Americans have a lot of mortgage debt. In all, financial institutions in the U.S. hold about $10 trillion of mortgage debt on family residences. To put that into perspective, mortgage debt stands about seven times larger than student loan debt, and about 10 times greater than credit card debt in the United States.
To better understand what trillions of dollars in mortgage debt really means, let's explore how much the average American owes or pays on their mortgage through three different lenses.
1. Average American's purchase mortgage
If I told you that the average person who bought their current home in 1990 owed very little on their mortgage, you'd roll your eyes at the obvious. People who have lived in their own homes for a long time likely owe less than those who have not. Therefore, it may be useful to only look at how much soon-to-be home buyers want to purchase a home for.
Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association can help us out here. The trade group suggests that Americans who applied for a purchase mortgage to buy a home in January 2017 were looking for a loan sized at an average of $309,200. At an average rate of 4.1% for 30-year mortgages during the month, the borrower would pay $1,494 in monthly principal and interest, in addition to any property taxes and homeowner's insurance premiums.
2. Average mortgage for America's first-time homebuyers
As income and home equity tends to correlate with age, those who have owned their homes for a long time can generally afford to borrow more than Americans who are buying their first homes. Thus, second and third-time homebuyers will skew statistics higher.
To see how much the average first-time homebuyer owes, we simply have to look at data from the Federal Housing Authority, which suggests that the average FHA mortgage was sized at $190,000 in the United States in 2016. FHA mortgages are popular among first-time buyers because they require smaller down payments than conventional loans, and thus make for a good proxy for understanding how much new homeowners owe on their mortgages.
3. Average American's monthly home ownership costs
Realistically, the size of a mortgage doesn't tell you much about housing affordability. Is a homeowner who has a monthly mortgage payment of $1,000 and utility bills of $900 in better shape than a homeowner who has a monthly mortgage payment of $1,200 and utilities expenses of $300? Most people wouldn't think so.
So, to better understand how much the average American pays in true housing costs on a mortgaged home, I turned to data from the Census Bureau. Its American Community Survey data reveal the median monthly cost of owning and living in a mortgaged home -- including mortgage payments, insurance, and utilities -- was $1,494 in 2015. (The data does not include homes that are not mortgaged, or not occupied by their owners.)
The vast majority of Americans (about 69%) of owner-occupied housing units with a mortgage cost their owners between $500 and $1,999 in total monthly expenses, but more than 10% of homes had a monthly cost of more than $3,000, which you can see in the chart above.
Of course, this data is very inclusive, and thus includes people who have $5,000 remaining on their mortgages, as well as people who have second and third mortgage payments. But as far as figuring out what the average American spends on a mortgaged home, this is perhaps as good as it gets.