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Study: 18% of Americans doubt they’ll get out of debt

12/11/2014no responses

John Waggoner, USA TODAY 10:02 p.m. EST December 10, 2014


About 18% of all Americans say they will never get out of debt, and 43% of those with debt expect to remain in debt at age 61 or later, according to a survey by

The statistics get more depressing for older Americans. Of those age 61 or older with debt, 31% say they will never get out from under. The survey includes mortgage debt as well as credit card debt. Median mortgage debt — half higher, half lower — soared 82% among people 65 or older from 2001 through 2011, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Optimism is much higher among younger people, the study found. Only 6% of 18- to 29-year-olds say they will never get out of debt. Jody Farmer,’s vice president of strategic marketing, says part of this might be wishful thinking. “Every age group feels like being debt-free is just around the corner,” he says.

More than a third of Americans — 38% — have incurred debt this holiday season. Other findings:

• 15% of white, non-Hispanic consumers say they will die in debt, while 9% of African Americans and 8% of Hispanics do.

• 44% of people ages 50 to 64 have accumulated holiday debt, more than any other age group.

• Households with annual income of $75,000 or greater were the most likely to take on holiday debt.

The percentage of those polled who say they will die in debt nearly doubled from the last poll took on the subject in May 2013. Part of the reason, Farmer says, is seasonality. People are more hopeful in the spring, and many have paid off their holiday debt by May.

For example, in the most recent survey, 55% say they will eliminate their holiday debt within one month, and 74% expect it to be gone in three months. Just 5% say they will still be paying their holiday debt a year from now.

Another possible reason: Hopes of getting raises didn’t pan out. Average weekly earnings have increased 2.4% the past 12 months, while inflation has gained about 1.7%. “Even though the jobs numbers are going up, income isn’t increasing with them,” Farmer says.

The survey covered a national sample of 1,001 adults living in the continental USA. The margin of error is ±3.6 percentage points.

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