September 2015

The State of American Finances

Stats, Facts, and Trends Shaping American Finances

Recommended Citation: CompareCards, September 2015, “The State of American Finances”

3 The State of American Finances


Before the global financial crisis of 2008, economists were shocked by the lack of savings set aside by American families. The typical consumer was spending more money than they actually earned. Not only were they not setting aside anything for a rainy day, but they were going into debt month after month. It was clearly a departure from how earlier generations managed money.

The proliferation of credit card use, rising education costs, and the housing bubble, have caused the average American’s debt to rise by an astounding amount compared to older generations.

Most people who endured that difficult time learned some hard financial lessons, forcing Americans to search for alternative career paths and sparking an increase in the number of start-ups and small businesses.

Consumer behavior indicates that saving and spending money remains a chief concern among most American families. In April of 2015, CompareCards and evolve24 partnered to analyze more than 3.6 million conversations about personal finance in the United States from various online mediums.

The data revealed that of the 3.6 million conversations analyzed, more than 1.9 million (53%) centered around concerns with saving money.

So what does that mean for today’s average American family? What is the financial outlook for a teenager or a college student? What challenges are American small businesses currently facing?

The State of American Finances is a compilation of demographics and financial data about the average American family, young Americans, and American small businesses. This data highlights the challenges that each group is facing, in addition to the financial areas where things are improving.

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A Look Back

How the average American has changed from 1940-2010

Family Size 1940

average family size

3.76 members

Family Income

  • average income for a man


  • blue wallet
  • average income for a woman



average monthly rent

  • $30.83

    in urban locations

  • $18.35

    in rural locations


personal debt of average American

less than $2,000


  • those 25 and over with a high school degree


  • red academic hat
  • those 25 and over with a college degree


Family Size 2010

average family size

2.59 members

Family Income

  • average income for a man


  • red wallet
  • average income for a woman



average monthly rent

  • $855

    in urban locations

  • $1,496

    in rural locations


personal debt of average American

less than $10,168

(not including real estate debt)


  • those 25 and over with a high school degree


  • blue academic hat
  • those 25 and over with a college degree


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The American Family-

The Facts

  • In 2014, average family size:

    3.13 members

  • In May 2015, median household income:

    blue wallet $55,192

  • family badge

    In 2013 43% of familes included children (sons, daughters, stepchildren, or adopted children) under age 18.

  • family badge

    In 2013 59.7% of married-couple families with children had two working parents.

Current Financial State

  • Family income is on the rise, with the mean (overall average) family income rising 4 percent from 2010 and 2013.
  • In 2013, 9.6 percent of families included an unemployed person.
  • Married couples with children under the age of 18 had a median household income of $85,087 in 2013.
  • In 2014, 64 percent of Americans owned their homes (not renting or leasing).
  • Only 59 percent of Americans have savings of more than $500.
  • In recent years debt obligations have begun to fall. Between 2010 and 2013, median debt declined 20 percent, and mean debt decreased 13 percent for families with debt.
  • 35 percent of Americans currently have a debt in collections.
  • At the end of 2014, the total outstanding consumer debt in America was $3.3 trillion.
  • Of that $3.3 trillion, $889 billion was revolving debt (i.e. credit card debt) and $2.4 trillion was non-revolving (i.e. mortgage loan, auto loan, etc.).

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The following chart shows a 12-month snapshot of consumer revolving debt.

12-Month Snapshot of Consumer Revolving Debt

Total Debt Revolving Debt Non-Revolving Debt
May 2014 $3,193,191.84 $873,135.07 $2,320,056.77
June 2014 $3,211,754.93 $875,772.80 $2,335,982.12
July 2014 $3,233,162.27 $880,332.42 $2,352,829.85
August 2014 $3,249,336.09 $881,418.61 $2,367,917.48
September 2014 $3,267,454.41 $883,433.21 $2,384,021.20
October 2014 $3,284,100.23 $884,818.76 $2,399,281.47
November 2014 $3,300,523,94 $886,063.63 $2,414,460.31
December 2014 $3,317,215.08 $889,976.12 $2,427,238.97
January 2015 $3,327,518.82 $888,328.56 $2,439,190.26
February 2015 $3,342,399.54 $885,972.59 $2,456,426.96
March 2015 $3,363,479.22 $890,879.39 $2,472,599.84
April 2015 $3,384,876.28 $899,422.65 $2,485,453.63
May 2015 $3,400,962.65 $901,007.55 $2,499,955.10

Source: National Center for Children in Poverty, Basic Facts about Low-Income Children: Children 12 through 17 Years, 2013

Revolving Debt (credit card debt)

  • In 2015, the average household credit card balance was about $7,200.
  • In 2015, the average household credit card debt was $15,609.
  • As of March 2015, the average annual percentage rate, or APR, for fixed-rate credit cards was 13.02 percent.
  • In July 2015, the APR for variable-rate credit cards was 15.75 percent.

Non-Revolving (i.e. mortgage loan, auto loan, etc.)

  • The average mortgage debt in 2013 was $147,591.
  • The average auto loan debt in 2013 was $30,738.
  • The average student loan in 2015 is projected to be about $35,000.

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The Challenges

American families are facing the challenges that come with starting a family and raising children. However, they are also trying to figure out how to pay off their student loans, improve their credit, and deal with unforeseen dangers such as data breaches and new technology leaving them vulnerable to possible identity theft.

Education Debt

Education debt increased substantially between 2010 and 2015. Paying for college continues to be a top concern among adults already in the workforce as they attempt to pay off large student loans and also pay for their children’s education.

  • 38.8% 2013

    families with education debt

    22.4% 2001

  • 40 million

    Americans have at least one outstanding student loan

  • classical building
    In 2014 11.3% student loan debt was 90 or more days delinquent or in default
  • 28% blue piggybank
    On average, parents plan to cover about 64 percent of their children’s college costs, but are only on track to save about 28 percent.
  • academic hat
    Nearly three-fourths of education debt is held by families in which one member has a Bachelor’s degree or higher.

family of four Only 48 percent of parents are saving for college.

Credit Scores

Credit scores are an important part of our financial health and directly affect our ability to secure financing for personal or business purposes. A large number of consumers don’t understand their credit score or the factors that determine it.

  • Two-fifths are unaware that credit card issuers and mortgage lenders use credit scores to make a decision about their credit availability and pricing.
  • Two-fifths incorrectly believe that demographic information such as age and marital status are used to calculate credit scores.
  • Between one-quarter and one-third don’t know that lenders are required to tell borrowers the credit score used to determine whether or not they qualify for a loan.

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  • Between one-third and two-fifths do not know that a co-signer’s credit score can be affected by that loan. A co-signer’s score can improve if payments are made on time, or decline due to late payments.
  • More than one quarter do not understand the basics on how to raise a credit score.
  • 26 million consumers are credit invisible.
  • 19 million consumers have unscored credit records (consumers who don’t have enough credit history to generate a score or whose credit information is too old).

Identity Theft and Data Security

In 2014, identity theft topped the list of consumer complaints, totaling 332,646 complaints.

Of the identify theft complaints, 70 percent of fraud complaints were from consumers between the ages of 20-59.

identity theft and data security diagram

According to data from 2015 Identity Fraud: Protecting Vulnerable Populations Report, 12.7 million people experienced identity theft in 2014. Financial losses due to personal identity theft totaled $16 billion, a decline of $2 billion from the previous year.

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Recent data breaches in some large corporations have Americans wondering how safe it is to shop with credit or debit cards and how secure their personal information is in the hands of any outside entities. 2014 and the first half of 2015 saw some major data breaches. Below is a snapshot of some of the largest data breaches from September 2014-February 2015.

Between September 2014 and February 2015, 273,210,000 consumers were the victims of some of the largest data breaches in the United States.

In February 2015, almost 80 million consumer records were stolen containing Social Security numbers, birth dates, email addresses, mailing addresses, and other personal information.
IRS Tax Scams
As American citizens began filing their 2014 tax returns in early 2015, it was discovered that thousands of false tax returns had been filed. In addition, hackers conned more than 3,000 people into giving up a total of $15.5 million in a telephone scam.
A credit card breach in December 2014 resulted in the theft of credit and debit card information from more than 1.16 million consumers.
In November 2014, Sony’s data was compromised. Hackers leaked five unreleased movies, and exposed more than 47,000 social security numbers of current or former employees.
JP Morgan Chase
A data breach in October 2014 compromised the names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses of 76 million households and 7 million small businesses.
Home Depot
In September 2014, a data breach compromised the credit and debit card information of 56 million customers. In November, the company revealed that in addition to the stolen card data, 53 million email addresses were also stolen.

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Commentary & Conclusions

The loss of asset value during the prolonged recession made it much more difficult for Americans to save and to set aside a nest egg to accumulate wealth and/or save college tuition for their children. This has fueled increased credit card use and more debt. Additional issues such as identity theft, data security and credit scores add to some financial concerns for consumers.

Many Americans are financially unprepared for an emergency, but still have trouble saving and believe a higher salary would solve their financial troubles. One of the keys to higher earnings through better jobs in today’s competitive economy is advanced education.

The good news is that there are a number of great opportunities for graduates. There are more high-tech jobs available that require specialized skill sets, and employers are offering lucrative salaries to those who qualify for these positions. Luckily our younger generation – which is also the most educated in our history – is responsible for starting a record number of entrepreneurial businesses that are creating many employment opportunities in the small business sector.

There is a powerful need for:

  • 1 Job creation with cost of living wages;
  • 2 More affordable higher education, and;
  • 3 An increase in initiatives that promote widespread, comprehensive financial literacy for people of all ages.

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The American Teenager and College Student

The Facts

  • In 2012, there were 41,844,000 youth between the ages of 10-19, making up 14 percent of the total population.
  • 68.4 percent of students who graduated high school in 2014 were enrolled in colleges or universities.

Current Financial State

  • In 2014, 11.4 million jobs (or 8 percent of the U.S. work force) were held by youth, ages 14-21.
  • This number rises sharply from April to July each year, as teens look for summer employment. In 2014, 51.9 percent of young people aged 16-24 were employed in July, up from 50.7 percent in 2013.
  • National student loan debt is $1.3 trillion.
  • 2015 graduates with student loan debt have an average of $35,000 in debt.
  • In 2013, college students had an average credit card balance of $506.

Adolescents by Family Income, 2013

family income diagram

Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding.

Source: National Center for Children in Poverty, Basic Facts about Low-Income Children: Children 12 through 17 Years, 2013

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The Challenges

Young Americans are facing the challenges that come along with increased responsibility as they move into adulthood, but they are also learning how to juggle managing their money, paying for college, and building good credit.

Financial Literacy

Research shows that America’s youth has a deep lack of understanding when it comes to their finances and how to properly manage money. Financial literacy is not required in the majority of U.S. schools, in spite of evidence that shows financial literacy is directly related to healthier finances.

  • 22 states require a high school course in Economics

    Colored map of America
  • 17 states require a high school course in Personal Finance

    Colored map of American

Source: Council for Economic Education, 2014 Survey of the States

  • 84% teens report looking to their parents for information on how to manage money
  • 32% teens think their parents don’t spend enough time discussing topics about managing money

Paying for College

While the costs of a college education continue to rise, post-graduation earnings remain stagnant. Obtaining a college degree is a huge financial burden to many students and their families, and finding a way to pay for college is a primary concern.

  • The cost of college doubles every nine years.
  • Parents plan to cover, on average, 64 percent of their children’s total college costs.
  • 48 percent of teens think their parents will help pay for college, but only 16 percent of parents (of teens) report plans to pay for post-secondary education.

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  • In 2015, 29 percent of teens considered community college, compared to 22 percent in 2014.
  • In 2015, parents have saved an average of $10,040 for college.
  • Parents expect their children to pay for one-third of their college expenses.

Credit Cards

Credit card use among young adults has declined precipitously due largely in part to the CARD (Credit Accountability Responsibility & Disclosure) Act of 2009, which put restrictions on issuing credit cards to anyone under the age of 21.

Since the CARD Act’s implementation, college credit card agreements fell by roughly 60 percent between 2009-2013.

The problem is that today’s youth are more inclined to carry prepaid cards instead – which typically charge higher fees and offer few, if any, fringe benefits or opportunities to build credit history as a borrower.

Commentary & Conclusions

Although millennials are highly educated and entrepreneurial, the vast majority of young people have virtually no practical knowledge of how to manage household finances and budgets. Many teens use prepaid cards that prevent them from incurring debt, but also offer no benefits in terms of building credit or other rewards. In addition, they are faced with the costs of higher education that is exponentially increasing.

There is a powerful need for:

  • 1 Possible solutions that would create affordable and more appropriate types of credit cards for young adults with built-in safeguards that help prevent unmanageable levels of debt;
  • 2 Making financial literacy a top priority and incorporate it into every level of the public education system, and;
  • 3 Provide more affordable higher education.

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The American Small Business

The Facts

  • There are almost 28 million small businesses in the United States.
  • Of that 28 million, about 22 million of them are self-employed, with no additional employees.
  • 120 million U.S. citizens (more than 50 percent of the working population) work for a small business.
  • Of all net new jobs since 1995, small businesses have created 65 percent of those jobs.

Current Financial State

  • As of 2014, more small-business owners are anticipating economic expansion in the coming year than at any point in the last seven years.
  • 45 percent of small businesses reported an increase in revenue in 2014.

When compared with one year ago, would you say toay's national economy is:

Better Off

Better off bar chart

Worse Off

Worse off bar chart

About the Same

About the same bar chart
  • July 13
  • Dec. 13
  • July 14
  • Dec. 14

Source: National Small Business Administration 2014 Year-End Economic Report

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The Challenges

While small business owners have a more positive outlook on the economy than they have in many years, and are anticipating growth and increased staff, small businesses are facing a number of challenges.

Small business owners attribute their most significant challenge to economic uncertainty. Additionally, they are concerned about the cost of health insurance, regulatory burdens and a decline in consumer spending. Small business owners continue to struggle with securing necessary financing to keep their company running, in addition to investing time and money in an effort to prevent cyber attacks.

Business Financing

Data shows there is a clear correlation to a small business owner’s ability to hire and his/her ability to get financing.

  • one third graphic One-third of small businesses have trouble getting the financing they need for their business.
  • family of five Nearly one in five small businesses can’t meet sales demand because they cannot secure financing.

Is Your Business Able to Obtain Adequate Financing?


December 2014

Source: National Small Business Administration 2014 Year-End Economic Report

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If Capital Availability is a Problem for Your Business What is the Effect on your Operations?

December 2014
Unable to grow business or expand operations 34%
Unable to finance increased sales 18%
Reduced the number of employees 16%
Unable to increase inventory to meet demand 13%
Reduced benefits to employees 11%
Other 1%
Closed stores or branches 1%
Not a problem/No effects 56%

Source: National Small Business Administration 2014 Year-End Economic Report

  • 61% of small businesses report being impacted by the credit-crunch
  • 35%

    credit cards
    of small businesses report using credit cards as a means to meet capital needs
  • 76%

    of small business owners have debt
  • among small businesses who carry debt, the average amount of debt is $933,985
  • 13%

    approximate interest on primary business-related credit cards

The estimated total of small business debt, including loans, credit cards, property mortgage, invoices owed, etc.

December 2014
Debt 1 to 50k 33%
Debt 51k to 100k 13%
Debt 101k to 500k 30%
Debt 501k to 1mil 9%
Debt more than 1mil 14%

Source: National Small Business Administration 2014 Year-End Economic Report

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Cyber Security

As cyber-attacks become more sophisticated and frequent, online security is becoming a growing concern for small businesses. Security threats can mean lost income and additional expenses for small businesses.

  • 50%

    of small businesses reported being a victim of a cyber-attack
  • computer
  • 61%

    of those attacks occurred in 2014

arrow pointing up In 2013, cyber-attacks cost small businesses, on average, $8,699 per attack. In 2014 that number skyrocketed to $20,752 per attack.


of small business owners reported that it took three days or more to resolve issues related to a cyber-attack.

Commentary & Conclusions

America’s small business sector has always been the most important engine of the U.S. economy. That is definitely true in the wake of the recession as the economic outlook improves and economic expansion increases. Small businesses do face a number of challenges, however, including financing, available credit, and the increasingly troublesome and expensive problem of cyber attacks and identity theft.

There is a powerful need for:

  • 1 Infrastructure upgrades in credit card and banking security technology;
  • 2 Access to reasonably priced working capital, and;
  • 3 An increase in financial support of small businesses.

In spite of the challenges, small business owners are expecting economic expansion in 2015:

  • 35%
    of small businesses expect to increase the number of employees
  • 55%
    expect employee compensation to increase

Today small businesses are continuing to create the majority of jobs in the USA. Small business owners are also making plans to hire more people and offer them higher, more competitive wages.

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Resources & Methodology

  1. Bricker, J., et al. (September 2014). Changes in U.S. Family Finances from 2010 to 2013: Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances. United States Federal Reserve Bulletin, 100(4).
  2. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. (April 16, 2015). College Enrollment and Work Activity of 2014 High School Graduates.
  3. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. (August 13, 2014). Employment and Unemployment Among Youth – Summer 2014.
  4. Calonia, J. (September 19, 2014). How Do Your Finances Measure Up to the Average American? Go Banking Rates<.
  5. Consumer Federation of America. (May 13, 2013). Large Minority of Americans Know Little About Credit Scores.
  6. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (May 5, 2015). CFPB Report Finds 26 Million Consumers Are Credit Invisible.
  7. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (December 2014). College Credit Card Agreements: Annual report to Congress.
  8. Council for Economic Education. (February 2014). Survey of the States.
  9. DeNavas-Walt, C., Proctor, B., W. (September 2014). Income and Poverty in the United States: 2013. United States Census Bureau.
  10. Experian. (September 9, 2014). Experian Analysis Finds Student Loans Increased By 84 Percent Since the Recession; 40 Million Consumers Now Have at Least One Student Loan.
  11. Federal Reserve Bank of New York. (August 2014). Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit.
  12. Federal Trade Commission. (February 2015). Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book for January-December 2014.
  13. Fidelity. (August 20, 2014). Time To Break Open The Piggy Bank: Parents Expect Kids to Pay For More Than One-Third Of College Costs.
  14. Student Loan Debt Clock.
  15. Tuition Inflation.
  16. Green, G. and Coder, J. (July 2015). Household Income Trends, May 2015. Sentier Research
  17. Johnson, H. (June 3, 2015). The State of American Credit Card Debt in 2015. The Simple Dollar.

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19 The State of American Finances

Resources & Methodology

  1. Junior Achievement. (2015). Survey Reveals Startling Disconnect Between Teens’ and Parents’ Views on Paying for College and Other Personal Finance Topics.
  2. Marte, J. (January 5, 2015). Where interest rates are going in 2015 — and what it means for your loans. The Washington Post.
  3. National Small Business Association. (February 2015). 2014 Year-End Economic Report.
  4. Pascual, A. and Miller, S. (March 2015). 2015 Identity Fraud: Protecting Vulnerable Populations.
  5. Ratcliffe, C., et al. (July 29, 2014). Delinquent Debt in America. Urban Institute.
  6. Sallie Mae (2015). How America Saves for College.
  7. Sparshott, J. (May 8, 2015). Congratulations, Class of 2015. You’re the Most Indebted Ever (For Now). Wall Street Journal.
  8. Calonia, J.(September 9, 2014). How do Your Finances Measure up to The Average American? GoBankingRates.
  9. U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. (April 23, 2015). Employment Characteristics of Families – 2014.
  10. U.S. Census Bureau. (January 29, 2015). Residential Vacancies and Homeownership in the Fourth Quarter 2014.
  11. U.S. Census Bureau. (March 2012). 1940-2010: How Has America Changed?
  12. U.S. Census Bureau. (2012). Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012.
  13. U.S. Census Bureau. Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplements.
  14. U.S. Federal Reserve. (May 2015). Federal Reserve Statistical Release – Consumer Credit.

We used the most recent, trustworthy data to compile the data and statistics contained in this report. However, many reliable sets of data are compiled and released at different times. For example, the U.S. Census is conducted by the federal government every 10 years and the Survey of Consumer Finances is conducted by the Federal Reserve every 3-5 years. As such, not all of the data in this report comes from the same year.

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