Average Non-Mortgage Debt Reaches $23,325, Study Finds

by Maurie Backman | Published on Sept. 1, 2021

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Here's what Americans' debt looks like these days -- and what to do if yours is comparable.

It's not unheard of for consumers to carry some amount of debt. But not all debt is created equal.

Mortgage debt is generally considered the healthy type to have. A mortgage lets you eventually own an asset that can gain value over time.

Credit card debt, on the other hand, is a dangerous type to have. It can cost you a lot of money in interest and damage your credit score. And most of the time, the items you charge on a credit card won't gain value over time.

So how much non-mortgage debt do Americans have? According to Northwestern Mutual's 2021 Planning & Progress Study, U.S. adults aged 18 and over who carry debt hold an average of $23,325 outside of their mortgages.

Now at first glance, that might seem like a lot. But actually, it represents a decline from previous years. In 2020, that average sat at $26,621, and in 2019, it was $29,800.

Still, among those surveyed, the top source of debt outside of mortgages was credit card debt, which is not a great kind to have. Not surprisingly, 18% of those surveyed have been forced to delay retirement savings due to their debt, while 14% have put off buying a home.

If you're sitting on a pile of non-mortgage debt, the sooner you shed it, the less interest you'll spend on it, and the less likely it'll be to hurt your finances in the long run. Here are a few tips for ridding yourself of your debt.

1. Consolidate it to make it cheaper to pay off

Debt consolidation could allow you to lower the interest rate on your debt and make it easier to eliminate. You have a few options in this regard. First, you can see about doing a balance transfer, where you move your various credit card balances onto a new card with a lower interest rate (or, ideally, a 0% intro interest rate). Or you can look at getting a personal loan, use it to pay off your credit cards, and then repay that loan over time.

2. Follow a strict budget

Setting up a budget could make it easier to start spending less and saving more. The result? Extra cash to chip away at your debt. If you're brand new to budgeting, you might consider experimenting with different apps to see if any of them are helpful to you.

3. Get a side job

If your current paycheck is largely monopolized by living costs, then a second job could be your ticket to getting out of debt sooner. There are so many opportunities out there to earn money on the side, so think about what works best for your schedule. If you can't commit to working preset evening or weekend hours, find a gig that's flexible. Something you can do from home, like web design or data entry, might work out well.

While it's a good thing that consumers are carrying less non-mortgage debt than in previous years, they're still carrying a lot. The sooner you manage to get rid of that debt, the healthier a financial outlook you'll enjoy.

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