Credit card debt is down, but unsecured debt such as student loans is on the rise
The good news: The percentage of U.S. households holding some form of debt declined from 74 percent to 69 percent between 2000 and 2011. The bad news: Those households with debt have more of it. The median amount of household debt increased over this period from $50,971 to $70,000. Those with the heaviest debt burden: Seniors.
Between 2000 and 2011, according to statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau, the largest increases in median debt were seen in households led by someone ages 35 to 44 (to $108,000), 45-54 (to $86,000) and 55 to 64 (to $70,000) But the largest percentage increases in debt belonged to households led by baby boomers ages 55 to 64 (64 percent) and seniors 65 and older (more than doubling to $26,000). Seniors were the only age group whose likelihood of holding debt rose over the period (from 41 percent to 44 percent).
"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," Census Bureau economist Marina Vornovytskyy said in a statement.
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Mortgages and home-equity debt accounts for more than three-fourths (78 percent) of all household debt
During the period, the composition of debt held by households also changed considerably, the Census Bureau reported. While the percentage holding credit card debt declined from 51 percent in 2000 to 38 percent in 2011, the percentage holding other unsecured debt, such as educational loans and medical bills not covered by insurance, rose from 11 percent to 19 percent.
"Householders under age 45 experienced the largest increases in both the likelihood of holding other debt and the amount of other debt," Vornovytskyy said.
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Paying down debt was one of the top three financial resolutions (along with spending less and saving more) made by Affluent investors at the beginning of the year, according to a Millionaire Corner survey.
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.