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Published: May 03, 2024 5 min read
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Americans' personal debt levels grew slightly last year, mostly thanks to credit cards and auto loans, according to data showing the average person owes nearly $23,000, not including mortgages.

The average personal debt per individual grew from $21,800 in 2023 to $22,713 in 2024, excluding mortgages, according to recent research from financial services company Northwestern Mutual.

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Average debt levels in America, by generation

Last year, Northwestern Mutual found that the average personal debt among U.S. adults excluding mortgages reached a four-year low — and significantly lower than an average of nearly $30,000 in 2019.

In 2024, the average debt crept up from $21,800 to $22,713, with 66% of respondents saying they hold at least some debt. Most of that debt stems from credit cards (28%) and auto loans (13%), roughly the same levels recorded by Northwestern Mutual in 2023.

That tracks with the most recent data from the New York Federal Reserve, which shows that credit card debt accounted for a record-breaking $1.13 trillion of the overall U.S. household debt, which reached $17.5 trillion in the last quarter of 2023.

On average, borrowers said they spend 29% of their monthly income on paying off debt. Here's the average debt breakdown by generation, excluding mortgages:

  • Gen Z average debt: $16,478
  • Millennials average debt: $24,833
  • Gen X average debt: $28,670
  • Baby boomer average debt: $18,272
  • Average debt for all Americans: $22,713

As you can see, Gen Xers, born roughly between 1965 and 1980, and millennials, born between about 1981 and 1996, carry the most personal debt. Even so, members of these age groups don't seem to have a solid plan to pay off their debt. More than 60% of millennials and Gen X respondents said they don't have a specific play to pay back what they owe.

Top sources of personal debt

Credit cards continued to be the main source of debt for U.S. adults, accounting for more than double any other source cited by survey respondents. Personal education loans crept up to the third biggest source of debt, compared to fifth-place last year.

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Inflation and interest rates' impact on debt

Last year, Northwestern Mutual found that Americans were making consistent progress in paying off their debts despite soaring inflation. Data showed that the average debt per person declined the most (by $6,475) between 2019 and 2021, likely due to workers being able to grow their savings and spend less during the early years of the pandemic.

But that's not the case in 2024: Not only do people owe more on average than they did last year, but more people are uncertain about how they'll pay back that debt.

Overall, 59% of borrowers said they have a specific plan to pay off their debt compared to 61% last year. A recent analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia shows that credit card balances, delinquencies and utilization rates are at their highest levels since the Philly Fed started tracking this data over a decade ago.

Northwestern Mutual also found that the share of adults who aren't sure how much they can afford to spend now versus how much they need to save for the future jumped from 26% to 34%. When it comes to emergency funds, a whopping 40% of respondents said they don't have any at all.

Among those who do have rainy day savings, only a little more than half said they have enough to cover more than six months of expenses.

"Inflation and higher interest rates are creating a double dilemma for consumers. Prices and the cost to borrow are both up, and that one-two punch is leaving a mark on Americans' debt levels," Christian Mitchell, chief customer officer for Northwestern Mutual, said in a news release.

More from Money:

The Surprising Way Inflation Can Be Good for People With Debt

5 Popular Strategies People Are Using to Escape Credit Card Debt

5 Best Debt Relief Companies of 2024

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