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Many Americans inaccurately report debt: Why?

Financial-related data periodically compiled and reported via a national survey contain a wealth of interesting -- and, some might say, baffling -- information, especially as relates to consumer-reported debt that is accumulated by individuals and families.

The Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances issues once every three years. The final product, which is culled together after analysis of Americans' debts, savings and income, is intended to serve as an important source of information regarding money matters, debt relief and related topics. As noted in a recent media discussion of the report, it is "a deep trove of data, widely used and oft-quoted."

And it is seemingly inexplicable, at least on this one point: For some reason, many Americans materially underestimate the amount they owe on their credit cards and, if applicable, on their outstanding student loans.

That disconnect is puzzling, given that researchers reportedly noted in the most recent survey "a striking level of accuracy" between what respondents said they owed and what they actually did owe for their mortgages and on home equity loans. Survey participants self-report their data, which researchers additionally checked for accuracy by accessing data supplied by the Equifax credit bureau.

That reporting and independently confirmed-back confirmation also revealed that most respondents were quite accurate in the data they supplied regarding personal bankruptcies.

The reported accuracy in certain areas is, as noted, not generally seen where consumers weigh in on credit card and student debt.

Why are many of them underreporting it?

Researchers candidly admit that they do not know and state that more research needs to be done to better note whether respondents really don't know what they owe in these areas or are simply unwilling -- for whatever reason -- to accurately state what they do owe.

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