New retirement hurdle: Credit card debt
Baby boomers are now more likely to be burdened by high-interest credit card debt than people 35 and under. Job loss is only partly to blame.
This post comes from Matthew Heimer at partner site MarketWatch.
It's long been a mantra of retirement planning: No mortgage, no debt, no problem. But the combination of rising health care and housing costs, flattening wages and the recent crash and recession has made that goal harder to attain.
Over the last two decades, the share of people reaching retirement with mortgage debt has steadily risen. And according to a new report by the research and advocacy group Demos and the AARP Public Policy Institute (.pdf file), the same appears to be true for credit card debt as well.
The report focuses primarily on households with annual income of $20,000 to $99,000. Within that group, the average household headed by someone 50 or over that had had credit card debt for at least three months was carrying $8,278 in such debt in 2012, or 32% more than the average under-50 household in similar circumstances.
That figure was down significantly from 2008, when the recession was in full roar. But with its high interest rates, credit card debt can take a long time to eliminate, and indeed, the debtors age 50 and older in this survey were paying an average of just under 16% on their card balances.
Reuters columnist Chris Taylor, who wrote about the Demos study this week, offers a stark portrayal of a 62-year-old woman who is juggling $16,800 in high-interest debt: "I guess I'm going to have to work until I die at my desk," she tells Taylor.
The study also identified a more troubling long-term trend for the midlife crowd. In 1989, households headed by 55- to 64-year-olds were significantly less likely to have credit card debt than those headed by folks 35 and under; now they're slightly more likely to have such debt. Just over 41% of those midlifer households had card debt in 2010, an increase from 33% in 1989.
Job losses are a major factor behind the baby boomer debt phenomenon, with about a quarter of the survey respondents citing unemployment as an issue in their predicament. But sharing the burdens of their struggling kids, parents and other kin is also taking its toll on older households. The report said that 23% of older Americans had taken on credit card debt to assist other family members.
It also noted that about half of older Americans with debt were carrying medical expenses on their credit cards, with much of that debt load attributable to dental expenses -- something Medicare and many other health plans don't cover.
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