by Bethany Blankley
Consumer debt in the U.S. has grown by 25 percent in five years and doubled since the turn of the century, according to the latest Clever Real Estate report
Consumers in southern states hold more debt as a proportion of their income than other regions in the U.S., and baby boomers showed greater levels of financial literacy than millennials, the report found.
Researchers identified three major reasons for skyrocketing debt: credit cards, financial literacy, and location, based on data analyzed by the Federal Reserve.
The average American household held $533 in debt and earned $30,300 in 1950, not including mortgages. In 2018, households had $31,420 worth of debt relative to a median income of $78,646.
In 2018, 7 in 10 borrowers who didn’t pay the full balance on their credit debt paid $113 billion in credit card interest and fees, up from $74.5 billion in 2013.
Revolving debt, comprised mainly of credit card debt, increased 24,500 percent since 1970, adjusting for inflation.
“When looking at the data, we were surprised at how quickly debt exploded since the first credit cards became available in the 1960s, how many American households carry a balance each month (over 70 percent), and how bankruptcies have skyrocketed since the 1980s due to the increase in consumer debt,” the report states.
Clever Real Estate, which provides a free online service connecting customers “to top agents to save money on commissions,” calculates that the average American household holds more than $31,000 in debt, or 40 percent of the median household income.
Credit card debt has encouraged over spending, the report says. According to the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, 19 percent of Americans spent more than their income in the past year; 36 percent broke even in 2018. Overall revolving debt has increased by 20 percent since 2013, the report notes, “suggesting that we’re not only spending more in general, but more of that debt is going unpaid month-to-month, compounding initial debt.”
When it comes to financial literacy, baby boomers scored an average of a C grade in the company’s financial literacy test, and millennials failed. Only 4 in 10 of the millennials who took the survey were able to choose the correct answer to the question “What is interest?” Baby boomers were twice as likely to answer the question correctly.
Baby boomers scored 27 percent higher on questions about loans, 18 percent more about credit cards, and 16 percent more on credit score questions than millennials.
When it comes to location, the analysis calculated a debt-to-income percentage for each state by dividing the total auto loan, credit card, and student loan debt by the median household income. The report excluded real estate related debt such as mortgages to be consistent with Federal Reserve data, which also excluded real estate related debt.
Mississippi had the highest debt to ratio percentage, 31 percent, in 2018; Washington had the least of 4 percent.
Credit card debt was highest in Alaska, Hawaii, and New Jersey and lowest in Kentucky, Mississippi, and West Virginia. New Jersey had higher mortgages ($40,630) and student loans ($6,090) than average. Texans have the highest auto loan debt of $6,720, compared to the national average of $4,659.
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Bethany Blankley is a contributor to The Center Square.