percent.

#5 According to numbers that were just released this week, 49.7 million Americans are living in poverty.  That is a brand new all-time record high.

#6 In the United States today, the wealthiest one percent of all Americans have a greater net worth than the bottom 90 percent combined.

#7 Household incomes have actually been declining for five years in a row and total consumer credit has risen by a whopping 22 percent over the past three years.

#8 According to Forbes, the 400 wealthiest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans combined.

#9 The homeownership rate in the United States is at an 18 year low.

#10 The six heirs of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton have as much wealth as the bottom one-third of all Americans combined.

#11 18 percent of all food stamp dollars are spent at Wal-Mart.

#12 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the middle class is taking home a smaller share of the overall income pie than has ever been recorded before.

#13 It is hard to believe, but right now 1.2 million students that attend public schools in America are homeless.  That number has risen by 72 percent since the start of the last recession.

#14 One recent study discovered that nearly half of all public students in the United States come from low income homes.

#15 In 1980, CEOs at S&P 500 companies made 42 times as much as their employees did on average.  Today, CEOs at S&P 500 companies make 354 times as much as their employees do on average.  In fact, there are many CEOs that make more than 1000 times what the average employees in their companies make.

#16 U.S. families that have a head of household that is under the age of 30 have a poverty rate of 37 percent.

#17 At this point, one out of every four American workers has a job that pays $10 an hour or less.

#18 Today, the United States actually has a higher percentage of workers doing low wage work than any other major industrialized nation does.

#19 Approximately one out of every five households in the United States is now on food stamps.

#20 The number of Americans on food stamps has grown from 17 million in the year 2000 to more than 47 million today.

#21 At this point, the poorest 50 percent of all Americans collectively own just 2.5 percent of all the wealth in the United States.

So which America do you live in?  Please feel free to tell us what is going on in your neck of the woods by posting a comment below…

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