Credit Building Tips

Debt Stats: What Percentage of American Citizens Are In Debt?

By:
Shaun Connell
Updated
August 25, 2022

If you're curious where you stand in relation to the average amount of debt Americans have as individuals or how we're doing as a country, I've put together these facts and figures from various sources.

You may want to sit down before I tell you the latest numbers of personal debt in the United States in 2021.

Note iconAccording to the United States Census Bureau, the average American debt each U.S. adult carries is $58,604. Seventy-seven percent of Americans have at least some type of debt.

Before you fall off your chair, let's just clarify the definition of debt. The simplest definition of debt is when you owe money - to anyone and for any reason.

Most of us who have debt have agreed on terms of repayment with specific amounts paid for a specific period until the debt is repaid. Usually, interest is added to the debt to make it worthwhile for the lender to lend you the money. Maybe not if it's a loan from mom and dad, but usually.

The most common types of debt in America are:

  • Mortgages
  • Student loans
  • Auto loans
  • Credit loans

Still from the United States Census Bureau, the average American debt per household in the four categories I listed above is shown below:

Type of Debt Debt Total Average Debt per Household
Any debt $14.96 trillion $158,209
Mortgage $10.44 trillion $202,454
Student loans $1.57 trillion $58,112
Auto loans $1.42 trillion $31,142
Credit card debt $787 billion $14,241
Other $421 billion

Mortgages

For most of us, paying for some type of housing is our biggest monthly expense. Whether paying rent or a mortgage, a larger part of your monthly paycheck goes to ensuring you have a roof over your head.

Calculating Mortgage Debt

Back to the U.S. Census Bureau. They report that Americans with a mortgage make a median monthly payment of $1,595. Mortgages make up 70% of all American debt, which should be a bit of comfort. Of all the debts you can carry, having a mortgage on a piece of land and home still has a great return on investment. It's a debt that most often gives back.

Fifty-one point five million American households carry a mortgage. That translates to 42% of all households with an average mortgage debt of $202,454.

Student Loans

As of last summer, the latest numbers on the total student loan debt sit at $1.57 trillion. If we average this astonishing number out, this means each student owes an average of $38,792 that will need to be repaid once they graduate.

Student Loan Calculating

Student loans account for 11% of the country's total debt and are currently the fastest-growing type of debt in the States. To give you some perspective, this type of debt has grown at almost 157% since the Great Recession of 2007-2009.

The impact of this weight on young adults can't be overstated. Many graduates say that their student loans keep them from buying a home (40%) and even considering investing in their retirement (47%). Twenty-one percent even wait to get married because of their student loan debt burden.

Car Loans

Thirty-seven percent of Americans can't afford to buy a car without getting a loan. That translates to about 45.4 million households that carry this extra debt. As of last year, the total American auto loan debt is $1.42 trillion.

Car Loan Calculating

Experian reports that the average monthly car payment is $577 for new vehicles and $413 for used ones. The average total car loan debt per household is $31,142.

Credit Card Debt

The potential of never getting out of debt is greatest when we use credit cards and don't pay them off in full each month. Eight out of ten American adults report having at least one credit card, and 45% of these carry a balance over to the next month.

Just over 55 million households have this kind of debt, and the average credit card debt per household is $14,241. The total in America now has hit $787 billion in credit card debt.

While you won't qualify for a mortgage, student loan, or car loan unless you show you have the resources to repay the loan, credit cards don't require the same proof. Almost all mortgages, student loans, and car loans are set up with automatic payment withdrawals, which ensures your debt gets paid down without you needing to choose whether or how much of the payment you will make.

Reviewing Credit Card Bills

With credit cards, you can decide to make the minimum payment or only pay a portion of the monthly statement. Unfortunately, whatever you don't pay will accrue interest — an average of 17.13% will get added to your next statement on the unpaid portion.

If you do the math on the average interest and the total amount Americans owe in credit card debt. Credit card companies can look forward to making about $134.81 billion on interest alone.

And if you're one of the 52% who carries debt and pays interest on your cards, you're part of contributing to that $134.81 billion dollars.

The Average American's Debt Load

Released at the beginning of this year, Ace Bagtas wrote an article called 15+ Statistics on Average Debt in the U.S., using figures gathered from the last three years.

Based on the average American figures:

  1. Debt payments made up 8.69% of total income (2020)
  2. Revolving credit card balance was $6,271 (2020)
  3. U.S. credit card delinquencies stood at a record low of 1.53% (2020)
  4. Mortgage rates hit a low of 2.78% (2020)
  5. Mortgage payments were $1,487, while the median was $1,100 (2019)
  6. HELOC amount was $49,929, while the median was $24,000 (2019)
  7. New car payments were $568, and used car payments were $397 (2020)
  8. Interest rates for a 24-month personal loan were 9.34%
  9. Personal loans in hardship grew from 3.5% in April to 6.15% (2020)
  10. Consumer debt increased by 6% during the COVID-19 pandemic (2020)
  11. People aged 45-54 showed an average credit card debt of $7,670, with 51.7% carrying debt forward.
  12. People aged 75 or older have the highest credit card debt of $8,080, but only 28% are charged with credit card debt.
  13. Thirty-four percent of 18-29 year-olds have student loans. Borrowers under 24 owe an average of $16,500.
  14. Women showed lower income but had (54%) higher student loan payments than men (51%).
  15. Self-employed residents pay an average of $1,539 in annual credit card interest.

No matter how the numbers are crunched, with 77% of Americans carrying some kind of debt, it's probable that you're one of them. Of course, some debt is better than others, and some debt can lead to problems.

Average American Debt Per Age

When you have debt, it's hard not to worry about how you're going to make your payments or how you'll keep from taking on more debt to make ends meet. The stress from debt can lead to mild to severe health problems, including ulcers, migraines, depression, and even heart attacks. The deeper you get into debt, the more likely you will face health complications.

Debt can feel free when you're in the rush of buying something, and all it takes is a swipe of your credit card or the scribbling of your signature on a loan document. That's an obvious illusion, even though it can be a powerful one. Unless you have an interest-free loan or a zero percent APR credit card, you will pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars for the privilege of borrowing money.

Any time you take out a loan or buy something you can't pay for immediately, you are borrowing from your future. You hope you'll earn enough in the future to pay for something you bought in the past, and if that something doesn't appreciate in value, you may experience severe buyer's regret when you're still paying years after you've used up what you bought.

The more debt you accumulate, the higher your monthly payments will be, and the less you'll have available to spend on anything else, like vacations or (more importantly) funds for your retirement.

On a personal level, debt can put pressure on your household finances and create a lack of financial security for your family. This is especially true if you're not on the same page as your spouse and find yourself arguing over spending habits.

10 Ways to Lower Your Debt.

Getting out of debt may sometimes feel like climbing out of a deep dark hole, but there are tips on how to start climbing.

Person Calculating Their Debt

Every journey starts with the first step, even getting out of debt:

  1. Make a budget. A budget can help you get real about what you earn (and bring home) and what you are actually spending. Seeing how much you're spending on coffees or other random items that may not be necessary can be a very helpful way to cut down on your spending and help you pay back debt faster.
  2. Commit to not taking on more debt. Work hard to pay down what you already owe before adding any new debt. This includes avoiding making any unnecessary purchases. The more you add to your debt load, the harder it will be to manage and reduce your debt.
  3. Pay bills in full and on time. The greatest gift you can give yourself as you try to reduce your debt is to stop paying interest. And the only way to do that when it comes to most debt is to make a full payment every time your statement is due. Avoid wasting money by making payments late and getting dinged with late fees.
  4. Check your bill statements. The paper pushers who make up your bill statements are humans who can make mistakes. Spend the few minutes it takes to check your bills and make sure the amount due is accurate. When it comes to credit card statements, it's a good practice to keep receipts and check them against your bill. This helps protect you against small amounts of credit card fraud and making ongoing monthly payments when you only intended to sign up for a free month's subscription.
  5. Pay off high-interest debt first. This is such a helpful tip. Figure out which debt is charging you the highest amount of interest and make it a priority to pay these down first. The difference this makes if your debt is spread across several lenders with different interest rates can be considerable.
  6. Cut down on the number of credit cards you have. While it's helpful to have several credit cards when you are initially trying to establish a credit rating, this only works if you are good at borrowing and paying back without letting the debt amount pile up. And once your credit rating is established, keep the number of credit cards you have to a few with the lowest interest rate available. It's much easier to keep track of a few cards than a wallet full.
  7. Do your homework when consolidating debt. By getting a debt consolidation loan from a bank or credit union, you'll be able to manage your debts more easily. You'll make only one payment to the bank or credit union rather than making several payments to all of your current lenders. Often, the bank or credit union may offer you a lower interest rate than the rates on the loans you owe, so shop around for the best rate before consolidating.
  8. Contact your creditors about repayment plans. Pick up the phone and speak directly to the companies you owe money to. When you talk human to human, you'll often find they are willing to set up a realistic repayment schedule for your budget and help reduce your monthly payments.
  9. Talk to credit counselors. If you need help developing a debt repayment plan, think about talking with a credit counselor. Just be careful of counselors who claim they can pay off all of your debt quickly with one low fee, as that's usually a scam.
  10. Don't give up. It's hard work to reduce or pay off your debt. Keep working towards that goal and unlock the door to a new level of financial well-being. Once you have achieved your goals, remember to guard against racking up debt again.

While some financial strategies suggest taking a portion of your income and investing it in a well-balanced, long-term investment rather than paying off your mortgage, that's the only strategy I think works when it comes to managing debt.

For the other types of debt — student and car loans and credit card debt — consider changing your thinking about debt altogether.

When you rely on credit, your ceiling is your credit limit. Once you hit it, you can't spend any more. So you stop. You need to change this.

Your spending limit needs to be the money you actually have in your checking account. Once it's gone, then you shouldn't spend any more. Once you refine your spending plan and learn to follow it, you should be able to always keep a buffer of $500 to $1,000 in your checking account.

That may be a big goal if you're facing a lot of debt, but it is truly one you can reach. And your biggest reward will be the feeling you have once you do, and you're one of the 23% of Americans who are debt free!

Written By:
Shaun Connell
Shaun Connell is a personal finance and credit expert with a passion for helping individuals eliminate debt and improve their credit. He's enjoyed writing investing and financial content for over 15 years, with expertise in real estate, debt, banking, credit, and wealth building. His work has been seen by millions on the web.

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