Americans can’t seem to kick their reliance on debt. After declining during the aftermath of the Great Recession, household debt balances have risen over the past several years to nearly $13 trillion in the second quarter of 2017, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Although total household debt has soared, not all Americans are saddled with debt. To find out how much debt the average American has, GOBankingRates surveyed more than 2,500 adults across the U.S. We asked the following six questions:
- How much debt do you currently have?
- How much mortgage debt do you currently have?
- How much credit card debt do you currently have?
- How much student loan debt do you currently have?
- How much auto loan debt do you currently have?
- How much medical debt do you currently have?
Given the high level of household debt in the U.S. — and the fact that most Americans have low savings balances — some of the results of our survey are surprising.
How Much Debt Does the Average American Have?
The survey found that the percentage of Americans with different types of debt varies greatly, from a high of 65 percent with mortgage debt to a low of 21 percent with medical debt. The average overall debt amount all survey respondents — including those with no debt — report having is approximately $63,000. However, among respondents with debt, the average total amount owed is $140,113.
Leslie Tayne, a financial attorney and author of “Life and Debt,” said the average debt balance isn’t surprising if it includes mortgage debt. However, what is surprising is that many Americans claim not to be in any type of debt.
“I believe that so many people have debt-related issues that it’s become the norm, so they say they don’t have debt,” she said. Or, they’re too embarrassed to admit that they have debt because they don’t want to appear financially irresponsible.
Mortgage Debt Is the Most Common Debt in the U.S.
The survey found that 65 percent of respondents have mortgage loan debt. Not surprisingly, a higher percentage of respondents reported having mortgage debt than any other type of debt. Mortgage debt is currently the largest component of household debt in the U.S., according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
“Actually, I wish the percentage of Americans with mortgage debt was higher,” said Howard Dvorkin, chairman of Debt.com, a consumer website that provides help with credit and debt.
Mortgage debt is good debt, he added. While rents tend to climb — sometimes drastically, depending on the city — you can lock in a monthly payment with a mortgage, even as your home value rises.
“I’m guessing a big chunk of the 35 percent who don’t have mortgage debt really want it because they’re paying high rents and earning no equity,” said Dvorkin.
Among survey respondents with mortgage debt, the most common amount they claim to owe is $150,000 to $200,000. The second most common response is “less than $100,000.”
Should You Pay Off Your Mortgage? 7 Things to Consider Before Paying Off Your Mortgage Early
Half of Americans Have Credit Card Debt, Most Owe Less Than $500
Credit card debt is the second-most-common type of debt after mortgage debt. The survey found that 50 percent of respondents have credit card debt. These findings don’t surprise Vincia Gordon, a client services manager for Guidewell Financial Solutions, a nonprofit credit counseling provider.
A high percentage of Americans likely have credit card debt because it’s easier to get credit cards than other types of credit, she said. And, they’re carrying balances because they’re driven by the need for instant gratification. Instead of waiting until they have the cash to afford what they want to buy, Gordon said consumers think, “Let me just put it on the card. I want it now.”
But Tayne said she is surprised the percentage of respondents with credit card debt isn’t higher. After all, the total credit card debt nationwide has been climbing, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. It has risen by $55 billion over the past year to a total of $784 billion.
“It’s very rare to see people without credit cards and not carrying a balance,” said Tayne. However, many people don’t see credit cards as debt, she added.
Among the GOBankingRates survey respondents with credit card debt, the answer that was chosen the most was “less than $500.” The second-most-common amount owed is “$500 to $1,000,” followed by “$5,000 to $10,000” and “more than $10,000.”
Last Year’s Findings: See How Much Credit Card Debt Americans Have by Age
One-Quarter of Americans Have Student Loan Debt
The total federal student loan debt in America has reached $1.3 trillion, according to the latest figures from Federal Student Aid, which is a part of the U.S. Department of Education. That amount is spread out among 42 million borrowers.
In this GOBankingRates survey, 25 percent of survey respondents report that they owe money for their education. Meanwhile, three-quarters say they have no student loan debt.
Among those who have student loan debt, the most common amount respondents claim to owe is “less than $1,000,” followed by “$10,000 to $20,000” and “$20,000 to $50,000.”
In an earlier 2017 analysis of student loan debt across America, GOBankingRates reported (citing data from The Institute of College Access and Success) 68 percent of college students from the class of 2015 graduated with debt. And, the average owed was $30,100.
According to more recent TICAS figures for the class of 2016, the average student debt at graduation ranged from $20,000 in Utah and $36,500 in New Hampshire. And, the share of seniors graduating with loans ranged from 6 percent to 98 percent.
Nearly One-Third of Americans Have Auto Loan Debt
The GOBankingRates survey found that 68 percent of respondents said they have no auto loan debt. Among the 32 percent who do, the most common amount owed is less than $1,000.
Although the majority of survey respondents claim not to owe money on a car, auto loan debt levels have been increasing in America. Auto debt has been steadily rising since 2011 and is now $1.19 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Only 1 in 5 Americans Have Medical Debt
Twenty-one percent of survey respondents said they have medical debt — the smallest percentage for any type of debt. Among respondents with medical debt, the most common amount they owe is “less than $500.”
Gordon of Guidewell Financial Solutions said the small percentage is surprising. “I thought the percentage would’ve been higher,” she said. “I thought it would be more like 30 percent or 40 percent.”
However, the percentage might be low because respondents might not be taking into account medical bills that they have put on payment plans and don’t consider those as medical debt, said Gordon.
Men Have More Debt Than Women
The survey found that a fairly equal percentage of men and women have debt, including mortgage, credit card, auto loan, student loan and medical debt.
However, men are deeper in debt. On average, women owe $31,037 and men owe $95,057.
“Most likely, this may be business-related debt where they took out loans to fund a business,” said Tayne. And for older respondents, higher debt balances might be more related to men’s traditional role of breadwinner with better and more available credit, she added.
Furthermore, homeownership is out of reach for many women, which might explain why they have a smaller debt load. If they can’t afford to buy a home, they likely don’t have as much mortgage debt — and thus overall debt — as men.
In fact, a Credit Sesame survey that found 55 percent of women said they are renting a home because they can’t afford to buy one close to their work. And while 38 percent of men said they rent by choice, only 28 percent of women do.
Here are more insights on debt among men and women, according to the GOBankingRates survey:
- Women are slightly more likely than men to have $150,000 to $200,000 of mortgage debt, with 34 percent choosing this response versus 29 percent of men. However, they are also more likely than men to report having less than $100,000 of mortgage debt.
- “Less than $500” was the most common answer chosen by both men and women when asked, “How much credit card debt do you have?”
- Men are only slightly more likely to have more than $50,000 of auto loan debt, with 7 percent choosing this answer versus 4 percent of women.
Older Gen Xers Are Deeper in Debt
The survey found that older members of Generation X — adults ages 45 to 54 — have the highest average amount of debt: $130,656.
“This group … is really the first generation of higher debtors — meaning they’ve taken on more debt to sustain their lives, either through credit cards or mortgages that they’ve refinanced over and over to pay off consumer-based debts,” said Tayne.
Another reason older Gen Xers have more debt than other generations might be related to raising children.
“It could be due to the desire to want to give their kids a better life or more than they had,” said Tayne. “Often, that generation is spending much more on kids, and kids aren’t leaving home or becoming independent sooner like previous generations.”
Young millennials, on the other hand, have the least amount of debt. On average, adults ages 18 to 24 owe $18,145. This age group might have less debt because many millennials are getting financial support from parents.
And considering that the average first-time homebuyer is about 33, according to a 2015 Zillow analysis, many young millennials also haven’t reached a stage in their life where they own a home and have mortgage debt.
Gen Xers, Boomers Most Likely to Have Mortgage and Credit Card Debt
The older Gen Xer (ages 45 to 54) and baby boomer (ages 55 to 65) age groups have the highest percentage of respondents with mortgage loan debt in our survey: 100 percent.
Boomers are more likely than other age groups to have higher levels of mortgage debt — this age group has the highest percentage (8 percent) of respondents with $300,000 to $500,000 in mortgage debt.
Meanwhile, young millennials (ages 18 to 24) are the least likely to owe money on a house, with only 16 percent reporting they have mortgage debt. They’re closely followed by adults 65 and older, 21 percent of whom said they have mortgage debt.
When it comes to credit card debt, older Gen Xers are more likely than other generations to have it. The survey found 57 percent of respondents in this age group to have this type of debt. Boomers ages 55 to 64 have the second-highest percentage of respondents with credit card debt at 54 percent.
Young millennials, on the other hand, are the least likely to have credit card debt. The survey found that 63 percent of respondents in this age group have no credit card debt, while 37 percent do.
Young Gen Xers Most Likely to Have Auto Debt
Young Gen Xers (ages 35 to 44) have the highest percentage of respondents with auto debt — 40 percent. This age group also has the highest percentage of respondents who reported owing $20,000 or more on an auto loan.
The age group least likely to have auto loan debt is young millennials (ages 18 to 24). According to the survey, 79 percent of this age group responded that they don’t have auto loan debt, followed by 78 percent of adults 65 and older.
Millennials Most Likely to Have Student Loan Debt
Thirty-seven percent of adults ages 25 to 34 (older millennials) have student loan debt — the highest percentage in this survey. This age group also has the highest percentage of respondents who said they owe $50,000 or more.
Meanwhile, the 35-to-44 age group has the second-highest percentage of respondents with student loan debt at 33 percent. And adults 65 and older have the lowest percentage of respondents with student loan debt at just 11 percent.
Oldest, Youngest Adults Least Likely to Have Medical Debt
When it comes to medical debt, the survey found that the 65-and-older age group has the highest percentage of respondents who said they don’t have medical debt, with 84 percent claiming they don’t have this type of debt. Eighty-two percent of young adults ages 18 to 24 also said they don’t have medical debt.
Gordon said she was surprised that older adults — who typically have more healthcare needs — are the least likely to have medical debt.
Why is there a smaller percentage of seniors and boomers who claim to have medical debt? It could be that some are using credit cards to pay medical bills and aren’t thinking of that credit card debt as medical debt, said Gordon.
Retire Debt-Free: 5 Debts You Need to Tackle Before You Retire
Debt in America 2017: State-by-State Differences
In certain debt categories, some states have a higher percentage of respondents in debt compared to others. For example:
- Mortgage Debt: Hawaii has the highest percentage of respondents with mortgage debt at 83 percent. Meanwhile, Alaska has the lowest percentage of respondents with mortgage debt at 50 percent.
- Credit Card Debt: Hawaii and Maine have the highest percentage of respondents with credit card debt at 75 percent. And, North Dakota and D.C. have the lowest percentage of respondents with credit card debt at 25 percent.
- Student Loan Debt: Roughly 64 percent of Rhode Island residents say they have student loan debt, the highest percentage among all states. At 8 percent, Hawaii respondents are the least likely to have student loan debt.
- Medical Debt: The survey found that 43 percent of Alaska residents have medical debt — the highest percentage of any state. And, only 6 percent of Wyoming residents have medical debt, which is the lowest percentage of any state.
- Auto Loan Debt: Nevada has the lowest percentage of respondents with auto loan debt — approximately 21 percent. Oregon has the highest percentage of respondents with car debt at roughly 43 percent.
Average overall debt balances vary greatly from state to state. Hawaii respondents, for example, have the highest average amount of debt — $869,250 — followed by Maryland with $284,851, found the GOBankingRates survey. The high debt balances might be explained (partially) by the high cost of living in these states.
Hawaii has the highest cost of living in the nation and is the state most likely to live paycheck to paycheck, a GOBankingRates’ study found. And, Maryland has the eighth-highest cost of living in the U.S., according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center.
Average debt balances tend to be lower in southern states, where the cost of living is lower. But residents in Alaska and Washington, D.C., have the lowest average debt amounts at $1,611 and $2,286.
However, it’s important to keep in mind the number of respondents in each state who participated in this survey varied drastically — and some of the debt amounts are astronomically high and low. For example, in Hawaii there were only 12 respondents, with some reporting debt balances as low as $0 and as high as $10 million. Meanwhile, 106 respondents were from California, and their overall debt balances range from $0 to $1.2 million.
Methodology: This GOBankingRates survey posed the following questions to 2,502 Americans: 1) How much debt do you currently have? 2) How much mortgage debt do you currently have? 3) How much credit card debt do you currently have? 4) How much student loan debt do you currently have? 5) How much auto loan debt do you currently have? 6) How much medical debt do you currently have? Responses were collected through a Google Consumer Survey conducted from Sept. 26 to Oct. 9, 2017, and responses are representative of the U.S. online population. The survey has a 4.9 percent margin of error.