Rent's the new gas: Surging rental prices become a top inflation worry. Who's hit hardest?

·3 min read

Rent is the new gas. Surging rent prices – instead of gas – are hitting consumers hard, according to data from Bank of America Institute.

Median rent payments for Bank of America customers increased by 7.4% year over year in July, a slight pickup from 7.2% in June. Increases were seen across all income groups, but middle-income and younger Americans saw the largest increases, the report said.

“With roughly 34% of U.S. households being renters, a sizable increase in rental prices have squeezed consumer wallets,” the institute said.

Card spending per household, which measures the spending activity of an average Bank of America customer household, increased by 5.3% year over year in July, down from 5.7% in June, it said.

Consumer prices increased 8.5% from a year ago, down from a 9.1% annual rise – a 40-year high – in June, according to the Labor Department's Consumer Price Index. Gasoline prices fell, but rent and food continued to march higher.

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Who’s facing the largest rent increases?

For consumers with annual household income of $51,000 to $100,000, median rent payment soared by 8.3% year over year in July, while the lowest income group of $50,000 and less saw a 7.4% increase, the data showed. Those making more than $251,000 annually saw the smallest year-over-year increase (5.9%).

Generationally, Gen Z (or those born after 1996) suffered the largest 16% jump in median rent payment in July from last year, while baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) only saw a 3% increase, the data showed.

Why are rents rising, and when will they stop?

Rents aren't likely to stop rising anytime soon.

June’s CPI report showed rent increased from a year ago by 5.8%, the fastest pace since 1986, and upward pressure is expected to continue. Rent inflation comprises about a third of the CPI weighting.

Goldman Sachs forecasts rents to increase by 0.6% to 0.7% from month to month for the next several months and peak around 7% year-over-year later this year.

Reasons for rising rents include high demand as homebuyers are priced out amid rising interest rates and home prices; low inventory; landlords making up for lost rent during pandemic-related rent moratoriums; and higher maintenance costs as inflation jumps, analysts have said.

July’s CPI report is due Wednesday. Economists expect headline inflation to ease to 8.7% from June with help from lower gas and oil prices. But they expect the core rate, which includes price changes for everything except food and energy, to rise to 6.1% from 5.9% in June.

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How does this affect consumer spending?

Consumer spending has been moderating since the beginning of the year, partly because of the squeeze from rent increases, “but July was not as bad as many had feared,” said Anna Zhou, economist at the Institute.

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Lower gas prices in July freed money to be spent elsewhere, while healthy savings built up during the pandemic provided consumers a cushion. People used some extra money to purchase goods at retail events, including Amazon’s Prime Day, and leisure services like airlines, lodging, entertainment and restaurants, data showed.

Even so, significant rent increases still have time to hit household finances, particularly for middle- and lower-income renters.

“It is likely that rent payments will remain high, creating sustained downward pressure for the consumer,” Zhou said.

Medora Lee is a money, markets, and personal finance reporter at USA TODAY. You can reach her at mjlee@usatoday.com and subscribe to our free Daily Money newsletter for personal finance tips and business news every Monday through Friday morning.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Why is rent so high in 2022? Rent is becoming a top inflation worry.