Nearly 1 in 5 Americans Expect to Die in Debt

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Debt has become a fact of life in a literal way in the U.S. Almost 1 in 5 -- 18 percent -- of those already in debt expect to still be in debt when they die and 11 percent only see a debt-free life in their 70s. The debt included mortgages, student loans, car loans and credit card bills.

The data, from a CreditCards.com survey of 1,001 adults with a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points for those who were in debt -- offer anything but seasonal cheer. In May 2013, CreditCards.com found only 9 percent who thought life-long debt was their likely future. Even those people not currently in debt expected it in their future. Thirteen percent of all people interviewed, whether currently in debt or not, said they would "never" pay off all their loans by the end of their lives.

"Disturbing" is the characterization that Christopher Viale, president of non-profit Cambridge Credit Counseling of Massachusetts, gave to the site. "I am most concerned about the 13 percent who expect that they'll never be debt-free, given all the negative consequences that come with such a bleak outlook," he said.

Women in general were 50 percent more likely to expect a life of debt than men (15 percent versus 10 percent). At 15 percent, white Americans were far and away the most likely to expect to die in debt than black Americans (9 percent) or Hispanic Americans (8 percent). Viale attributed the difference to amounts of student loan debt held.

The younger the person, the more optimistic. Only 6 percent of millennials expected to never emerge from debt, versus 22 percent between 50 and 64 and 31 percent of those who were 65 years of age and older. According to CreditCards.com, experts say the optimism is probably unrealistic. Fifty-seven percent of Americans from 18 to 29 years old who are currently in debt expect to pay it all off by age 30.

The problems with debt weren't an issue of income. People earning less than $30,000 a year were about as likely (14 percent) to expect lifelong debt as those at all other income brackets: $30,000 to $49,900 (12 percent); $50,000 to $74,900 (14 percent); and $75,000 or more (12 percent). However, it isn't clear that wealthier people would provide the same answers.

According to the study and analysis, the likely reason for the attitudes is the ongoing fallout of the Great Recession.

But there is apparently enough optimism to fuel additional debt, at least for the holidays. Thirty-eight percent of all consumers had already made holiday purchases on credit. Of those, almost three-quarters (74 percent) expected to settle those debts within three months, while 55 percent thought they'd have any additional debt paid off within a month.

But 6 percent expected to need at least four months to get square, while 2 percent said six months to a year and 2 percent, more than a year. The potential problem is that such short-term debt could get in the way of addressing long-term if not resolved within three months.
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