How to figure out how much debt you really have

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Between student loan payments, a monthly mortgage (or your rent), credit card bills and maybe even an old gym membership that somehow (whoops) went to collections, it can be all-too-easy to lose track of how much debt you actually have on the books.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to tally up all the red in your ledger. Here's what to do if you willfully or woefully don't know what you owe.

1. Pull Your Credit Reports

Your credit reports help lenders determine your ability to repay a loan as agreed — and, as such, generally include key information about all the financing you have on the books, including credit card balances, outstanding mortgage, auto or student loan debt, collection records and public records such as bankruptcy filings and tax liens. If you have no idea how much you owe, obtaining copies of your credit reports from all three major credit reporting agencies (some lenders only report to one or two) is a great place to start tallying up your balances. You can pull your credit reports for free each year at and view your credit scores for free each month on to see how the data on those reports are impacting your scores.

2. Review Your Credit Card Statements

Credit reports can change from month to month and, if you're actively paying off your credit cards, there's a good chance that the balances shown on yours are a bit out-of-date. (Complicating matters, issuers tend to report balances as of your statement's billing date, not due date, so your latest monthly payment may not be reflected in those totals just yet.) To get an accurate read of how much credit card debt you owe, you should check your current outstanding balance online.

3. Call Your Creditors

Account balances are generally listed on your credit report, but if they're not — or you're otherwise confused about what you owe — you should contact the creditor associated with the account. You may have to do a little digging, particularly for an account you don't recognize, like an unpaid medical bill you were unaware of. However, if you don't have a credit card or billing statement, contact information from major lenders and even collection agencies should be available on the company website. Some firms may even have designated landing pages for customer service issues or complaints.

4. Dispute Any Errors

If you're really in the dark about your debts, it's important that you don't necessarily take every account listed on your credit report at face value, simply because it's actually very common for errors to appear on one. If there is an account you don't recognize on your report, again, contact the creditor in question to get as much information as you can about the balance. You'll want to make sure the debt is actually yours and not the result of identity theft or another reporting error. If you do determine that the information was a mistake, you should dispute it with the credit bureau. (You can go here to find more information on how to get errors off of your credit report.)

Remember, it's important to stay on top of the amount of debt you owe since that number is a major component of most credit scoring models. If you have a lot of balances on the books, you may be able to improve your score by paying down high credit card balances (to at least 30%, and ideally 10%, of their total available limit), making all future loan payments on time and limiting new credit inquiries until your debts are paid down.

Related: 17 countries with the highest debt

17 countries with the highest level of gov debt (BI)
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How to figure out how much debt you really have

17. Iceland – 90.2%

Prior to the credit crisis in 2007, government debt was a modest 27% of GDP. At the time of WEF's rankings, its debt was still super high.

(Photo via Getty Images)

16. Barbados – 92.0%

The tax-haven nation is the wealthiest and most developed country in the eastern Caribbean, but its growth prospects look weak due to austerity measures to combat the effects of the credit crisis eight years ago.

(Photo via Alamy)

15. France – 93.9%

The eurozone's second-biggest economy has been recovering "in fits and starts," says the country's statistical agency.

(Photo by Allan Baxter via Getty Images)

14. Spain – 93.9%

S&P is confident that Spain's buoyant growth prospects and labour-market reforms will boost its outlook.

(Photo via Getty)

13. Cape Verde – 95.0%

The island nation is a service-orientated economy and suffers from a poor natural-resource base. This means it has to import 82% of its food, leading to vulnerability to market fluctuations.

(Photo via Getty Images)

12. Belgium – 99.8%

The country is known as "the sick man of Europe," because while the government managed to reduce the budget deficit from a peak of 6% of GDP in 2009 to 3.2% — its debt is still incredibly high.

(Photo via Shutterstock)

11. Singapore – 103.8%

It's one of the wealthiest countries in the world but the island nation suffers from high debt. The government is now trying to find new ways to grow the economy and raise productivity.

(Photo via Getty Images)

10. United States – 104.5%

The US hiked interest rates for the first time in seven years in December last year. In March, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said the economy was on a path of slow and steady growth.

(Photo via Getty Images)

9. Bhutan – 110.7%

The small Asian economy is closely linked to India and depends heavily on it for financial assistance and foreign labourers for infrastructure.

(Photo via Getty Images)

8. Cyprus – 112.0%

The country's excessive exposure to Greece hit it hard when the European sovereign-debt crisis rippled across the world in 2010. Like Greece, it had to be bailed out by international creditors and enforce capital controls and austerity measures to get funding.

(Photo by Rosita So Image via Getty Images)

7. Ireland – 122.8%

The country exited its bailout programme two years ago but still faces a huge debt pile. But it's on the right track. Ireland has already had success in refinancing a large amount of banking-related debt.

(Photo via Getty Images)

6. Portugal – 128.8%

Portugal exited its own bailout programme in the middle of 2014. However, GDP was still 7.8% lower than it was at the end of 2007.

(Photo via Getty Images)

5. Italy – 132.5%

The country's proportion of debt to GDP is the second highest in the Eurozone.

(Photo via Getty Images)

4. Jamaica – 138.9%

The services industry accounts for 80% of GDP, but high crime, corruption, and large-scale unemployment drag the country's growth down. The International Monetary Fund said Jamaica has to reform its tax system, among other things.

(Photo via Getty Images)

3. Lebanon – 139.7%

The country used to be a tourist destination but war in Syria and domestic political turmoil have led to a lack of an official budget for months.

(Photo via Getty Images)

2. Greece – 173.8%

The country has taken over €320 billion worth of bailout cash and it's looking increasingly impossible to pay it all back — especially since it has had to implement painful austerity measures to get its loans. But it's surprisingly not the worse country in the world for government debt.

(Photo by Konstantin Kalishko via Getty Images)

1. Japan – 243.2%

The country is in a troubling spot. Its economy is growing very slowly and now the central bank has implemented negative interest rates.

(Photo via Getty Images)


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