It may be a dirty word in some quarters, but debt is a fact of life for more and more Americans. And that may not be a bad thing.
That is the conclusion of a new report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which examined debt through the generations. It found that 8 in 10 Americans are in debt in some fashion, most often because of a mortgage. And that debt is not limited to young people starting out life: increasingly, people are carrying debt into retirement. (Tweet This)
For many Americans, their debt is a burden, but others view it as a necessity. Some 69 percent of the survey respondents indicated that while nonmortgage debt was a necessity for them, they preferred not to have it—but 68 percent said loans and credit cards had enabled them to make purchases or investments that expanded their opportunities. And in fact, Pew found that higher-income people with more assets tended to have more debt, but even so, they had healthier balance sheets than low-income, low-debt respondents.
"Americans have a love-hate relationship with debt. They know they need debt, but they don't actually want it," said Diana Elliott, research manager for financial security and mobility at Pew.
Some of the differences in attitudes about debt were generational. Gen X and millennial respondents were more likely to express negative views about debt than were older generations. They were less likely to say loans or credit cards increased their opportunities, for example.
"The silent generation was twice as likely as Gen X to say that debt has expanded opportunities in their lives," the study found.