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Seniors taking on more debt than ever before

Retirement used to be the time when people could — finally — enjoy life. A recent article in USA Today suggests that’s no longer the case:

“Retirement used to be a time for people to enjoy life without a mortgage or high credit card bills, a time when heavy debts were mostly a thing of the past. Increasingly, that’s no longer true. Some seniors are taking on debt in retirement to fund a trip they’ve always wanted to take. But a growing number are in debt because they have no choice.”

The article points to soaring health care costs, combined with fewer employer-paid retirement benefits, lower pensions and the fact that people are living longer.

Senior citizens on fixed incomes rely on credit card debt for what they hope will be temporary relief from unexpected expenses.

According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a non-partisan group that studies economic security, the average debt for folks 75 and older rose dramatically from 1992 to 2004 — 160 percent. Households 65 and older virtually doubled their credit card debt, bringing senior citizens dangerously in line with the average debt load of younger, working households.

Sally Hurme of the AARP told USA Today that this rise in debt among retired seniors and, worse, the massive number of baby boomers approaching retirement, “does not bode well for financial health.”

An understatement.