Fridays. Last day of most folks' workweeks. Good day to tidy up loose ends, reflect on the week's work, and clear our desks. President Ronald Reagan chose Friday, August 19, 1988 to proclaim August 21, 1988 as the first National Senior Citizens Day. His remarks balanced appreciation with caution, something we should still do a third of a century later. The senior citizens of Texas today face many challenges, including issues with debt and health.
Gratitude and Esteem
Reagan's proclamation included this telling paragraph:
For all they have achieved throughout life and for all they continue to accomplish, we owe older citizens our thanks and a heartfelt salute. We can best demonstrate our gratitude and esteem by making sure that our communities are good places in which to mature and grow older—places in which older people can participate to the fullest and can find the encouragement, acceptance, assistance, and services they need to continue to lead lives of independence and dignity.
Just because the President of the United States says a thing does not make it so. Senior citizens today are saddled with debt, hemmed in by fixed incomes, and limited by poor health.
Seniors and Debt
The Congressional Research Service has uncovered five alarming facts related to senior citizens and debt:
- Debt among households headed by a person 65 years old or older has increased substantially in the past three decades
- From 1992 to 2019, the share of such households with debt increased from 43.0 percent to 62.1 percent
- The median amount of debt among senior citizen households with debt rose from $7,294 to $34,000 (in 2019 dollars)
- Of these households with debt, 4.8 percent had a negative net worth
- About 2.5 percent of senior citizen households with debt had delinquent debt payments past due 60 days or more
These numbers run counter to Reagan's vision of a nation supporting and assisting senior citizens. Rather than quietly enjoying golden years, too many of our Texas senior citizens are suffering under crushing debt.
Cards and Cars
The Congressional Research Service breaks down the sources of debt among senior citizens:
- Credit card debt takes the lion's share, with 35.6 percent of senior debtors reporting this burden and shouldering an average of $7,382 owed
- More than a third—33.4 percent—of senior households struggled with mortgages on their primary residences, with an average of $132,184 outstanding
- Auto loans were held by 23.9 percent of senior citizens, with average loan balances of $16,914
- Sadly, senior citizens are still paying off student loans, with 3.2 percent of senior debtors owing an average of $35,019
Overall, 62.1 percent of all senior citizen households had debt, with the average debt from all sources looming large over their lives, at $98,959.
Debt and Health
A recent piece in the New York Times points to a connection between such debt and deteriorating health in senior citizens. Researchers at the Urban Institute analyzed broad national data compiled over nearly 20 years.
The researchers report that indebted senior citizens “fare measurably worse on a range of health measures: fair or poor self-rated health, depression, inability to work, impaired ability to handle everyday activities like bathing and dressing.”
Senior citizens in debt are also more likely to suffer two or more doctor-diagnosed illnesses such as:
- Heart and lung disease
- Heart attacks
These are grim health outcomes for Texans with limited resources to resolve their debt. Some senior citizens can supplement their retirement incomes with part-time jobs. But for many older Texans, the double curses of debt and health impairment put that solution out of reach.
Debt and Bankruptcy
The typical Texas senior citizen has a median income, as reported by The Center Square, of only $44,319. When you owe creditors an average of $98,959 against a median income less than half that, health problems seem inevitable. Yet senior citizens facing mounting bills and no clear way to pay those bills have one creative, entirely legal option still available: bankruptcy.
By filing for personal bankruptcy, senior citizens of the Lone Star state can get out from under the gray cloud overshadowing their golden years:
- Chapter 7 bankruptcy—All non-exempt assets are sold with proceeds distributed among creditors; however, for most people, all of their assets are exempt (homes, retirement accounts, cars—protected)
- Chapter 13 bankruptcy—Readjusting debts to allow the senior citizen debtor to pay them over time while protecting property from creditors
Relief from many types of debt—credit card bills, medical bills, personal loans, even unpaid utility bills—can come to struggling senior citizens through bankruptcy. The process begins when you contact our trusted bankruptcy lawyer. You may also telephone our offices at 214-618-2101 to schedule a complimentary consultation. Our Frisco, Texas firm serves Collin County, Denton County, The Colony, Little Elm, Prosper, Celina, Plano, Carrollton, Lewisville, Flower Mound and McKinney.