New Study Reveals Unprecedented Levels of Debt for Americans

A new study by The Kaplan Group shows that the debt burden has reached an all-time high for American households. We analyzed the evolution of auto loans, mortgages, credit card and student loans since 2003.

Key Takeaways

  • The total amount of debt grew by 81.5% in 20 years. Student loan debt quadrupled since 2003.
  • With over $100,000 in debt, residents of the District of Columbia are struggling with the highest amount of debt followed by residents of Hawaii and Washington
  • With just over $35,000, residents of West Virginia have the least amount of debt, followed by Mississippi and Arkansas

All-time high

Auto loans, mortgages, and student loans are at an all-time high since 2003. Although the total amount of debt decreased temporarily after the subprime crisis in 2008, the debt burden has been growing at a rapid pace since then, outpacing inflation. As an exception, credit card debt has shown minimal growth since 2023, and from 2010 to 2016, it was even lower than in 2003.

Overall, credit card debt grew slower than inflation. On the other hand, in 20 years, student loan debt quadrupled. Since 2021, the amount of student loans seems to have stabilized but remains at a very high level compared to 2003.

Mortgages remain the main debt, representing three-quarters of the total. In second position, there’s a near tie between student and auto loans. In comparison, 20 years ago, auto loans represented the same percentage of the total debt as today, but student loans were much lower.

Debt Growth by State

On average, the total amount of debt grew by 81.5% in 20 years. However, the situation varies greatly depending on the state. In the District of Columbia, the amount of debt more than doubled in that timespan. Its residents are struggling with the highest amount of debt, over $100,000, followed by residents of Hawaii and Washington.

The animated version:

This is almost triple the amount of debt of a resident of West Virginia, the state with the least amount of debt, followed by Mississippi and Arkansas. If we look at the debt increase in percent in 20 years, Michigan is the state with the lowest increase, followed by Ohio and Illinois.

This study reveals the unprecedented level of burden that debt reach for this generation. It highlights the urgent need for action to tackle the escalating household debt crisis in America.


We analyzed the State Level Household Debt Statistics from 2003 to 2023, sourced from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Data were retrieved for auto loans, mortgages, credit cards, and student loans since 2003. The evolution of each of these elements over the last 20 years was calculated. For the analysis of total debt by state, we examined the respective data sets. For inflation, we utilized the Consumer Price Index (CPI) provided by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. This index served as a crucial factor in contextualizing the changes observed in household debt over time.

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