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Financial Planning > College Planning > Student Loan Debt

Growing percentage of the elderly and near-elderly have debt

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The share of older American families that had debt in 2013 increased from 2010, according to new research.

The Employee Benefits Research Institute discloses this finding in a January 2015 report, “Debt of the Elderly and Near-Elderly, 1992-2013.”

The percentage of American families headed by individuals ages 55 or older with some level of debt was 65.4 percent in 2013, up from the 2010 level of 63.4 percent, the EBRI report reveals. The 2013 level was up over 10 percentage points from the 1992 level of 53.8 percent.

The percentage with debt decreased significantly as the family heads aged (i.e., in 2013, 78.5 percent of families with heads ages 55–64 held debt, compared with 41.3 percent of those with heads ages 75 or older). Also, the percentage with debt increased from 2010 to 2013 for families headed by individuals in each age group studied.

For those families with heads ages 55–64, the percentage with debt increased from 77.6 percent in 2010 to 78.5 percent in 2013. Among those families with heads ages 65–74, the percentage with debt increased from 65.0 percent to 66.4 percent. And for families with heads ages 75 or older, the increase was from 38.5 percent to 41.3 percent.

In addition, each age group in 2013 had a higher percentage with debt than at any survey year during 1992–2013 study period except for families with heads ages 55–64, which peaked in 2007 at 81.7 percent.

The percentage with debt also was also higher for those with higher family incomes across each survey year, except in 2013 when the percentage decreased at the highest-income quartile.

Of those in the highest-income quartile, the report adds, 76.4 percent had debt in 2013, an amount lower than the third income quartile, and also lower than in 2010, when 77.7 percent of those in the highest-income quartile had debt. 

The 2013 percentage of elderly and near elderly families with debt was the highest during the study period for those families in the third income quartile, while the percentage with debt for families in the highest-income quartile has trended down since 2007 and for families in the lowest-income quartile has leveled off at just above 44 percent since 2007.


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