Americans’ Debt Anxiety Is Real

September 18, 2019

Americans are getting anxious about their debt. About one-third—34%—of Americans’ monthly income goes toward paying off debt. It’s no wonder 45% of Americans say debt makes them feel anxious on at least a monthly basis, according to the latest findings from the Northwestern Mutual’s 2019 Planning & Progress Study, based on a survey of about 2,000 American adults.

U.S. adults aged 18 and older reported having an average of $29,800 in personal debt, which excludes mortgages. That does mark an improvement over last year, when personal debt averaged $38,000.

Still, consumers are plenty worried about it. One in five respondents say that their debt makes them feel physically ill at least once a month.

Generation X reported the highest levels of personal debt with $36,000, on average, followed by baby boomers at $28,600. Millennials and Gen Z had the lowest at $27,900 and $14,700, respectively.

“The road to financial security is long, even in the best of circumstances,” says Emily Holbrook, senior director of planning at Northwestern Mutual. “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.”

The leading sources of debt for most consumers is mortgages and credit cards, the study finds. Gen Xers and baby boomers noted that mortgages are their leading sources of debt, followed by credit card bills. Millennials cite credit cards bills as their main source of debt while Gen Z says personal education loans is theirs.