The number of older Americans filing for bankruptcy has surged by up to 300% in recent years - and boomers are no exception
- An increasing number of baby boomers - who have more debt than previous generations - are filing for bankruptcy, reported Patti Waldmeir for The Financial Times.
- Dwindling incomes, loss of pensions, and healthcare costs have created an economic cocktail driving the rise.
- Baby boomers' acceptance of debt is also playing a role - they're more inclined than their parents to take on credit card debt, and they carry student-loan debt.
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Baby boomers' bank accounts have seen better days.
Those aged 65 and older have more debt than previous generations, and an increasing portion are filing for bankruptcy in hopes of relieving it, reported Patti Waldmeir for The Financial Times.
Tara Siegel Bernard first reported on the trend last year for The New York Times, citing a study from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project: Since 1991, the rate of people 65 and older filing for bankruptcy has tripled, she wrote. The study looked at 895 personal bankruptcy cases and questionnaires from those aged 19 to 92.
"Older Americans are more likely than ever to find themselves in bankruptcy court, seeking protection from creditors," wrote the authors of the study. "Depending on their age cohort, their rate of bankruptcy has increased between 200 and 300 percent since 1991."
It's due to a confluence of economic factors - including delayed full Social Security benefits, an increase in out-of-pocket medical spending, a rise in pensions replaced by 401(k) savings plans, and dwindling incomes - that have off-loaded of the costs of aging onto a generation with limited resources, according to the study.
"Seniors are living longer and paying ever higher medical costs for the privilege of staying alive; many have little or no company pension and scant personal savings to fall back on," Waldmeir wrote.
In fact, 66.5% of all bankruptcies, regardless of age, are related to medical issues, either because of expensive medical bills or time away from work, reported Lorie Konish for CNBC, citing a study by the American Journal of Public Health. That study looked at court filings for a random sample of 910 Americans who filed for personal bankruptcy between 2013 and 2016, and found that 530,000 families file for bankruptcy every year for medical issues or bills.
Credit card and student-loan debt are fueling the bankruptcy fire
But baby boomers also face debt pressures that weren't around for previous generations.
Both Siegel Bernard and Waldmeir cited an additional factor that baby boomers' parents didn't have to contend with: student loans. Baby boomers carry student-loan debt either for themselves or for a loan they took on for a child or grandchild.
Recent research indicates that student-loan debt is driving many bankruptcies, regardless of age or generation. A full 32% of consumers filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy (liquidation bankruptcy) carry student-loan debt, according to a LendEDU study that analyzed 1,083 individual bankruptcy cases from Upsolve, a non-profit that helps low-income consumers file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
"The baby boomer attitude to debt has not turned out to be as frugal as you would think it would be, having parents who lived through the Depression," Kevin Leicht, head of the sociology department at the University of Illinois, told Waldmeir. "Partly it's because they have jobs that don't keep up with inflation and they might have to have five or six jobs to make ends meet."
The turn to bankruptcy is especially problematic considering that baby boomers are expected to live longer than previous generations and therefore need to save more money to get by in their later years.
Debt has already become a major presence in the lives of older people, like members of the silent generation, who are 74 to 95 years old today. According to Waldmeir's research, credit card debt among elders sharply increased - from 1989 to 2016, the percentage of Americans aged 75 or older in debt climbed from 5% to nearly 50%.