Fewer U.S. Households Have Debt, But Those Who Do Have More, Census Bureau Reports

WASHINGTON, March 28, 2013 - The percentage of U.S. households holding some form of debt declined from 74 percent to 69 percent between 2000 and 2011, according to new statistics released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. At the same time, the median amount of household debt increased over this period from $50,971 to $70,000 (in 2011 constant dollars). These statistics are part of a larger package released today that contains statistics on household wealth, asset ownership and debt.

These statistics come from Household Debt in the U.S.: 2000 to 2011 and accompanying detailed tables that examine the median value of debt and percent holding debt for households, by various characteristics of the householder, such as race and Hispanic origin, age, education and income quintile.

Between 2000 and 2011, the largest increases in median debt were experienced in households with householders age 35 to 44 (to $108,000), 45 to 54 (to $86,500) and 55 to 64 (to $70,000). However, the largest percentage increases in debt belonged to householders 55 to 64 years old (64 percent) and 65 and older (more than doubling to $26,000). Furthermore, people 65 and older were the only age group whose likelihood of holding debt rose over the period (from 41 percent to 44 percent). The opposite pattern was observed for those under 65.

"Those 65 and over became more likely to hold debt against their homes, and their median housing debt increased, as well, which explains a significant portion of the increase in their overall debt between 2000 and 2011," Census Bureau economist Marina Vornovytskyy said.

During the period, the composition of debt held by households also changed considerably. While the percentage holding credit card debt declined from 51 percent in 2000 to 38 percent in 2011, the percentage holding other unsecured debt, such as educational loans and medical bills not covered by insurance, rose from 11 percent to 19 percent.

"Householders under age 45 experienced the largest increases in both the likelihood of holding other debt and the amount of other debt," Vornovytskyy said.

Also released today was Household Wealth in the U.S.: 2000 to 2011 and associated detailed tables that examine the median value of assets and percent holding assets for households in 2011, by type of asset owned and householder characteristics similar to those explored in Household Debt in the U.S.: 2000 to 2011.

According to Household Wealth in the U.S.: 2000 to 2011, median net worth rose from $81,821 in 2000 to $106,585 in 2005, before declining to $68,828 in 2011 (in 2011 constant dollars). Median net worth excluding home equity has not exhibited the same degree of variability as overall median net worth: it showed no statistically significant change between 2000 and 2005 and decreased by $3,815 (or 18 percent) between 2005 and 2011.

"The changes in overall median net worth observed over the past decade have been driven primarily by changes in one of its major components -- equity that American households hold in their homes," Census Bureau economist Alfred Gottschalck said.

Over this same time period, there was significant regional variation in the changes in median net worth. The West experienced the largest changes over the last decade, increasing from $78,999 in 2000 to $146,841 in 2005 and then decreasing to $59,431 by 2011.

Between 2010 and 2011, median net worth showed no statistically significant change. Median net worth excluding home equity increased from $15,546 to $16,942.

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