More Retirees Going Bankrupt

For many elderly Americans, the golden years are anything but.

The number of Americans aged 65 and older who file for bankruptcy has increased significantly over the last two decades, according to a new study from the University of Michigan law school. In 1991, just 2.1% of those aged 65 and older had filed for bankruptcy, but by 2007, that number had shot up to 7%.

In general, Americans these days file for bankruptcy later in life, with the average age of those declaring bankruptcy rising from 36 in 1991 to 43 in 2007. However, the study, which is based on previous bankruptcy studies and surveys of 2,500 people who had filed for bankruptcy, found that those 65 and older have seen the largest percentage increase in bankruptcy filings.

So what exactly are the elderly doing wrong?

Credit card fees and interest rates are the factors most often cited by elderly bankruptcy filers, according to the study. Two thirds of those aged 65 and older blamed their credit card for leading them into bankruptcy, while only about half of those under 65 listed this as a reason.  In fact, the data also showed that the elderly tend to have accumulated about twice as much credit card debt as younger bankruptcy filers.

Other recent studies have shown a similar uptick in the number of older Americans strapped for cash.

As we reported earlier this month, the average debt of households headed by those 65 and older increased to $10,235 in 2008 from $9,827 in 2005. Much of this has simply been due to an increase in the cost of essentials, like medical care. Unfortunately, elderly Americans are forced to pay for these essentials by credit and often incur high interest rates. As a result, more than a third of households headed by those 65 and older now have credit card debt.

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