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Older Americans becoming increasingly deeper in debt

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 26th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

For many Americans, the "golden years" remain far away, no matter what their age. A new study has found that Americans older than the age of 75 have become increasingly burdened with debt in order to make ends meet.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Experts say a likely culprit of today's elder debt is incurred through medical expenses.

According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, between the years of 2007 and 2010, people who are 75 and older were more likely to have debt. In addition, their average debt levels increased significantly. These figures are in stark contrast to other older Americans in their 50s and 60s, who generally saw their debt levels stabilize during that period.

The good news is that people ages 75 and older are much less likely to have debt, and generally carry far less debt, than other older Americans. It's still troubling to see that the trend for that group to see debt increasing, rather than decreasing, debt burdens.

"It really looked like something wasn't going well for them," Craig Copeland, a senior research associate with EBRI and the report's author says.

He suspects that many Americans who are 75 and older have few options but to take on debt when a big unexpected expense arises, because many are living on fixed retirement incomes and don't work. This puts certain options such as taking on a second job in order to reduce their debt burden.

Although many older Americans are covered by Medicare, Copeland noted that many are still on the hook for co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses. A person with a limited income can have their finances thrown into disarray by one unexpected event, such as a broken hip that requires significant co-pays or the sudden need for a very expensive prescription that isn't fully covered.

"In a lot of cases it seems to be that health care is a particularly vexing issue," he said.

The percentage of people 75 and above who had debt grew from 31.2 percent in 2007, the year the nation went into recession, to 38.5 percent in 2010. The average amount of debt for those with debt also more than doubled, from $13,665 in 2007 to $27,409 in 2010.

The debt loads were far greater for people in their 50s and 60s, but trend lines were far less troubling. The percentage of people ages 55 to 64 that held debt fell from 81.7 percent to 77.6 percent. For people ages 65 to 74, the percentage holding debt held steady at about 65 percent.

The average debt for 55- to 64-year-old debt holders fell from $112,075 in 2007 to $107,060 in 2010. For people ages 65 to 74, average debt fell from $72,922 in 2007 to $70,875 in 2010.


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