Home Equity Drives Down Net Worth, Ups Debt

According to new Census data, home equity losses due to the foreclosure crisis took a toll on household wealth and pushed older Americans deeper in debt.

Statistics also show more families managed to get out of debt while those who did not keep adding to their outstanding balance. Between 2000 and 2011 the percentage of U.S. households holding some form of debt declined from 74% to 69%, increasing the number of low risk credit borrowers by 5%.

At the same time, roughly two-thirds of the U.S. households however face more debt. The median amount of household debt (in 2011 constant dollars) increased from $50,971 to $70,000.

The largest increases in median debt during the decade was in households of people age 35 to 44 amounting to $108,000, heads of households aged 45 to 54 was $86,500 and those aged 55 to 64 was $70,000.

Statistics—which detail household wealth, asset ownership and debt statistics by race, birthplace, age, education and income—also show that 64% of householders 55 to 64 years old and 65 or older experienced the largest debt increases.

The likelihood of holding debt for those 65 and older increased over the period from 41% to 44%, mostly due to debt against their homes, “which explains a significant portion of the increase in their overall debt between 2000 and 2011," said Census Bureau economist Marina Vornovytskyy.

Hence the composition of household debt “also changed considerably” as the number of credit card debt holders declined from 51% in 2000 to 38% in 2011, while that of those holding other unsecured debt, such as educational loans and medical bills not covered by insurance, increased from 11% to 19%.

The median household net worth which includes home equity varied from $81,821 in 2000 to $106,585 in 2005, before declining to $68,828 in 2011.

Comparatively, median net worth excluding home equity showed no statistically significant change between 2000 and 2005 and decreased only by $3,815 between 2005 and 2011.

Home equity was the primary driver of changes in overall median net worth observed over the past decade, said Census Bureau economist Alfred Gottschalck.

While following “significant regional variation” patterns it affected the West to a much larger degree, he said, as median net worth increased from $78,999 in 2000 to $146,841 in 2005 before decreasing to $59,431 in 2011. Meanwhile median net worth excluding home equity increased from $15,546 to $16,942.