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Although a slight majority say they don’t have any

If you don’t own a home, have credit cards, or student loans, you may not know what debt means.

This could be why 51 percent of Americans claim they don’t have any debt, according to a new study from Really, the only surprising thing in it is how many people don’t think they have debt.

“It’s sometimes easy to forget about a loan if it is in a deferred payment plan, like some of the retail finance offers that let people skip the first six payments,” says Bruce McClary, VP of public relations & external affairs for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. “The same is true for situations where you may have a debt in your name, but someone else is managing the payments.”

Among the people who admitted they were in debt, most said mortgages were their biggest debt. And household incomes between $100,000 and $150,000 were more likely to have debt than any other income bracket.

Mortgages are big money suckers

source of debt

Paying off a home is the most expensive thing for Americans. Twenty percent of respondents said mortgages were their biggest source of debt, with nearly $60,000 being the average amount.

While men tend to have more mortgage debt than women — 41 percent vs. 36 percent — women tend to owe more than men: $74,000 vs. $60,000, respectively.

If you don’t understand your mortgage terms, like adjustable-rate mortgages, for example, you may want to make sure you get details about the fine print. suggests refinancing your mortgage to reduce interest or, if possible, rent out a room to make some extra cash.

Student loan debt still a problem for young people

Student loan debt is the second biggest source of debt, according to A third of younger millennials — 18 to 24 year-olds — owe $10,000 while older millennials, 25 to 24 years old, owe $15,000. Women often owe twice as much as men. Women, on average, owe $15,000, while men still need to pay back around $8,000.

While most everyone thinks college is worth it and are willing to do anything to make sure they or their children can go, they may not be making the best money decisions for college, like paying for college on a credit card. Soon-to-be students think parents will pay for any college they want, regardless of cost, which could come back to hurt their families. says even Gen Xers have student loan debt they’re still paying off. The study didn’t specify whether the loans were their own or taken out for their kids’ education though.

While parents are more stringent about saving for college earlier and better than the generations before them, there is still a big divide on the best ways to save for college.

Different income brackets, different debts

The more money you make, the more money you spend. This could explain that the biggest debt facing higher earners is credit cards.

Nearly 10 percent of all survey respondents admitted to having credit card debt. But it’s those household incomes of six figures or more that have the highest debt. Almost half of Americans making between $100,000 and $150,000 owe credit card debt, and it averages close to $7,000. Those making more than $150,000 owe an average of $11,750.

Aside from credit cards, big-time moneymakers admit to having high auto loan debt. Those making $150,000 a year have some of the highest auto loans, with $40,000 on average. Lower income earners do admit to having auto loan debt, but only a fraction of it: Americans making less than $25,000 a year owe roughly $5,750 in auto loans on probably more practical cars.

Along with auto loans, those with lower income are facing a much different kind of debt than their richer counterparts. More than a quarter of Americans who make less than $25,000 owe $1,500 in medical debt. Women owe twice as much, $1,000 compared to $500, when it comes to medical expenses.

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Meet the Author

Dori Zinn

Dori Zinn


Zinn is a freelance journalist based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.


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