Savings: Trying to retire, still in debt
Americans are increasingly entering their years of retirement carrying a heavy load of debt, said Susan Tompor in the Detroit Free Press. Sixty-eight percent of households headed by someone 55 or older now have outstanding loans, up dramatically from 53 percent two decades ago. Americans ages 60 to 69 now owe $2 trillion, including six times as much student loan debt as they had in 2004. The numbers have skyrocketed even though “the safety net of a pension and retiree health care from an employer-sponsored plan is not the scenario many people are looking at.” As house prices have risen, some people have put off purchasing a home until their 40s or 50s, leaving them with mortgage loans still unpaid heading into retirement. Today, 41 percent of homeowners over age 65 still have outstanding mortgages, said Annie Nova in CNBC.com—a number that has nearly doubled from 22 percent in 1998.
Baby Boomers are inadvertently “upending decades of progress in financial security among the aging,” said Heather Gillers in The Wall Street Journal. As they hit retirement age they confront “bigger bills and less money to pay them.” An unfortunate blend of “economic and demographic forces” has kept incomes of middle-aged and older Americans stagnant for years, while savings have dipped and health-care costs have soared. The amount of debt accrued outside of mortgages has also risen, as Boomers take on their children’s college loan debt and drain savings accounts “to care for aging parents.” It’s a humbling step backward for a generation: Over 40 percent of households headed by somebody 55 to 70 now lack “sufficient resources to maintain their living standard in retirement.” That’s why more than half of all Baby Boomers plan to work past age 65 or not retire at all, said Kerry Hannon in The New York Times. Many also fear they will “outlive their savings.”
Even if your savings are not where they should be as you’re nearing or entering retirement, there are still options, said Catherine Collinson in NextAvenue.org. Take an inventory of your debt, “including accounts, amounts owed, interest rates, and payment terms.” Develop a plan to pay off your debt incrementally while also saving for your future. The good news is that even as overall levels of debt rise, some Americans are finally heeding the advice to save. Investors in 401(k) plans managed by Fidelity Investments now save a record 13.2 percent of their income, said Donna Fuscaldo in Investopedia.com. Another record: Fidelity 401(k) clients who have been investing for at least a decade hold an average of $290,000 in their accounts, up from $250,000 just a year ago. ■