Study: Many Americans Don't Plan to Pay Off Debts

December 16, 2014
Jared Kaltwasser

A growing number of Americans say they don't expect to ever emerge from debt.

A growing number of Americans say they don’t expect to ever emerge from debt.

CreditCards.com surveyed 1,001 American adults and found 18% don’t expect to pay off their debts during their lifetime, double the amount who gave the same answer last year.

On average, survey respondents said they expect to become debt-free by age 53. But nearly half—43%—said they expect to have debt until at least age 61. The number of Americans who expect to be debt-free by age 40 is less than 25%, CreditCards.com reported.

“It’s easy to feel paralyzed when you’re overloaded with debt and feel like you’ll never make it out, but the worst thing you can do is nothing,” said Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at the website.

The study also showed a number of demographic disparities when it comes to debt and perceptions of debt. For instance, 21% of whites said they do not expect to ever be completely debt-free, while only 12% of non-whites had that expectation.

College graduates were also more likely to be optimistic about their ability to pay off debts. Interestingly, income did not have as much to do with debt optimism as might be expected.

The highest income bracket in the survey—those with an annual income in excess of $75,000—were only “slightly” more optimistic about their debt than those in lower income categories. In fact, those in the highest income bracket were most likely to say they plan to take on debt this holiday season, though 55% of those expecting to go into holiday debt said they plan to pay it off in one month. Nearly three-quarters (74%) said they would have their holiday debts accounted for within 3 months.

Those nearing retirement were most likely to accumulate holiday debt. Nearly half (44%) of those in the 50-64 age bracket said they have accumulated holiday debt.

The survey was conducted by phone Dec. 4-7 by Princeton Survey Research Associates International.