US Seniors Hammered by Debt

Paul Ausick

One-third of Americans over the age of 50 carries non-mortgage debt averaging $4,786 in credit card debt and $12,490 in total non-mortgage debt. Predictably, the larger an older person’s credit card balance, the smaller that same person’s checking and savings balances.

Data were collected by the University of Michigan for its Retirement Research Center Health and Retirement Study and released in November of last year. The data were analyzed and results published last Friday by MagnifyMoney. The survey covers financial topics including debt, income and assets, and it has been conducted every other year since 1990.

The University of Michigan study in 1998 revealed that about 37% of Americans between the ages of 56 and 61 carried a mean debt of $3,634 in 2012 dollars. The debt level in this most recent study averages $17,623 for Americans between the ages of 50 and 59, according to MagnifyMoney.

Debt levels for Americans over the age of 50 also affect their quality of life and their net worth. For example, those over 50 with credit card debt will average $34,855 in IRA/401(k) savings compared to $46,991 in savings for those with no credit card debt.

Americans over 50 with credit card debt have an average net worth of $68,433, made up of savings and checking accounts, IRAs/401(k)s, stocks and bonds. Americans without credit card debt show an average net worth of $120,243.

MagnifyMoney suggests several steps older Americans can take to put together an effective debt strategy:

  • Focus on debt first. Eliminate debt before focusing on saving for retirement.
  • Downsize your lifestyle. Reduce your expenses as much as possible — even consider getting a smaller house.
  • Stop supporting your adult children. If you have non-mortgage debt, you may need to cut off regular support for your adult children.
  • Work longer. Working until you are 67, instead of retiring at 62, could increase your Social Security monthly benefit by as much as 30%.
  • Don’t assume more debt. Do not borrow any more money once you retire.

Visit the MagnifyMoney website for more details.