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Average American Debt: Where Debt Is Concentrated & How It Has Changed Over Time

Alex Miller's image
Alex Miller

Alex Miller

Founder & CEO

Countries Visited: 34U.S. States Visited: 29

Founder and CEO of Upgraded Points, Alex is a leader in the industry and has earned and redeemed millions of points and miles. He frequently discusses the award travel industry with CNBC, Fox Business...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury

Keri Stooksbury

Editor-in-Chief

Countries Visited: 39U.S. States Visited: 28

With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now Editor-in-Chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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It’s no secret that Americans are in debt. Whether you stumble into credit card debt due to out-of-control spending habits or you suffered an unexpected injury and racked up thousands in medical debt at no fault of your own, Americans are reeling from the financial burden and never-ending merry-go-round of credit card payments. Compile that with accruing interest, late fees, and bad credit and you have a recipe for disaster. 

To get a holistic picture of the U.S. debt crisis over time, we analyzed debt per capita in every state for 4 major sources of debt that Americans are facing: credit card debt, student loan debt, medical debt, and mortgage debt.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the average American total debt balance per capita is $55,480. The largest contributors to that figure are mortgage debt per capita at an average of $38,830 and student loan debt per capita at an average of $5,640. From 2011 to 2021, average mortgage debt per capita increased by 56%, and average student loan debt per capita increased by 14%. Further insights revealed:

  • Total debt has been increasing in the U.S. for quite some time.
  • Credit card debt per capita has seen the smallest increase since 2011 compared to other major debt sources.
  • Mortgage debt is the largest debt source for Americans across the country, with Western states facing the largest increases since 2011.
  • Student loan debt continues to grow and repaying it is becoming a larger problem, especially in Southern states.
  • Medical debt in collections is affecting thousands of Americans, primarily in areas where fewer people have health insurance.

We also determined the regions that have experienced the largest increases in debt over the past 10 years and identified the states where people could have the hardest time paying it off. Keep reading to discover which states are in the red and which ones have kissed credit card payments goodbye.

How U.S. Debt Has Changed Over Time and the States Impacted the Most

We examined the debt per capita over the past 10years, factoring in mortgage debt, auto debt, student loan debt, and credit card debt. Read on to find out which states are feeling the impact of the student loan crisis the most and which ones may be better off biking to work instead of driving. 

The Commoditization of Education and How Tuition Has Changed Over Time

College tuition inflation rates have been increasing over the years, impacting the amount of debt 18- to 24-year-olds have to take on to get an education. While each generation has had to face its own unique set of challenges, when it comes to student loan debt, there seems to be no reprieve in sight. Almost a fifth of Americans have student debt and demand remains high as college enrollment has only seen a 2% decrease since 2011.   

The student loan crisis is preventing some Americans from increasing their savings or buying their first home, but it begs the question — which states offer more affordable college tuition on average? Check out our results below. 

Healthcare Debt: ER Bills, Access to Healthcare, and More

To go to the doctor or skip your wellness visit? Millions of Americans are faced with this exact predicament, racking up billions in medical debt, which is why medical debt can feel like the ultimate catch-22. Certain states owe staggering amounts of medical debt while others owe less. 

  • The average median medical debt in collections in the U.S. is $678.72.
  • West Virginia has the highest percentage of the population with medical debt in collections at 24%.
  • Wyoming has the highest median medical debt in collections at $1,515. This is $1,176 more than the state with the lowest median medical debt, Hawaii, at just $339.
  • Wyoming’s medical debt issue stems from economic health, market conditions, and the aging population, according to experts.

Housing Debt: How Sky-high Mortgage Payments Make It Impossible To Keep Up with the Joneses

House prices are on the rise, leading many Americans to postpone home ownership. We took a look at which states have the highest median home values and which ones have the highest amount of mortgage debt, potentially turning their dream home into their real-life nightmare. 

In 1950, the median home value was only $7,400 and the median rent was only $42 — boy, how times have changed. We analyzed the median mortgage debt per capita and the shocking increase that has taken place in just the last few years. Even the Joneses can’t keep up with the Joneses. 

Methodology

To get an understanding of the average American’s debt and which areas were impacting Americans the most, we collected data points on in-state tuition, cost of living, median monthly income, U.S. college enrollment, household debt, household savings, and other similar factors. We collected data from 2011 to 2021 to get a picture of how debt has changed over time. Note, to determine how far the average salary in every state can go, we compared each state’s average salary to its cost of living. Sources include: 

Final Thoughts

America’s national debt problem isn’t letting up anytime soon. From auto debt to college tuition and rising healthcare costs, debt seems to be steadily increasing in all areas of life. While supply and demand certainly do play a factor, college enrollment has seen a 2% decrease since 2011, despite more Americans taking on student debt. 

When it comes to mortgage payments, places like Hawaii, D.C., and California offer a less-than-desirable place to call home if you’re looking for lower mortgage rates. On the other hand, if you’re fortunate enough to live in places like Hawaii then perhaps you don’t know what it’s like to have an enormous amount of medical debt. 

No matter what type of debt you have or if you owe nothing to the lender (congratulations!), your relationship with debt can have a vast impact on your financial future and spending habits.  

About Alex Miller

Founder and CEO of Upgraded Points, Alex is a leader in the industry and has earned and redeemed millions of points and miles. He frequently discusses the award travel industry with CNBC, Fox Business, The New York Times, and more.

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