ATLANTA -- Shaking off the tiresome discipline of being thrifty, Georgia consumers are spending again, according to data from the state’s credit unions released Thursday.
Figures from the Georgia Credit Union Affiliates show they are saving less and buying more than they were a year ago. Checking accounts grew 12 percent, nearly double the 7.5 percent rate of savings accounts during the first three months of 2013.
“For the first time in several years, Georgians do not feel the same level of pressure to save a significant percentage of their paychecks to rebuild their balance sheets,” said Mike Mercer, president of the 42 credit unions in the affiliates. “This is a marked improvement from recent years and shows cautious optimism by Georgia’s consumers.”
While they’re still whittling down the amount of personal debt they carry from a peak of 130 percent of income to about 100 percent today, the rate of debt decline is slowing. At the same time, used-car loans grew by 10 percent, and new-car loans jumped by 15.
“They have almost been forced to re-engage with purchasing new and used cars. The average age of the auto fleet got up to almost 12 years,” he said.
They’re buying homes again, too thanks to historically low interest rates.
Even those who aren’t updating their vehicles or trading up residences are socking less away in savings accounts and looking to other investments like the soaring stock market, according to Mercer.
One of the statistics the Credit Union Affiliates compiled seems at first to tell the opposite story.
“We had an interesting phenomenon during the recession that made sense when you think about it today,” he said. “We found that there were fewer bounced-check fees then, and we’re seeing them go back up now. What was going on is the people who had jobs were actually spending less money, so at the end of the pay period they had money left in their accounts.”
Now, consumers have resumed spending, making them more likely to accidentally write a check or swipe a debit card without ensuring they have adequate funds first.
The credit union economists see the positive trends continuing. They expect consumers to continue paying down their personal debt, but at a slower pace.
The economists suspect the Federal Reserve Bank will begin curbing its stimulus activities which are holding interest rates down, but they think the economy has enough momentum to keep growing without the Fed’s prodding.