Most Americans Uncomfortable with Debt, Borrow Anyway

July 25, 2007

This article is included in these additional categories:

Boomers & Older | Financial Services | Men | Out-of-Home | Radio | Television | Women

The majority of US consumers who borrow money do so despite being uncomfortable with borrowing, according to a new consumer segmentation analysis by Mediamark Research Inc. (MRI) that groups adults according to their level of comfort with personal debt.

Based on data from MRI’s Survey of the American Consumer, MRI researchers grouped adults (age 18+) into four distinct attitudinal segments:

  1. Balk the Bank: These consumers are very uncomfortable with borrowing money; essentially, they hate doing it.
  2. On Someone Else’s Dime: Members of this segmentation are credit-reluctant in their attitudes. They don’t feel as strongly negative about borrowing as members of the” Balk the Bank” segment, but it does make them uncomfortable.
  3. To Their Credit: These consumers are credit realists. They don’t necessarily like to borrow money, but it doesn’t make them uncomfortable to do so.
  4. I.O.U.: Consumers in this category have the mind-set of a credit enthusiast: They are not averse to borrowing, nor does borrowing increase their anxiety levels.


The majority of adults (57.2%) fall into the “Balk the Bank” segment. This is true for men (54.6%), women (59.6%) and all age groups. Moreover, this pattern remains true despite the actual debt adults’ report they carry.

For instance, 52.1% of adults who report they “Always or Usually” carry credit card debt and 54% of those with a second mortgage are in the “Balk the Bank” segment – the group most uncomfortable with personal debt.

“What’s interesting is the widespread discomfort with borrowing, despite all the evidence we have concerning the personal debt level in the US,” said Anne Marie Kelly, VP of marketing and strategic planning at MRI. “One insight for financial marketers is that programs that make debt easier to manage and accept will resonate with their customers and prospects.”

About the research: MRI interviews approximately 26,000 US adults in their homes each year, asking about their use of media, their consumption of products and their lifestyles and attitudes. The company releases data from Survey of the American Consumer (adults 18+) twice yearly, in the spring and fall.

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