Read about senior debt trends & tools


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Today, more seniors are carrying debt into retirement more than ever before, and the amount of debt burden has skyrocketed over the past decade. For many, just keeping pace with the cost of daily living is a challenge.

A profile of senior households with debt

Thumbnail of NCOA report on older adults and debtIn 2015, NCOA surveyed aging network professionals on their clients’ debt, and how it impacts these clients’ economic security. The results of this survey, combined with data from several national surveys of consumer finances and debt, are featured in the issue brief, Older Adults & Debt: Trends, Trade-offs, and Tools to Help.

According to the Survey of Consumer Finances, senior households with any debt increased from right around 50% in 1989, to just over 61% in 2013, as illustrated in the chart below.

Graph showing increase in senior households with debt, rising from 44.4% in 1989 to 61.3% in 2013

Median total debt for older adult households with debt was $40,900 in 2013 – more than DOUBLE what it was in 2001 (see below).

Chart showing rise in median total debt among senior headed households, with a median of $40,900 in 2013

Medical debt

Increasingly, medical debt poses the most significant barrier to economic well-being.

  • More than 84% of people aged 65+ are coping with at least one chronic condition, and often more as they age.
  • A study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine revealed that out-of-pocket medical expenditures in the five years prior to an individual’s death totaled more than $38,000, leaving 1 in 4 seniors approaching bankruptcy.

Credit card debt

Another common source of debt among senior households is credit cards.

  • In 2001, approximately 27% of senior households held credit card balances; by 2013, more than 32% did.
  • One in four senior households with any credit card debt had a balance of at least $7,200 in 2013.

Trade-offs in dealing with debt

The NCOA survey found that seniors often make trade-offs to save money in the short term that can be harmful to their long-term health and finances. Among aging network professionals surveyed:

  • 23% regularly encounter seniors forgoing needed home/car repairs, which increases the risk of accidents and falls–the leading cause of injuries among seniors.
  • Nearly 15% regularly encounter seniors cutting pills, which can limit their effectiveness.
  • Just under 14% regularly see seniors skip meals, which can lead to nutrient deficiency.

Download the full report.

NCOA has several resources that can help older adults manage and reduce their debt. Learn more.