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Research and Statistics

Credit cards pull even with mortgages as top source of debt, study shows

Cards trailed mortgages by 10 percentage points as the leading source of debt just two years ago, according to Northwestern Mutual

Summary

According to findings from Northwestern Mutual, an equal 22 percent of Americans age 18 and older cited mortgages and credit cards as their primary source of debt. That’s more than double the next two highest sources: car loans at 9 percent and student loans at 8 percent.

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It used to be that mortgages were Americans’ leading source of debt, by a significant margin. But for the last two years, credit card debt has pulled even with mortgages as the top debt among U.S. adults.

According to the latest findings from Northwestern Mutual’s 2019 Planning & Progress Study, an equal 22 percent of Americans age 18 and older cited mortgages and credit cards as their primary source of debt. That’s more than double the next two highest sources: car loans at 9 percent and student loans at 8 percent.

In the 2017 version of the study, 29 percent of U.S. adults listed mortgages as their main debt, with credit card debt trailing substantially behind at 19 percent. But by the 2018 study, credit card debt had surged to tie mortgages at 25 percent of respondents.

See related:  Gen-Xers putting off retirement savings to pay off debt, survey shows

This year’s drop from 25 percent each for mortgages and credit cards to 22 percent each was accompanied by an increase in the share of respondents who reported they had no debt — up to 27 percent from 23 percent last year.

A generational breakdown of the 2019 data shows credit cards are handily the leading source of debt for millennials, at 25 percent for cards versus 15 percent for mortgages. Generation X shows a similar share for credit card debt, at 24 percent, but mortgages beat it out as the top debt among 30 percent of Gen Xers.

For boomers, the share of those who reported mortgages and card debt as their top liabilities is roughly flipped compared to millennials, with mortgages leading credit cards 28 percent to 18 percent.

Northwestern Mutual’s 2019 Planning & Progress Study was conducted by The Harris Poll among 2,003 American adults aged 18 or older between February and March 2019. The results were weighted to represent U.S. Census demographics and were released Sep. 17.

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Credit Card Rate Report Updated: November 25th, 2020
Business
13.91%
Airline
15.50%
Cash Back
15.85%
Reward
15.75%
Student
16.12%

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