Great News, Everybody: the Average Bostonian is $80,000 in Debt

Total debt levels in the United States, based on September 2013 TransUnion data.
Total debt levels in the United States, based on September 2013 TransUnion data. –Urban Institute

Congrats, Bostonians. A new report shows that the city has one of the highest debt rates in the country.

But that debt might actually be evidence of Boston’s success.

80 percent of Americans have some level of debt, according to a report by the Urban Institute. The average amount of total debt per American with a credit file is $53,850. In Boston, that number skyrockets up to $79,767.

Debt, or “credit,’’ isn’t always a bad thing though. Taking on student loans can help pay for college, and paying a home mortgage on time builds equity.

The study confirms this idea, which might seem a bit paradoxical at first. Debt is concentrated in areas with high household income (because you’re more like to get access to credit from a bank if you have a good income), and high housing prices (because people need – and can afford – to take out mortgages to buy a house).


It’s no surprise, then, that New England has some of the highest debt concentration in the country. Massachusetts’s average total debt per person is $73,156, the sixth highest in the nation. Massachusetts also has one of the highest average household incomes in the country.

A majority of debt in the state is from mortgages – $55,503 per person, to be exact. The median cost of a house in Massachusetts in 2013 was $328,527, the country’s fourth highest.

But as many Americans know, debt can also be a long-term burden. Paying off debt – particularly the kind that results from sudden emergencies or basic overspending – can feel a lot like pushing a massive boulder up a mountain for eternity, Sisyphus-style.

The Urban Institute notes that the study underrepresents low-income Americans. Its data does not include people without credit files, about 22 million Americans, or 9 percent of the population. People without credit files are usually low-income, according to the report, and if they get loans, they usually come from unregulated lendors like family, friends, or pawnshops.

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