Thursday, January 6, 2011

Bankruptcies Up for Older Adults, People, Americans, Seniors - AARP Bulletin

MIAMI - MAY 20:  Alain Filiz shows off some of...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Filers cite lost jobs, credit card debt and empty retirement accounts

by: Bob Calandra | from: AARP Bulletin

The 55-to-64 age group made up 17 percent of filers in 2009, up from 14 percent in 2006. The 65-and-up group, meanwhile, made up 8.3 percent of all filers in 2009, a rise from 7.8 percent in 2006.

Leslie Linfield, executive director of the IFL, is concerned by numbers like these.

"A young person has the ability to rebuild themselves financially," Linfield says. "Are seniors afforded that same opportunity by virtue of their age? Are we as a society taking care of our seniors when so many have to seek bankruptcy protection to begin with?"

'It's all hole-plugging'

Older adults who lived through the Great Depression and generally shunned credit card use have begun in recent years to embrace it, perhaps out of necessity. And some are drowning in debt as a result.

According to a University of Michigan study, 67 percent of people age 65 and older who filed for bankruptcy in 2007 cited credit card interest and fees as a culprit, compared with 53 percent of those under 65.

"There's been a cultural shift in the attitude of older borrowers," says University of Michigan Law School professor John Pottow, an author of the study. "But what's equally possible is that they're just squeezed more financially. People are living longer and paying more for health care and carrying mortgages into their senior years. They're refinancing to pay off debt. It's all hole-plugging.

"We have a structural problem for older people — it's an income and expense disparity, and it's just going to get worse as people continue to live longer. We are not addressing this" as a nation, he adds.

Living on credit cards

Older adults who live on fixed incomes may have turned to their credit cards to pay for increasingly expensive medical treatment, gas, food and other necessities.

But Neil Ellington, executive vice president of CESI Debt Solutions in Raleigh, N.C., says it's often a different story for filers who are boomers. He believes that many of their bankruptcies result in large part from using debt to live beyond their means.

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