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While credit has increased Americans’ purchasing power — helping them buy homes, cars and other goods — it’s also normalized debt across the U.S. As of September 2022, consumer debt is at $16.5 trillion, with the average American debt among consumers at $96,371.
The overall debt figure includes credit card balances, student loans, mortgages and more. Here’s a closer look at debt across the U.S. by type of account using data from Experian’s 2021 Consumer Credit Review, which is the latest average data.
Snapshot of consumer debt
|Type of debt||Average debt in 2021|
Credit card debt
There’s a lot to like about credit cards: They help you build credit, quickly pay for purchases and earn rewards. While credit card balances didn’t fall as much as they did in the previous year (14%), Experian found that average consumer credit card balances went down by 1.8% in 2021. The average U.S. consumer had $5,221 in credit card debt in 2021.
Carrying a credit card balance is never a great idea because of accruing interest charges, but credit card balances overall are moving in the right direction. This type of debt saw the largest drop from 2019 to 2020, with the average debt in America for credit cards decreasing by 14 percent, but it’s still continuing in a downward direction.
The decrease in credit card debt is likely due to multiple factors. One of the main contributing factors is that consumers have been able to pay down their debts using relief programs or stimulus payments.
Personal loan debt
Personal loans allow you to borrow a lump sum of money and pay it back in installments over time. Consumers can use the funds to cover nearly any expense, from debt consolidation to home improvements and emergency expenses.
Nearly a quarter of U.S. adults have this type of debt, and personal loan average American debt stands at $17,064. This amount represents a slight growth from the previous year, but borrowers continue to be careful as they wait to see how the economy recovers from the pandemic.
Auto loan debt
Most car shoppers don’t have the cash to pay for a vehicle upfront, so they take out an auto loan and pay down the balance over time. As the second-most popular type of credit, two-thirds of U.S. adults have at least one auto loan. The average debt in America for car loans is $20,987, increasing by 6.7 percent from 2020. This increase is a reflection of auto price increases throughout the country.
Student loan debt
Student loans help millions of Americans pay for higher education every year. The average balance for this type of debt was $39,487 in 2021, representing just a 1.8 percent increase from 2020. The continued pause on interest payments due to the coronavirus pandemic is the main contributor to slower growth in this debt type. The current interest rate pause is set to expire on June 30, 2023 — or following the resolution of forgiveness litigation — which may impact Americans’ student loan debt averages.
Home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) allow homeowners to borrow money using their homes as collateral. The average American debt for HELOCs is $39.556, decreasing by 5.7 percent from 2020.
Americans paid off the balances and abstained from taking out new HELOCs this year, contributing to the decrease. As interest rates increase, Americans may wait to see how the housing market reacts before relying on their home equity to fund projects or major renovations.
When it comes to how much debt the average American has, mortgages represent the largest outstanding debt in the U.S. The average mortgage balance stands at $220,380.
This 5.9 percent increase in the mortgage balance average is partly due to increasing real estate prices. However, due to record low interest rates, there was also an incredibly hot refinance market, with a 33 percent increase in refinances in just the first half of 2021.
Throughout 2022, interest rates have increased, and the housing market has already begun to cool in many areas. These changes may impact mortgage debt over the next year.
What should I do if I’m in debt?
The average American debt is at $96,371 — and if you have a balance, the worst thing you can do is ignore it. Interest may accrue on your account, and missed payments could lead to late fees and damage to your credit.
If you’re looking to get out of debt, here’s where to start:
- Make a list of what you owe. List all your debts with balances, due dates, interest rates, minimum monthly payments and contact information.
- Go over your budget. Write down how much you earn each month and how much you spend on bills, such as rent, utilities, groceries and minimum debt payments.
- Find room for debt payments. Subtract your bills from your income to see what’s left over. Put this amount toward your debt each month. You can also put windfalls toward your principal balances, such as tax refunds.
- Prioritize the debts. Financial experts usually recommend using one of two methods: the snowball method or the avalanche method. With the snowball method, you pay off your smallest balance first, then move one by one to the largest. With the avalanche method, you can focus on paying off the balance with the highest interest rate first to save more money and work down from there.
- Make a goal. Based on your debt balance and extra payments, how long will it take until you’re debt-free? For example, if you want to pay off $5,500 in credit card debt and you can pay $500 each month, then the balance should be gone in 12 months, assuming a 16 percent APR.
If you are on a hardship plan and still can’t pay your bills, call your creditors to see if they will extend your forbearance benefits.
You can also consider getting professional financial help from a certified credit counselor. Once you schedule an appointment, the counselor can review your budget and recommend solutions, such as a debt management plan.
The bottom line
From 2021 through 2022 so far, Americans are still financially recovering from the coronavirus pandemic. Increased interest rates and inflation are contributing to uncertainty in the economy. Slowed growth in most types of debt shows that Americans are careful with their money as they wait to see what will happen with a changing housing market and an uncertain economy.
No matter what happens, it’s always a good idea to stay on top of your debt. If you don’t already have a plan for managing your debt, make a plan to keep it under control. And reach out to your lender if you are having trouble making payments. They may be able to help you before sending a debt to collections.