Lately, more Americans have grown comfortable with the idea of maintaining debt as they enter their later years. It’s a marked change in perspective from that which people held for so many generations, a perspective that said literally everything was to be paid off, including the mortgage, before you put away your work clothes for good.
Now, however, with debt having become so thoroughly entrenched in the American culture over the course of more recent generations, it seems that even retired folks have found a way to make peace with the idea of carrying debt as they move through the latter stages of life.
As a matter of fact, according to a USA Today article, over 60 percent of households “headed by an adult aged 60 or older” are lugging around debt in some form, and of those “senior households” beset with ongoing debt obligations, the median total of what’s owed is close to $41,000.
Despite the cultural shift toward a greater acceptance of debt, however, seniors are always best served by having as little debt as possible on their backs, with, of course, zero debt remaining the ideal.
Moreover, there are three categories of debt that should be positively eliminated before one stops working. These are obligations that can be especially challenging even during prime earning years, and so have the potential to become particularly burdensome during retirement.
You can probably guess the first one: the mortgage. Recent data details that about a third of homeowners aged 65 to 74 are still carrying a mortgage balance. Get rid of it before you retire. As housing typically represents the biggest expense for seniors, you are best served by eliminating your mortgage before you enter your Golden Years.
Another problem debt is education debt. That’s right…education debt. Surprised that seniors are now plagued with student loans? According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, seniors account for over six percent of all student loan obligations, with the average amount rising from $12,000 back in 2005 to $23,500 in 2015.
So, what gives? Is this attributable to more of our elder citizens getting bit by the education bug?
Not really. They’re taking out the loans to help children and grandchildren pay for school. They shouldn’t be doing it in the first place (there are plenty of other ways for those expenses to be handled by the folks actually going to school), but if they ARE, the obligations should be knocked out before they stop working. Student debt is not easy to walk away from if you run into trouble, and if you default on it, you can lose a portion of your Social Security income.
Lastly, there’s the old favorite: credit card debt. As of 2016, seniors 70 and older were carrying an average of nearly $4,000 in credit card debt. While not an enormous sum, the real problem with credit card obligations is the interest rate. 18 percent is not unusual, which means that what you owe the credit card company will likely be the most expensive debt you “own.” Again, put it in your rearview window…permanently…before your last day on the job.
By Robert G. Yetman, Jr. Editor At Large