If you’re feeling a little less stressed about your household finances, you have the housing market to thank.
A rise in the value of your home doesn’t translate directly into cash you can spend to pay the bills, but it does add to your real wealth, which makes those bills feel a little less stressful.
That’s why the recent strong rise in home prices accounted for most of the improvement in the Household Financial Stress index tracked by economists at PNC Financial. After peaking in the Great Recession, the latest reading from the index continues to fall, according to the Pittsburgh-based bank.
Home prices have been on a tear, surging by 13.4 percent last year, according to the latest reading from the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index. After bottoming out two years ago, the widely followed index has risen 24 percent.
Big gains in stock prices also have boosted household wealth, and banks are gradually more willing to lend.
Consumers are also getting a break as prices hold steady. For most of last year, the annual rise in the consumer price index ranged between 1 and 2 percent. The domestic boom in oil and gas production has also helped dampen wide swings in gasoline prices, which can put a major crimp in households’ budgets.
Despite the gradual easing, the index will likely begin to edge higher again this year as inflation picks up and the rise in house prices begins to slow.