Understanding Debt in America

There are many ways a person can end up in debt, and many of them are linked to socio-economic factors. But there is one major cost that can hit anyone, at any time.

The statement that a lot of Americans are in debt shouldn't be a shocker to anyone. It also probably won’t surprise you that socio-economic classes have a major effect on the amount of debt likely to be carried from month to month.

But is there a factor that levels the playing field?

Debt, in terms of medical care, is universally unkind with medical bills being the number one cause of bankruptcy cases.

demographics of American Debt

Cancer, heart failure, and other debilitating diseases do not generally discriminate between the different wage brackets and the bills can be hefty enough to derail even the stoutest bank accounts.

Many self-pay medical customers scramble to find ways to lower their medical costs; some skip doctor’s appointments or delay them as long as possible.

Others avoid filling prescriptions for medications.

In the end, these kinds of choices usually wind up costing the individual more in terms of health deterioration as well as additional medical care fees for the declining health.

Where do these additional costs usually wind up going?

You guessed it: on a credit card account, which is then carried as a balance from month to month.

The number one medical expense charged to a credit account is medication.

Other costs wind up on the Visa bill as well: click the graphic at left to see how self-pay medical bills stack up.

In the long run, debt is more a state of mind than a state of class.

Learning how to leverage debt and income for the greatest benefit could help anyone no matter who you are or how fat or thin your savings account might be.

Debt Demographics

Did you know that, on average, the poorest or lowest income families carry the most credit card debt?

Perhaps this seems obvious, but that wasn’t always the case.

A few decades ago, the poorest of the poor simply did without, meaning they were poor, but out of debt as a rule.

Now, the lowest classes have caught the middle-class disease of keeping up with the Jones’ by charging their expenses.

This leads to the downward debt cycle of overspending, underpaying, and eventually bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy averages are at 19% for wage earners under $30k annually. This is not the highest bankruptcy wage bracket, but only by 1%.

To see the highest and lowest bankruptcy salaries, click the graphic to the left.

How does debt stack up in the ethnic groups?

Comparing debt to debt, the Hispanic population carries the highest credit card balances from month to month.

With an average of over $10,000.00 in credit card debt, Latino persons edge out white individuals by only $275.

The African American population carries the least amount in overall credit card debt per billing cycle.

But this statistic is misleading because as of 2007, over 90% of African American families were carrying a balance in credit card debt from month to month.

This 90% was identified to be African American households earning between $10,000.00 and $24,000.00 yearly.

The numbers look better taking the entire African American populace as a whole.

Where is America's Debt?

We've discussed Americans' debts, but what about debt in America?

All the places America's debt lies

America's collective debt, also called the national debt or the public debt, represents the money that the U.S. government owes to the owners of debt instruments that are issued by the U.S. treasury.

There are several types of debt instruments issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

All of these items are collectively called treasuries.

America has always had debt.

Since the 18th century, the country has carried a load of debt that has fluctuated with the political and social climate of the day.

In 1860, America's debt was $65 million.

The Civil War brought about a major spike in the debt.

World War I and World War II also brought about major rises in the debt.

The latest American debt numbers have put it at its steepest numbers since the debt level spiked during World War II.

America's debt, as owed to foreign nations, has been rising steadily over the years.

The gross debt in trillions of U.S. dollars was about $10 trillion in 1940.

In 1950, it had risen to about $18 trillion.

After falling for a few decades, it began rising again in the late 1980s.

In 2009, America's debt was again up to $18 trillion.

It is projected to continue to rise over the next few years.

By 2011 it is projected to be about $20 trillion.

The projected amount of American debt in the next few years equals 100 percent of the U.S. GDP.

Foreign Held Treasury Securities in U.S. Dollars

  • China holds $798.9 billion in American debt.
  • Japan holds $746.5 billion in U.S. debt.
  • The U.K. holds $230.7 billion of the U.S. debt.
  • Brazil holds $156.2 billion in U.S. debt.
  • Hong Kong has $142.0 billion of the American debt.
  • Russia has $122.5 billion of American debt.
  • Luxemburg holds $90.8 billion of the American debt.
  • Taiwan has $78.7 billion of America's debt.
  • Switzerland owns $71.5 billion of America's debt.
  • Germany holds $52.8 billion in American debt.
  • South Korea has $42.2 billion of the U.S. debt.
  • Canada has $40.8 billion in American debt.
  • Ireland has $38.3 billion in U.S. debt.
  • France has $36.2 billion in U.S. debt.
  • Singapore has $35.2 billion of the U.S. debt.
  • India owns $32.9 billion of the American debt.
  • Turkey owns $30.4 billion of the U.S. debt.
  • Thailand holds $30.1 billion in U.S. debt.
  • Norway holds $24.9 billion in American debt.
  • Mexico holds $20.7 billion of U.S. debt.
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