NEARLY EVERY red-blooded American is walking around with at least some debt. After all, most of us have mortgages. Many of us have auto loans. Parents and students go into hock all the time to foot college bills. And let's not forget credit cards....
The question is, do you have too much? To take the first step in assessing your debt load, use our worksheet below to see the average household balances that your peers — folks in your income and age brackets — are carrying in five major kinds of loans, plus the average total debt for each demographic group. These are 2002 numbers from SRI Consulting Business Intelligence, which surveys 3,800 households every other year. Please note that the total debt figures are not sums of the debts shown, as respondents may not have all types of loans.
So how heavy is your debt burden? That's what the calculator below is designed to tell you. The Fed considers a debt burden of more than 40% of your gross income an indicator of financial distress. Think about it this way: If taxes are eating up 25% of your salary, you're saving at a healthy 15% clip, and your loan payments hit 40%, you're left with just 20% for everything else. In our quiz, anything over 30% is a yellow flag, meaning there's cause for concern.
Got too much debt? Then it's time to come up with a strategy to pay it down. Our debt-management center, which includes the articles on how to dig yourself out as well as worksheets that will tell you how long it will take you to get there, is a good place to start.