The United States of Debt: Why Some See It as a Good Thing

The United States of Debt: Why Some See It as a Good Thing

In our quest for upward financial mobility, debt plays an increasingly big role.

Eight in 10 Americans are now in debt of some kind, according to a new report by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Debt can be an important tool in building wealth—by helping you launch a business, perhaps, or get a degree that improves your earning potential. But it can also be a drain that hinders you from saving or coping with a financial emergency.

So what are we borrowing for? A mortgage is the most common form of debt, with  44% of Americans owing money on their homes.


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Gen Xers are especially susceptible; more than 56% have mortgage loans, and most owe more than $100,000. That’s $30,000 more than the typical Boomer and twice as much as the typical Millennial.

Younger Americans are the most likely to be saddled with college loans; more than four in 10 Millennials (41%) are starting their working lives with student debt.

Still, debt increasingly follows Americans into their golden years.

Eighty percent of Baby Boomers are in debt—and almost half are still paying off their homes. Even among the oldest Americans, known as the Silent Generation, debt is rampant: 56% of these mostly retired Americans have some form of debt.

When Pew asked about attitudes toward nonmortgage debt, 69% of Americans expressed a love-hate relationship, indicating that it was a necessity in their lives but that they preferred not to have it.

Almost as many (68%) said that loans and credit cards have expanded their opportunities by allowing them to make purchases or investments that their income and savings alone could not support.

Interestingly, the Silent Generation was twice as likely as Gen X to say that debt has been a positive force.

One possible explanation? "Many Gen Xers are carrying student loan debt later into life when many have college-bound teenagers,” noted Diana Elliott, research manager for financial security and mobility at Pew.

“These same Gen Xers, nine out of 10, believe their children will receive a scholarship, grant, or both, but the reality of that happening is quite lower.”

Whatever your demo, read up on the common debt mistake you can’t afford to make.


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