We’ve surveyed over 50,000 Americans about their debt stress. This is what we’ve learned (so far).

Written by Catherine Dean B.Soc.Sc, M.Math.

Catherine is a research analyst who joined the Data United LDS™ team in late 2021. She is now project manager of research and data procurement. She holds a Bachelor of Social Science degree, and a Masters of Mathematics. @Twitter.
Updated April 26, 2022 (added debt stress by political affiliation + by gender)

Over a decade of debtor respondent data.

Debt Stress Survey Question of Hope / Key Findings:

2022 Respondents were asked, “Do you think you will ever be out of debt in your lifetime?“

  • 21% of respondents said they’ve given up hope they will ever be debt free

According the 2020 U.S. Census * the adult population is now over 258.3 million, meaning over 54.24 million American adults feel no hope of ever achieving financial freedom.

21% is 3 points higher than findings from the 2014 survey conducted by CreditCards.com **, where 18% of respondents said they had no hope of achieving debt freedom in their lifetime.

The line and bar graphs below represent these findings.

Debt Stress Survey – Hope to ever be debt free (Bar Graph)

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Debt Stress Survey – Hope to ever be debt free (2011 – 2022 Line Graph)

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Debt Stress Survey Results by Gender / Key Findings:

  • Respondents identifying as female have more debt stress than males
  • In 2014, mid decade, both genders reported the same levels of stress
  • By 2022 the percentage of female respondents in debt stress spiked
Debt Stress by Gender (Line Chart)
Debt Stress by Gender (Line Chart)

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Debt Stress Survey Results by U.S. State / Key Findings:

  • Highest debt stress reported in Colorado, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, and Maryland
  • Lowest debt stress reported in the center of the U.S. and the “Rust Belt”
  • Significantly higher debt stress levels in the western half of the U.S.
Debt Stress Survey by U.S. State (Map)

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Debt Stress by Political Affiliation / Key Findings:

  • 43% of self-described Republicans feel anger regarding their debt
  • 39% of self-described Democrats feel anger regarding their debt
  • 75% of self-described Independents say they’re mostly to blame for their debt
Debt Stress Survey by Political Affiliation (Mekko Chart)

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Debt Stress Survey Results by Ethnicity / Key Findings:

  • Highest debt stress felt by African Americans
  • Asian Americans feeling much lower debt stress overall
Debt Stress Survey by Ethnicity (Gauge Chart)

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Debt Stress Survey on Financial Education / Key Findings:

  • 62% of respondents said they had zero financial education from parents and/or school
Financial Education Growing Up (Bar Chart)

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About this Survey

How We Recruited Participants:

Not with that poster.

Recruitment efforts began March 2010 via organic and paid search engine traffic + social media traffic sources + internal customer data (with permission).

Why was U.S. debt stress our first major survey?

We conducted this survey for our own market research. However, we believe there needs to be more light shed on the scourge of debt stress, and how it affects people from all walks of life. We see it (and hear it) for ourselves every day.

LDS receives more calls and emails from people in desperate financial situations than ever before.

Some phone calls go longer than an hour as the frightened caller grasps for a tiny scrap of hope to hold on to, as they’re terrified of falling into the abyss of personal bankruptcy.

(Fun fact…I’ve been there. It’s not fun.)

And it’s hard not to feel empathy for them.

The saddest thing of all is the isolation debt can cause. Most feel ashamed. They’re self esteem is often severely damaged, and most try to hide their shame from the world.

The worst part is, they hide their debt anxiety from those closest to them, the very people who could help them the most in their time of need.

The Psychological Toll

Another reason why I chose to join the Data United LDS team:

I wanted to take a deep dive in to understanding how personal debt affects people psychologically.

I want to know more than just what their numbers are (credit score, monthly income, age, total debt, etc.)

I want to shed light on their plight.

So what can WE do to reduce the stress?

Well…we can all start by listening.

Since 2014, LDS staff members have been instructed to stay on the line until callers have a plan of action they can cling on to, making sure to remind the caller that they are not alone, and it’s only a temporary financial situation.

They are provided with debt solutions for consideration, whether they get help from LDS directly, or whether they find help in their local communities.

This approach has done three things. One, we’ve learned an awful lot about our business model and our customers. Two, its improved our bottom line. Three, it’s given thousands and thousands of people some form of temporary stress relief.

When was the survey conducted?

Between 2010 and 2022. Batch procurements each year end of Q1.

Why Such a HUGE Sample Size?

It all started in Miami at our head office in late 2009.

The LDS marketing team was really pushing hard for a debt stress survey, and they initially wanted to poll 1000 Floridians. The survey questions would be about debt and how it affects their anxiety levels.

Within a 3 month period, the leaders of company went from not wanting a survey at all, to polling only Florida, to polling every State, to developing new proprietary polling software.

The initial marketing team back then strongly urged against almost all of the above. It’s very expensive, time consuming, and breaks every rule and academic precedent on industry norms for sample size.

However, the leaders at LDS decided to blow out all conventions (and a lot of cash).

They’re reasoning was “bigger is better”.

Therefore, we believe this is the largest U.S. survey initiative on the subject of debt and stress ever conducted.

All in all, I’m glad the company took the financial risk. It’s been a real adventure, and we have a lot of data to share.

Sample Size Per State:

1500 – 2100 survey participants per state in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, Washington and California. 1000 – 1500 survey participants per State in all other States.

Demographic Diversity:

The participant surveys chosen for our study were taken from a broad cross section of demographics (in other words, we didn’t want too many surveys used from one particular zip code, political view, age, marital status, etc.).

  1. Age
  2. Gender
  3. Ethnicity
  4. Political Affiliation
  5. Religious Affiliation
  6. Zip Code
  7. Birth Place
  8. Gross income
  9. Property Owner
  10. Education Level
  11. Marital Status
  12. Parents Marital Status

Special Note: If you are suffering with a lot of stress due to debt, we encourage you to reach out to your loved ones immediately. If you can’t bring yourself to face your family and loved ones with your debt problems, at least reach out to a counselor in your community. Use our search function to find your City or Area, and on that page we have maps, phone numbers, and addresses for stress management specialists, and debt management providers. We do not receive any compensation from these folks. 

Media Inquires to: Brent Isaacson (brent.isaacson (at) localdebtservices.com) / (305) 239 5618

Data Disclaimers

Quoted Data:

* https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/08/united-states-adult-population-grew-faster-than-nations-total-population-from-2010-to-2020.html#:~:text=In%202020%2C%20the%20U.S.%20Census,from%20234.6%20million%20in%202010.

** https://www.detroitnews.com/story/business/personal-finance/2014/12/28/us-say-will-never-debt-free/20985745/

Consultant Outreach:

Recommended Reading: