Unexpectedly Intriguing!
July 17, 2006

Recently, Political Calculations asked and answered the question of how well American families are handling their debt using data from the Federal Reserve's 2004 Survey of Consumer Finances, which was published in February 2006. Today, we're going back to that source to answer a different question - who's more likely to be in debt: the rich or the poor?

Using net worth as our metric for determining wealth status, we'll first look at who's in debt by seeing how many people in each of the report's net worth percentile brackets (profiled here) have any debt of any kind. The following table has been extracted from Table 11 (p A28) of the survey report:

Debt Holding Status by Net Worth Percentiles
Net Worth Percentile BracketPercentage of Families in Bracket with DebtPercentage of Families in Bracket Without Debt
0 - 2564.9%35.1%
25 - 5083.8%16.2%
50 - 7583.2%16.8%
75 - 9074.6%25.4%
90 - 10072.7%27.3%

Remarkably, we see that the poorest group, defined as those in the 0 to 25th net worth percentile bracket, are the least likely to even have debt, with 35.1% of this group being debt free! Instead, we find that the group most likely to have debt is in the 25th to 50th percentile bracket, whose net worth ranges from $13,300 at the low end to $93,100 at the high end. The second most likely group to have debt, following closely behind the 25-50th percentile group, is found in the 50th to 75th percentile bracket, where the net worth of families at the top end of the bracket is $328,500.

Who might have guessed that those with the lowest net worth would be the least likely to have debt?!

Previously on Political Calculations

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