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Retirees are taking on more debt. Here’s how to dig out. | Press "Enter" to skip to content

Retirees are taking on more debt. Here’s how to dig out.

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A growing number of retirees and those approaching retirement are in debt.

The share of households headed by someone 55 or older with debt — from credit cards, mortgages, medical bills and student loans — increased to 68.4 percent in 2019, from 53.8 percent in 1992, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. A survey at the end of 2020 by Clever, an online real estate service, found that on average, retirees had doubled their nonmortgage debt in 2020 — to $19,200.

Susan B. Garland reports for The New York Times on what to do if you’re in this position:

  • Consult a nonprofit credit counseling agency, which will review a client’s expenses and income sources and create a custom action plan. The initial budgeting session is often free, said Bruce McClary, senior vice president for communications at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. An action plan could include cutting unnecessary spending, such as selling a rarely used car and banking some proceeds for taxi fare.

  • Tap into senior-oriented government benefits, such as property tax relief, utility assistance and Medicare premium subsidies. The National Council on Aging operates a clearinghouse website for them, BenefitsCheckUp.org. “The average individual 65-plus on a fixed income is leaving $7,000 annually on the table” in unused benefits, said Ramsey Alwin, the council’s president.

  • Avoid using high-interest credit cards to fill income gaps. Medical bills typically charge little or no interest but turn into high-interest costs if placed on credit cards, said Melinda Opperman, president of Credit.org. Instead, she said, patients should call hospitals or other providers directly to work out an arrangement.

  • Avoid taking out home-equity loans or lines of credit to pay off credit cards or medical bills, said Rose Perkins, quality assurance manager for CCCSMD, a credit counseling service. Though tapping home equity carries a lower interest rate than a credit card, a homeowner could put a home at risk if a job loss, the death of a spouse or illness made it difficult to pay off the lender, she said.


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