Houston, we have a problem.
Baby boomers may not have as much debt as more recent college graduates, but they certainly aren’t strangers to it either. This is especially true in Houston, according to a report by Lending Tree, an online lending exchange site, which looked at median debt balances for the 100 largest U.S. cities. The median balance in the Texas city was $31,626.
Little Rock, Ark., and San Antonio, followed in second and third place, with median balances of $30,767 and almost $30,000, respectively. Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, have more than $25,000 in non-mortgage debts, the report found. Auto loans and credit card balances made up the greatest shares of these balances — 38.5% and 34.9%, respectively.
Having debt in retirement is not uncommon: 70% of U.S. households headed by people 65 to 74 had debt in 2016, including auto loans, credit card balances and mortgages, according to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances. Half of households headed by those 75 and older had debt as well.
Most financial advisers suggest future retirees pay off as much of their debts as possible before retiring, which puts baby boomers in a tough spot, considering many are already in or approaching this next phase of their lives. Many retirees are on a fixed income, whether they have savings, a pension and Social Security, and have constant expenses that will continue to rise with age, such as medical bills.
Although baby boomers’ debt is mostly from auto loans and credit cards, there’s another type of debt becoming more common for this cohort: student loans. This generation may have carried over debts of their owns, but some are cosigning loans for their children and grandchildren, putting their own financial health at risk. The number of borrowers 60 or older with student debt grew from 700,000 in 2005 to 2.8 million in 2015, according to Federal Reserve Bank of New York data. Nearly 40% of those borrowers over 65 are in default, which means their Social Security checks may be garnered. Between that same time frame, the number of borrowers 65 and older who lost a portion of their Social Security benefits to pay off federal student loans grew 540%.
There are options for those who are retiring with excessive debt. Outside of a mortgage, they can consolidate their credit card debt and look for 0% interest and 0% balance transfer options (with the intention of paying off that debt before the term is up). They should also consider speaking with a credit counselor, bankruptcy attorney or financial adviser.