Amounts of Personal Debt Have Increased

While fewer households are in debt, the amount of debt has increased for those that are, said a report from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Household Debt in the U.S.: 2000 to 2011” found the percentage of U.S. households holding some form of debt declined, from 74% to 69%, during that 11-year time period. At the same time, the median amount of debt increased, from $50,971 to $70,000. 

Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that the report found that the elderly were most susceptible to the increase in debt amount, which confirms findings of other studies. (See “Debt Levels Increase for Elderly.”) “Those 65 and over became more likely to hold debt against their homes and their median housing debt increased as well, which explains a significant portion of the increase in their overall debt between 2000 and 2011,” said Marina Vornovytskyy, a Census Bureau economist. 

Between 2000 and 2011, the largest increases in median debt were experienced in households with householders age 35 to 44 (to $108,000), 45 to 54 (to $86,500) and 55 to 64 (to $70,000). The largest percentage increases in debt belonged to householders age 55 to 64 (64%) and 65 and older (more than doubling, to $26,000). Furthermore, people 65 and older were the only age group whose likelihood of holding debt rose over the period (from 41% to 44%). The opposite pattern was observed for those younger than 65. 

During the period, the composition of debt held by households also changed considerably. While the percentage holding credit card debt declined, from 51% in 2000, to 38% in 2011, the percentage holding other unsecured debt, such as educational loans and medical bills not covered by insurance, rose from 11% to 19%. 

The report examined the median value of debt and percent holding debt for households, using characteristics such as ethnic origin, age, education and income. The report can be downloaded here.