Morning Business Memo:
Are you making progress in cutting back on debt? For most Americans the answer is yes when it comes to mortgages, car loans and credit cards. But student loans are a huge exception. The Pew Research Center says nearly one in five US households - 22.4 million - had college debt in 2010. That was double the share just over 20 years before in 1989. Student loan debt has been rising fast in the past few years - driven by higher tuition costs and rising college enrollment during the economic downturn. More well-off families are digging deeper into their pockets to pay for expensive private colleges, while lower-income Americans in search of better jobs are enrolling in community colleges, public universities and other schools to boost their skills. As a share of household income, the debt burden was the greatest for the poorest 20 percent of households. 40 percent of households headed by someone younger than age 35 owed college debt, the highest share of any age group.
Many Americans are doing repeat re-fis: reducing the cost of their mortgages through refinancing. Thanks to the Federal Reserve's aggressive policy of quantitative easing, home loan rates are even lower than they were last year. Many homeowners who've refinanced several times in recent years have cut their debt levels, while others reduced monthly payments, giving them more money to spend. According to USA Today, Freddie Mac data shows that in the 2nd quarter of this year, 23 percent of homeowners who refinanced reduced their principal balance, and 59 percent maintained the same loan amount.
Two more big banks - PNC and US Bank - are reporting problems with their websites. This comes after a financial services security group warned of possible cyber attacks on banks. US Bank says some customers have experienced delays. There were problems at JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America's websites last week. Wells Fargo had a glitch on Tuesday. Last week, the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center raised its cyber threat level to "high" from "elevated" because of potential cyber attacks.
The fiscal cliff sounds scary and it is. In a new report today, Fitch Ratings Service says the fiscal cliff represents the single biggest near-term threat to a global economic recovery. Unless Congress acts to stop the projected rise in taxes at the end of this year, Fitch says "the dramatic fiscal tightening implied by the fiscal cliff could tip the US and possibly the global economy into recession. At the very least it would be likely to halve the rate of global growth in 2013." Under current law, tax increases and spending cuts worth $600 billion will take effect in January. "The scale and speed of this fiscal tightening would be likely to push the US economy into an unnecessary and avoidable recession," warns Fitch.
The cloud over Europe has been a negative for the stock market. Economic confidence in the 17 euro zone nations has now fallen to its lowest level since 2009, according to the European Commission. Overseas markets rose this morning thanks to a hint from China that it may be getting ready to stimulate its economy, adding to recent action by the Federal Reserve, The European Central Bank, and The Bank of Japan.
Richard Davies Business Correspondent ABC NEWS Radio ABCNews.com twitter.com/daviesabc