Seniors and debt – Carrying debt too far

Much is written about the increased levels of debt being carried by Canadians these days, but very little is addressed about that level of indebtedness being carried over into our retirement years. And that’s troublesome because if you are struggling with debt in your working years, how will you be faring when your income may be fixed?

That’s one of the reasons you see many seniors still working. Don’t notice them? Think Walmart greeters, or the ladies at the LCBO outlet doing product sampling. It is estimated that you need about 70% of what you make right now in order to live out your life comfortably after retirement, but the government will basically offer up less than today’s minimum wage yearly earnings. Unless you’re currently living on a minimum wage salary, you won’t get enough.

One of the factors leading to carrying indebtedness into our retirement years is the realization that the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) benefits were not enough to pay out to a retiring workforce which was living longer than in past years. As a result, the government started taking more of our earnings to sack away for retiring workers (including you, when it comes time). The good news is that it also started charging an equal amount to your employer, in effect doubling your contribution (though your payment at retirement may not be double what it would have been had it been only you contributing), but that still won’t likely be enough.

So as a double whammy, you have less disposable income while you’re working (leading to increasing debt in order to purchase some of the things you want, but may not necessarily need) and less pension income coming in when you retire (meaning you have less to spend on servicing your debt).

There may also be escalating health care costs with little or no relief from private health care insurance, the loss of a spouse (leading to the loss of a secondary income source), and mortgages that aren’t paid off, often due to adult children requesting help with their own debt.

Another factor in seniors’ debt is diminished mental and physical fitness. It doesn’t necessarily affect everyone, but that won’t stop others from trying to take advantage of it. Roof maintenance or snow removal contractors, for example, may take advantage of seniors’ inability to perform manual work for themselves by financing expensive contracts for few services (or in some cases, no services).

And that diminished mental capacity may also play harder on our human hope of striking it rich for a quick fix to our monetary woes, causing some seniors to spend more money at casinos or bingo halls.

As we’ve often detailed here, the fix happens while you’re earning money, not when you’re scrambling to make ends meet. So, to prevent carrying a debt load when you’re retired, concentrate on trying to eliminate debt today, while sacking more money away to insure a higher income in your retirement years.

And look for changes in spending habits, which could signify your retired parents or friends may be dealing with financial difficulties — increase in credit card use, for example, or in the frequency of trips to the casino — and suggest ways to reduce expenses, such as less-expensive accommodations or reductions in services such as cable.

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