I just received a 2023 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau, which took over an hour to fill out.

The survey asked a slew of questions, in order to "give our country an up-to-date picture of how we live," including household income, mortgage/rent, and home value calculations.

I noticed, however, that not a single question was designated for loans of any kind, except for total mortgage payments.

Given the political focus on student loan debt recently, this disturbed me. Are we getting this information elsewhere (Pell Grant data?) or is the US Government really just flying blind as to how much debt the average American is in?

It feels like critical information in an era of creditors. Between auto loans, student loans, and many other sources of income, this really doesn't feel like it could POSSIBLY give the full picture.

  • 2
    Aren't student loans lent out by loan companies? Don't they know how much they have loaned? Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 14:18
  • What exactly are you asking? Why the ACS doesn't ask about student debt? It should be obvious that the US government has other sources of information than the Census Bureau's American Community Survey. Lots of organizations have statistics on debt, from the Federal Reserve to banks and market research companies. Are you asking what information the US government has available, or who is conducting surveys, or for actual information?
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 16:37
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    @StuartF I think the question is about what information the government has available, plus how they are able to get that information. Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 16:51
  • @StuartF I'm interested in learning about what other avenues of information the government is using to conduct their research, and why they think it's so good they don't have to add one more small question on the ACS, which seems like easy and low overhead. If the information that the supreme court is acting on, for instance, is deeply flawed, it would be good to know.
    – Erin B
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 17:05
  • Economists at the regional Federal Reserve Banks do a lot of research on the topic and are probably the most definitive source of data on debt owed by U.S. persons, often with their own surveys supplemented by financial institution data and surveys. The U.S. Commerce Department which is the parent of the Census Bureau also has a Bureau of Economic Statistics.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 19:40

1 Answer 1


Through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and other regulatory agencies.

The government doesn't have a detailed picture down to the individual level. They do have an aggregate picture.

Consumer debt is measured through various methods. All of the types of loans you mentioned are regulated, though, not all debt is from regulated loans. Credit reporting laws help shape the credit agencies and the rules regarding what needs to be reported as well.

Most of the consumer related debt information is channeled through the CFPB.

For mortgages, you have 3 agencies, mostly.

  1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), this is the consumer point of contact.
  2. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) oversees Federal Housing Administration (FHA) programs.
  3. The Federal Trade Commission looks at the fees and practices.

The Federal Reserve is not a government agency. It may do its own research and reporting, but this is a private institution.

Essentially, with the regulation there is certain mandated reporting for each different type of loan or credit. Lenders have an obligation to report certain information regarding the loans they service. This gives a fairly clear picture of the type of debt consumers have.

There are some types of debt that aren't regulated or reported. That, however, is rather small compared to the big picture. An example of this is a family member loaning you money.

Does the government have the full picture? No, they don't. They do have a fairly accurate picture though.

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