It's no secret that America is a nation that runs on debt, but it may surprise you to learn that the overwhelming majority of U.S. adults owe money in some way, shape, or form. According to new data from Comet, here's how many Americans have debt at present:
80.9% of baby boomers
79.9% of Gen Xers
81.5% of millennials
While many Americans owe more in mortgage and student debt than any other type, they also carry credit card, auto, and medical debt, the latter of which is the No. 1 cause of personal bankruptcy filings in the country.
Furthermore, while millennials are the most likely to be in debt, they seem to be abusing their credit cards the least. The average amount owed by millennials on a credit card (or combination of credit cards) is just $4,868, compared to $7,175 for baby boomers and $8,291 for Gen Xers. On the other hand, younger Americans carry the highest levels of mortgage debt, and while that's technically the good kind to have, it, too, needs to be kept in check.
If you're struggling with debt, it's critical that you take steps to address the problem, especially if you're having a hard time keeping up with your payments. Here are a few tips for getting your debt under control.
1. Get organized
It's hard to stay on top of your debt if you don't have a handle on what you owe and when your various payments are due. That's why it pays to consolidate your debts to the greatest extent possible. If you owe money on multiple credit cards, see about rolling those debts onto a single card via a balance transfer. Another option? Try consolidating debts from difference sources, such as student loan debt and auto debt, into a personal loan if you qualify for one at a favorable rate.
Reducing the number of individual payments you're required to make will help you better keep up with them, but don't rely on memory alone to manage those bills. Rather, post their respective due dates on your calendar so you don't risk missing payments and damaging your credit in the process.
2. See about refinancing your mortgage or auto loan
If your credit has improved significantly since signing your mortgage or car loan, you might look into refinancing, where you swap your existing loan for a new one with better terms. Now one thing you should know is that because interest rates have been climbing over the past year, you don't want to wait too long before refinancing if you think it's a viable option. But if you're able to snag a more favorable rate on your new loan, you could end up lowering your monthly payment for your home, vehicle, or both.
3. Catch a break on your student loans
If you borrowed money for college from a private lender, you may not have too many options for improving your repayment terms. But if you borrowed money from the federal government, which is the case for the majority of indebted students, then you're in luck, because you might qualify for a number of repayment plans that are favorable to your current one. For example, if you're a low to middle earner, you might get the option to switch over to an income-based repayment plan, which calculates your monthly loan payment as a percentage of your earnings rather than a preset amount based on the amount you borrowed. You might also be eligible to have your loans, or a portion thereof, forgiven if you meet certain criteria.
4. Look to settle
If you're dealing with a large chunk of credit card or medical debt, another option you might explore is entering into a settlement agreement with your lenders wherein they reduce the amount you owe. Why might your lenders settle for less? It's simple -- because they'd rather get paid something than risk not seeing their money at all. Remember, if you end up filing for bankruptcy, your creditors could wind up with nothing, or just pennies on the dollar for your debts. Therefore, it never hurts to negotiate -- whether on your own or with the help of an attorney or debt settlement firm.
5. Avoid the same mistakes going forward
If you're in over your head debt-wise, it's crucial that you avoid adding to that load. To accomplish this, create a budget if you don't have one already, and figure out how much you can actually afford to be spending each month. Then, pledge to stay within those limits unless a truly unavoidable expense comes your way (like a medical bill for a sudden illness).
Another way to avoid debt in the future? Sock away enough money to cover at least three months' worth of living expenses. Having an emergency fund in place will give you leeway when those unplanned bills rear their ugly head.
The sooner you take steps to address your debt problem, the less financial stress you'll experience -- and the less money you'll end up wasting. And that's the sort of advice most Americans would be wise to follow.
The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.