Older Americans, those over 75 years of age, increased their debt load between 2007 and 2010, though those just facing retirement fared better, according to a new survey released Thursday by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.
For families with heads of households 75 or older, the average debt load doubled from $13,665 in 2007 to $27,409 in 2010. However, the families with the highest levels of debt were those with heads ages 55 to 64: Their debt level was $107,060 in 2010. This was down from $112,075 from 2007.
The major cause of the debt is housing costs, the EBRI says. The average debt of all families with household heads 55 or older was $75,082 in 2010, up only $1,300 from 2007.
Sixty-three percent of all American families with a household head aged 55 or older had debt, a percentage that has held steady. Those with debt payments of 40 percent or more of income, a traditional threshold measure of debt load trouble, actually dropped to 8.5 percent in 2010 from almost 10 percent in 2007.
However, the percentage of families with heads age 75 or older having debt increased from 31.2 percent in 2007 to 38.5 percent in 2010.
Although some levels of debt have improved, the debt levels are still troubling, according to Craig Copeland, senior research associate at EBRI.
“Older families that have taken on higher housing debt may well eventually have difficulty avoiding a major lifestyle change in living standards in retirement, certainly if they are planning to rely on their home as an income-producing asset,” he says.