Politics & MoneyReal Estate

Nearly half of Americans have anxiety over their debt

This is causing physical and mental distress

Adults in the U.S. over the age of 18 say they have an average of $29,800 in personal debt (not including mortgages), and 15% of Americans say they think they will be in debt for the rest of their lives. 

According to Northwestern Mutual’s 2019 Planning and Progress Study, this is still an improvement from last year's average of $38,000 in personal debt. 

"The road to financial security is long, even in the best of circumstances," Emily Holbrook, senior director of planning at Northwestern Mutual, said in a release. "By carrying high levels of personal debt that road gets even longer, often requiring all kinds of detours and other twists and turns. The fact that there's been some year-over-year improvement in debt levels is good, but the numbers still remain worryingly high."

An average of 34% of people’s monthly income goes towards paying off debt, the study showed, while another 34% of respondents said they aren’t sure how much of their monthly income goes towards paying off their debt. 

Carrying debt takes a mental and physical toll on Americans, too. Meanwhile, 45% of Americans surveyed said that debt makes them feel anxiety at least once a month, while 20% reported that their debt makes them physically ill at least once a month. 

Another 35% said they feel guilty as a result of the debt they are carrying. 

The generation with the most reported personal debt was Gen X, citing its personal debt at $36,000. Baby Boomers has $28,600; Millennials tallied up $27,900 in debt, while Gen Z had $14,700. 

The leading sources of debt for Americans was found to be a tie between mortgages and credit cards. There were 22% who said their main source of debt was their mortgage, while 22% also said their main source of debt was credit cards. Car loans were lower, at 9%, as well as education loans at 8%.

And recent reports show that Americans' debt load is increasing. In fact, the two most recent reports from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York show that consumers' overall debt is now well above where it was during the housing crisis.

"Our data, along with national numbers, show that people continue to struggle with finding the right balance between spending now versus saving for later," says Holbrook. "But it's important to understand the impact that spiraling debt can have on a financial plan. There are steps people can take to get control of their debt. It might start with loan consolidation and a budget, then move to a longer-term plan that includes guardrails to help people stay on track. The most important part is to take action. It's often those first few steps that can be the hardest and most important."

Note: Northwestern Mutual's 2019 Planning & Progress Study was conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Northwestern Mutual and included 2,003 American adults aged 18 or older in the general population and an oversample of 281 U.S. adults age 18-22 who participated in an online survey between February 20 and March 5, 2019. Results were weighted to Census targets for education, age/gender, race/ethnicity, region and household income.

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