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It isn’t easy to stay out of debt in today’s economic climate. Between high interest rates and the high cost of everyday items, Americans are taking on debt to make ends meet: 35 percent of U.S. adults carry debt from month to month, according to a Bankrate credit card poll.
If your debt is staying the same or growing, knowing more about debt can help you to get out of it and build healthy habits for the future. Here’s how average debt looks in the U.S. and how Americans are managing their debt.
Key insights on Americans in debt
- 74% of Gen Zers (ages 18-25) who took on student loan debt for their own education delayed a major financial decision as a result of the debt. (Bankrate)
- 68% of millennials (ages 26-41) who took on student loan debt for their own education delayed a major financial decision as a result of the debt. (Bankrate)
- 27% of those who took on student loan debt for their own education are delaying saving for emergencies. (Bankrate)
- 53% of Americans have more emergency savings than credit card debt. (Bankrate)
- 50% of Americans say that, when asked to prioritize, they would rather boost emergency savings than pay down debt. (Bankrate)
- 38% of households making between $50,000 and $74,999 a year have more credit card debt than emergency savings, the highest of any income bracket. (Bankrate)
- 60% of credit card debtors say they have been in credit card debt for at least one year. (CreditCards.com)
- 19% of those with credit card debt have been in debt for at least five years. (CreditCards.com)
- 31% of millennials (ages 26-41) with credit card debt say that day-to-day expenses are the primary reason why they carry a credit card balance from month to month. (CreditCards.com)
- 20% of baby boomers (ages 58-76) with credit card debt say that day-to-day expenses are the primary reason why they carry a credit card balance from month to month. (CreditCards.com)
Average American household debt statistics
The average American holds a debt balance of $96,371, according to 2021 Experian data, the latest data available. That’s up 3.9 percent from 2020’s average balance of $92,727, largely due to the rising balance of mortgage and auto loans.
Americans spend roughly 9.58 percent of their disposable income on debt repayment, according to the Federal Bank of St. Louis.
American households in total hold $11.67 trillion in debt, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. That’s up $2.36 trillion since the end of 2019, before COVID-19. The price of mortgages, auto loans and other services have increased over the last several years as inflation has risen and the aftereffects of COVID-19 have lingered. The Fed cites an 8 percent rise in consumer prices across the board, meaning that increased debt balances are “perhaps unsurprising.”
Mortgage balances, the largest source of debt for most Americans, rose 5.9 percent between 2020 and 2021. The average mortgage balance is $220,380, according to Experian. Auto loan balances reportedly rose 6.5 percent year-over-year in 2021, and the average auto loan balance is $20,987.
Only credit card debt balances and home equity line of credit (HELOC) balances fell year-over-year in 2021, both falling for the second year in a row. HELOC balances represent the largest fall, 5.7 percent year-over-year.
As overall debt increases, here’s how debt breaks down even further, and how Americans find their balances changing:
At-a-glance: Average consumer debt statistics
Americans take on a lot of different debt from different sources, from their first credit card to a mortgage to buy a house. This is how the average American debt balance is split among common categories:
|Type of debt||Average debt per American||Total debt in the U.S.|
|Credit card||$5,221||$10.93 trillion|
|Auto loan||$20,987||$1.46 trillion|
|Student loan||$39,487||$1.58 trillion|
Source: Experian, Federal Reserve Bank of New York
Note: Though federal data on total U.S. debt includes figures as recent as the third quarter of 2022, all data shown here is from 2021 for equivalent comparison.
Credit card debt in 2022
Americans took out less credit card debt during the early months of COVID-19, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, but balances rose again throughout 2022. Credit card balances are up $38 billion at the end of 2022 over the last quarter, for a third-quarter 2022 total of $930 billion. This includes credit card balances that consumers pay off completely each month.
There are over 500 million open credit card accounts in the U.S., and 191 million Americans have at least one credit card — half of all Americans have at least two, according to the New York Fed. This increase over 2021 comes as Americans are reigniting their spending after COVID-19.
Here’s how the average credit card balance has changed over the last five years, using figures from the last quarter of each year:
National average credit card balance, by year
|Year||Average credit card balance|
Personal loan debt in 2022
The average new account balance for unsecured personal loans, or loans taken without collateral such as for a car or home, is $7,978, according to November 2022 data from TransUnion. Americans with a personal loan have an average balance of $11,131, up from $10,987 in 2021. About 25 million Americans have at least one person loan, according to Experian.
These loans are becoming even more popular amid high inflation, as they may offer lower interest rates than credit cards. If someone has a personal loan with a fixed annual percentage rate is unaffected by Federal Reserve interest hikes after the loan is secured. Borrowers historically have considered personal loans for debt consolidation to replace a high-interest credit card balance, according to Experian.
Auto loan debt in 2022
Americans are paying more for their cars as prices soar, according to Experian. The average auto loan balance of $20,987 is the first time average balances have exceeded $20,000, and Americans owe a record $1.43 trillion. In addition to the razor-thin supply of cars that Americans saw starting in 2021, inflation hikes are also affecting auto loan financing, according to Experian.
Student loan debt in 2022
Student loan debt is making headlines as President Joe Biden announced a plan to cancel up to $20,000 in student loan debt, but the Supreme Court will not hold arguments on forgiveness until Feb. 28, 2023, according to CNBC. About 43.2 million Americans still have student debt, and student loan debt is the second-largest type of consumer debt after mortgages, according to Bankrate data. Student loan debt has risen 1.8 percent year-over-year for the average American household, according to Experian.
More low- and middle-income young people are going to college, according to research by the Brookings Institute, and though many students receive scholarships, the rising cost of living means that students who otherwise have their tuition covered are still taking out loans to afford living expenses.
Medical loan debt in 2022
Nearly one in ten, or 9 percent, of U.S. adults owe medical debt, according to KFF. Consumer credit records report $88 billion in national medical debt as of June 2021, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The amount of medical debt in collections is likely higher, the CFPB notes.
Unfortunately, medical loan debt can highly influence financial well-being. This is how it affects the financial well-being of people of different income levels:
|Income||Percentage who report low or very low financial well-being due to medical loan debt|
|$200,000 or more||22%|
|$150,000 to $199,999||16.1%|
|$100,000 to $149,999||15.6%|
|$75,000 to $99,999||20.1%|
|$50,000 to $74,999||20.4%|
|$35,000 to $49,999||27.4%|
|$15,000 to $34,999||49.2%|
|Less than $15,000||39.2%|
HELOC debt in 2022
HELOC is the line of credit you can borrow against the available equity of your home. However, rising home prices don’t necessarily mean Americans have more home equity they can access. HELOC loans often have high lender minimums, with some borrowers required to take out $10,000 or more, and defaulting on a HELOC loan means the borrower could lose their home. Americans are taking less HELOC debt in favor of personal loans or refinancing their mortgage, according to Experian.
Americans had $340.11 billion in HELOC debt in 2020, but the figure fell 13.1 percent in 2021 to $295.51 billion. It’s a trend that’s continued for several years, but it was still the largest fall in any type of debt in Experian’s data.
Mortgage debt in 2022
A home is the largest purchase most Americans will make in their lifetimes, and people are paying enormous amounts to be able to afford the American dream. Mortgage balances rose $1 trillion year-over-year as of September 2022. Americans have an average $11.67 trillion on consumer credit reports, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
The median price for a house sold in the U.S. is $454,900, an all-time high, according to St. Louis Fed data that dates back to 1963. Average mortgage balances have risen 5.9 percent year-over-year, the most in 10 years, according to Experian. Inflation is squeezing a housing market that is already hurting due to low supply and high post-COVID-19 demand.
What should I do if I’m in debt?
If you have a debt 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? Keep in mind when you do the math that today’s APRs are higher than ever, with an average interest rate of 19.59 percent for new cards, according to Bankrate.
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
As the country rings in 2023, 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.
Bankrate.com commissioned YouGov Pl to conduct the survey on credit card debt and APR. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Pic. Total sample size was 2,458 U.S. adults, including 1,876 credit cardholders and 849 who carry credit card debt from month to month. Fieldwork was undertaken December 7-9, 2022. The survey was carried out online and meets rigorous quality standards. It employed a non-probability-based sample using both quotas upfront during collection and then a weighting scheme on the back end designed and proven to provide nationally representative results.
Bankrate.com commissioned YouGov Plc to conduct the survey on delaying financial milestones due to student loan debt. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 3,939 adults, among whom 1,442 have, or had, student loan debt for their own education. Fieldwork was undertaken on March 29 – April 1, 2022. The survey was carried out online and meets rigorous quality standards. It employed a non-probability-based sample using both quotas upfront during collection and then a weighting scheme on the back end designed and proven to provide nationally representative results.
This study on emergency savings versus credit card debt was conducted for Bankrate via telephone by SSRS on its Forsta Plus (formerly known as Confirmit) platform. The SSRS Omnibus is a national, weekly, dual-frame bilingual telephone survey. Interviews were conducted from January 18 – January 24, 2022 among a sample of 1,002 respondents in English (963) and Spanish (39). Telephone interviews were conducted by landline (217) and cell phone (785, including 602 without a landline phone). The margin of error for total respondents is +/-3.49% at the 95% confidence level. All SSRS Omnibus data are weighted to represent the target population.
CreditCards.com commissioned YouGov Plc to conduct the survey on credit card debt. CreditCards.com is owned by Bankrate’s parent company, Red Ventures. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,419 adults, of whom 1,834 have a credit card and 879 carry a credit card balance from month to month. Fieldwork was undertaken August 24-26, 2022. The survey was carried out online and meets rigorous quality standards. It employed a non-probability-based sample using both quotas upfront during collection and then a weighting scheme on the back end designed and proven to provide nationally representative results.