The share of bankruptcy filers who are older than 65 is the highest it’s ever been

///The share of bankruptcy filers who are older than 65 is the highest it’s ever been

The share of bankruptcy filers who are older than 65 is the highest it’s ever been

The share of bankruptcy filers who are older than 65 is the highest it’s ever been.As the cost of living outpaces incomes, health-care costs rise and debt swells, there’s been more than a twofold increase in the rate of older Americans filing for bankruptcy, according to a new study. “For an increasing number of older Americans, their golden years are fraught with economic risks,” it reads.

Debt among older Americans is rising fast. In 2016, the average debt in families in which the head of the household is age 75 or older was $36,757. That is up from $30,288 in 2010, according to a recent report by the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington. When Fay was laid off from her job in her 70s, she contemplated retirement. A painful reality hit when she realized she didn’t have a nest egg that could cover her expenses or current debt. “I see myself with no house,” said Fay, who agreed to be interviewed only if her last name was not used because she is afraid of collection agencies hunting her down. “Living on the street.” Fay has $50,000 in outstanding student loans from when she had gone back to school in her 50s to get her MBA. She also has a mortgage on her house in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, and another $50,000 in credit card debt. High balances and calls from collection agencies can leave many older Americans feeling helpless.

The average monthly Social Security check is $1,404, and more than 40 percent of single adults receive more than 90 percent of their income from that check, according to the government. Older Americans’ debt can threaten this.

The number of Social Security recipients 65 and older who had their check reduced because of their student loans increased by more than 500 percent between 2002 and 2015, according to the Government Accountability Office.“There’s just fewer options you have at that stage of the game,” said Justin Halverson, a financial advisor and co-founder of Great Waters Financial in Minneapolis.

But the situation is far from hopeless. Here’s what you can do.

1) Get your budget in order

Mapping your expenses will help you see where, and if, you have room to chip away at your debt, financial experts say. Doing so will also make it more likely that you stick to a budget, and therefore avoid falling deeper into debt. The National Council on Aging offers the Economic Check Up, a website where users can obtain a free personal report on money management and budgeting. (There is also a job search at the site.)

Plug in a few simple questions on the council’s Benefits CheckUp page and the online tool will screen your eligibility for thousands of benefits for seniors, including meal deliveries and myriad potential tax savings, that could help you to pull down your overhead. To brace for coming health-care costs and possibly find ways to save on them, check out AARP’s health-care cost calculator. For Medicare specific information, go to My Medicare Matters.

2) Do what you can

As for that debt issue, Halverson recommends reaching out to creditors to find a way to negotiate more favorable terms. “If you have debts with a hospital, I’ve heard stories where people have called in, told them their situation and the hospital was able to forgive some of the debt,” Halverson said. “Open communication is always going to be a good thing.”

Similarly, if you foresee problems paying your mortgage, contact your financial institution as soon as possible, said Lori Trawinski, director of banking and finance at the AARP Public Policy Institute. “If you wait until you’re three or four months delinquent, it’s much more difficult to get help,” Trawinski said.

She also recommends reaching out to a nonprofit housing counselor for help. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development publishes a list of certified housing counselors by location. Some people will try to reverse their mortgage, which allows homeowners over age 62 to withdraw equity from their property, although keep in mind these options might be wrong for you.

Also, financial experts recommend that you try to at least make the minimum payments on your credit card. By doing so, “you’re not having actions taken against you,” said Craig Copeland, a senior associate with the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

But keep in mind that the less you pay, the longer you’ll be stuck with a debt — and, thanks to interest accrual, the greater it will become. So pay more if you can and look to avoid using that credit card all together.

Also make sure your rights are not being violated. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers information on how to protect yourself from collection agencies.

3) Consider lifestyle changes