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Urban Institute: Debt in America; 35% of Americans Facing Debt Collectors

Wed July 30 2014 5:05 am
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Study by the Urban Institute shows that over one in three Americans have debts that have been reported to collection agencies. Consumer confidence at highest level since 2009. Judge clears way for Shelly Sterling to sell LA Clippers. Joanne Po reports.

Debt can be constructive, allowing people to build equity in homes or finance education, but it can also burden families into the future. Total debt is driven by mortgage debt; both are highly concentrated in high-cost housing markets, mostly along the coasts. Among Americans with a credit file, average total debt was $53,850 in 2013, but was substantially higher for people with a mortgage ($209,768) than people without a mortgage ($11,592). Non-mortgage debt, in contrast, is more spatially dispersed. It ranges from a high of $14,532 in the East South Central division to a low of $17,883 in New England.

The Urban Institute used 2013 credit bureau data from TransUnion to examine Americans’ total debt, then separately assess their mortgage and non-mortgage debt.4 Mortgage debt captures the debt people take on to purchase a home, and non-mortgage debt encompasses many other types of personal debt, including vehicle loans, education loans, and credit card debt. It also encompasses debt in collections, which can include unpaid medical and utility bills.

Definitions of debt categories.
• Total debt is the sum of mortgage debt and non-mortgage debt.

• Mortgage debt is the total balance of mortgage trades, including mortgages on primary or secondary residences, but not
home equity loans.

• Non-mortgage debt is the sum of non-mortgage trades and debt in collection. Non-mortgage trades include the total
balance of open trades, excluding mortgages, as well as trade lines that have been closed but not charged off into
collections. Debt in collection includes closed trades that have been charged off as well as the total collection balance of
debts reported to the bureau by collection agencies. While mortgage debt could result in collections activity, it is very

Average total debt in Illinois was $53,353

Average mortgage debt in Illinois was $37,366

Average non-mortgage debt in Illinois was $15,987

The Urban Institute is a nonpartisan Washington D.C.-based American think tank that carries out economic and social policy research, collects data, evaluates social programs, educates the public on key domestic issues, and provides advice and technical assistance to developing governments abroad.

The Institute was established in 1968 by the Lyndon B. Johnson administration to study the nation’s urban problems. Johnson hand-selected well-known economists and civic leaders to create the non-partisan, independent research organization.

See the full report from the Urban Institute

Debt in America [PDF]

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