Normally, it’s younger, less world-wise Americans who mount up huge credit card debt. But this recession is different – in fact, it has a shade of gray attached to it. That’s because it’s older Americans (65 and older) who are burning through their credit cards faster than ever. And that has some serious “quality of life” ramifications for U.S. seniors.
Here are the facts. According to a study from the American Association of Retired People (AARP) it’s senior citizens 65 and over that comprise the demographic with the fastest-growing credit card debt. That’s just for starters. A 2009 study by the public policy group Demos says that seniors at or below the middle class now bear an average of $10,235 in credit card debt.
That’s up 26% since 2005. Contrast that to the rest of the U.S. adult population, a wider demographics that saw only a 3% increase credit card debt during the same time period (to $9,827).
Why the increased credit card burden for U.S. seniors? It’s something of perfect storm, brewed in equal part by advanced age (seniors with disabilities are among the heaviest users of plastic), the sour economy (which has sent plenty of Americans 50-and-up to the unemployment line well before they were ready to retire) and the steady devaluation of homes and retirement accounts.It’s not like the older set is blowing their credit card balances on frivolous items like Viagra or Virginia Beach golf vacations. Demos says that seniors are using their cards as a “plastic” safety net. Medical expenses are a common factor – the Demos study says that Americans 65-and-older have an average of $2,194 in credit card related medical expenses.
So, if you’re a debt-burdened senior, near or in retirement, or have a loved one who is in the same boat, the sooner you deal with the issue, the better off you’ll be.