Debt levels are set to hit a record high this year.
Americans owe a lot of people a lot of money.
That’s why this year, debt levels are likely to top the $12.68 trillion we saw in 2008, according to the Federal Reserve. This will be a record high. The average American now faces $37,000 in debt, not even including their mortgages, which could easily add another zero to that number, according to study released Thursday by Northwestern Mutual. And one in 10 people are looking at $100,000 in debt excluding their mortgage.
So it’s no wonder that roughly three in four Americans say they are struggling to pay down their debt each month, according to the same study. What’s more, one in five people with debt now say they have to spend half or more of their monthly income to deal with that debt, the study of more than 2,700 people revealed. And one in 10 have a problem so bad they think they’ll die in debt.
And yet we keep spending. Ask Americans what they spend money on beyond the basic necessities like food, and you’ll discover they spend 40% of their income on non-essential items like travel, entertainment and hobbies. Meanwhile, they spend just 33% on their debt.
Big mistake, experts say. “Building financial security while saddled with high debt is like running a race with a weight around your ankle,” says Rebekah Barsch, vice president of planning, Northwestern Mutual. “We are carrying around this debt that is getting more expensive the longer we hold onto it, and then spending on things that are not essential.”
Millennials may have their priorities especially wrong, the data revealed. Fewer than one in four (22%) of them say they pay as much as they can on each of their debts — which may include things like credit cards, student loans and car loans — each month, compared to 35% of Americans overall. What’s more, 32% of them admit to excessive or frivolous spending, compared to just one in four people on average.
Americans, Barsch says, do realize that debt is costly, and yet the pull of buy-now is very enticing. “We are constantly bombarded with things to buy,” she says, on our social media and through advertising, for example. And at the same time, “we [as a society] have made debt unbelievably easy to get into and harder to get out of,” the says.
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