Millions of Americans Getting Buried in Debt, Literally


1. 73% of Americans Die With Debt - $62,000 on Average
2. What Happens to Your Debt When You Die? Depends
3. Student Loan Debt: Some is Forgiven on Death, Some Not
4. Private Student Loans Are a Very Different Situation


Long-time clients and readers know I like to write about topics that interest me, and this week is no exception. I debated whether to write about today’s topic since it deals with death and debt. However, as you’ll read below, almost three out of four Americans die with outstanding debt, and the average debt balance upon death may surprise you.

I will also discuss what generally happens when people with outstanding student loans pass away. It can be very complicated. That’s why I spend considerable space below addressing it. While you may not have any outstanding student loans, I’ll bet you know someone who does – maybe your kids or relatives’ kids or your close friends’ kids. If so, feel free to share this with anyone who might benefit from it.

73% of Americans Die With Debt - $62,000 on Average

I’ve known for many years that some Americans pass away with unpaid debt, and sometimes that debt is greater than the value of their estate. Yet what I didn’t know until a few weeks ago is that 73% of Americans who die have unpaid debt well beyond their funeral expenses. That’s much higher than I would have thought.

Likewise, I did not know that the average debt balance left behind is almost $62,000. Does that surprise you? It did me. Both figures, the 73% and the $62,000, come from Experian PLC, a leading credit card reporting bureau and As we’ll see below, more Americans die with outstanding credit card debt than any other category of loans.

Types of debt

This is shocking in one sense:, an online lender, says half of the people they survey say that they don’t expect to die with a stack of unpaid bills to be dealt with. Only 30% of all Americans surveyed believe they are doomed to be in debt until the day they die. Yet what people will say in a survey and what they do in real life are often very different, as we’ll see below.

I suppose it’s encouraging to see that only 6% of Americans who die still have outstanding student loans, but the average balance is higher than any other category except home mortgages. I’ll explain more about what happens with student loans when people die below.