Personal Loans

Where Retirement-Age Seniors Carry the Most Non-Mortgage Debt

Many retirement-age Americans carry debt that looms over their finances, making it difficult to stop working and truly enjoy their golden years. A LendingTree study found that seniors in the 65-70 age group carry $22,471 in non-mortgage debt on average 一 but that retirement-age borrowers fared better in some cities than others.

LendingTree looked at the non-mortgage debt obligations for retirement-age Americans in the top 50 metro areas of the country. Here’s what we found:

Key findings

  • Houston residents aged 65 to 70 carry more non-mortgage debt than borrowers in other metros. The median debt outstanding (excluding mortgages) for this group is $29,505. On average, 40% of that debt is made up of auto loans and 33% is from credit card balances.
  • San Antonio and Richmond, Va. follow with median balances of $29,168 and $25,887, respectively.
  • San Jose, Calif. retirement-aged residents carry the least amount of non-mortgage debt,with a median balance of $16,098. Credit card debt accounts for 43% of that amount, on average.
  • Portland, Ore. and Seattle close out the metros with the lowest debt balances for this age group, with median balances of $17,334 and $17,954, respectively.
  • The average debt for retirement-age borrowers was over $1,800 higher in 2019 than in 2018, rising from $20,643 to $22,471. Even though debt was higher, the average credit score rose this year to 705, up 4 points from Q2 2018.
  • Four of the five metros with the highest non-mortgage debt for retirement age seniors are south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and three out of the four Texas metros on our list made it into the top 10 for the highest amount of debt.
  • West Coast metros dominate the bottom of the list, taking up all five spots that carry the least non-mortgage debt.

This map shows the places where retirement-age Americans carry the most and the least debt. Hover over each metro area to view the ranking and median non-mortgage debt balances among seniors ages 65-70.

10 cities where retirement-age Americans carry the most amount of debt

Retirement-age seniors in southern cities are the most encumbered by debt. Two Texas metros, Houston and San Antonio, top the list (Dallas falls close behind at No. 7). Borrowers ages 65-70 in these two places carry nearly $30,000 in non-mortgage debt, on average. San Antonio residents also have the highest proportion of auto debt at 45.1% of their total non-mortgage debt.

Between No. 2 San Antonio and No. 3 Richmond, there’s a considerable fall in average debt: from $29,168 to $25,887. There are also a few northern cities on this list: Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Indianapolis stands alone in representing the Midwest.

10 cities where retirement-age Americans have the least amount of debt

Retirement-age seniors who live on the West Coast do so with less debt, our data found. The top five metro areas include San Jose, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. For each of these cities, the median debt for retirement-age seniors was less than $20,000. Those aged 65-70 in San Jose carry almost half of the debt of those in Houston, at $16,098 and $29,505 respectively.

The top 10 cities were rounded out by a southern city (Nashville, Tenn. at No. 8) and a midwestern city (Detroit at No. 7).

A nationwide look: What debt these seniors are carrying

On average, Americans held a slightly higher percentage of credit card debt (35.4%) than auto loan debt (34.8%), although it’s pretty much a wash. This does show that for many retirement-age seniors, credit cards are just as much a burden as auto loans.


There’s some variation in how much auto loan debt is taken out from place to place. San Antonio has the highest proportion of auto debt at 45.1%, compared with New York at 24.3%. Access to public transportation could contribute to the large difference in auto loan debt between Texans and New Yorkers.

Personal loan debt comprised of 13.8% of the total debt of retirement-age seniors. In some places, it was much higher: Louisville, Ky. (17.5%) and Virginia Beach, Va. (16.7%), for example.

About 10% of Americans in the 65-70 age bracket carry student loans, but it’s probably not their own. It’s more likely that these borrowers co-signed loans and took out other loans on behalf of their children or grandchildren. Overall, student loans made up about 13% of the debt for retirement-aged seniors, on average.

Debt management and your retirement

Debt can put an undue burden on retirees. On top of keeping up with regular expenses, such as a mortgage and medical expenses, retired workers have to repay debt. The average monthly Social Security payment was $1,455.22 as of December 2019, and there’s not a lot of wiggle room in the budget when you’re not bringing in an income.

If you want to get rid of debt before retirement age, consider these debt management strategies.

Pay down debt before you retire

Paying the minimum balance on debt, particularly credit card debt, is a surefire way to end up making payments for a long time ー and paying a lot of money toward interest. To pay down debt before you reach your golden years, you could try a repayment strategy, such as a debt avalanche or debt snowball.

Consolidate debt with a personal loan or credit card

It’s easy to lose track of your debts when you have multiple accounts with different interest rates, due dates and balances. Debt consolidation helps you keep track of your finances by lumping them into one manageable payment.

Retirement-age borrowers can consider opening a personal loan for debt consolidation, which lets you pay down many debts with static monthly payments and a fixed interest rate. That way, you always know how much you owe and when you owe it. Prime borrowers with excellent credit scores will get better interest rates on debt consolidation loans than subprime borrowers.

Borrowers who are burdened by debt could also consider opening a balance-transfer credit card for more favorable debt repayment terms. To take advantage of this strategy, open a new credit card with a zero-interest promotional period (typically up to 21 months) and pay down the debt before that period expires. Keep in mind that you may be subject to balance-transfer fees (around 3%) and back-interest if you don’t pay off your debt before the end of the promotional period. Plus, not all borrowers will qualify for a credit card.

Meet with a credit counselor to help with your strategy

Borrowers who need help developing a debt management strategy can seek advice from a credit counselor. These counselors operate through nonprofit organizations and can help with credit, money management, debt management and budgeting. They may:

  • Offer debt management advice
  • Develop a budget with you
  • Get a copy of your credit report

Many organizations offer a free credit counseling session. Plus, they’ll more than likely pass along free personal finance educational materials. Credit counselors may advise that you go under a debt management plan, which comes at a price. Find a certified credit counselor through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or Financial Counseling Association of America.

Methodology

Using an anonymized sample of more than 44,000 My LendingTree users born between 1949 and 1954, researchers calculated total debt balances from third quarter 2019 credit reports. These results were then aggregated to the 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas to calculate median debt obligations (non-mortgage), as well as the average distribution of debts across the following debt types: auto, credit cards, personal loans, student and other.

My LendingTree is a free credit monitoring service available to the general public, regardless of their debt and credit histories, or whether they’ve pursued loans on a LendingTree platform. My LendingTree has more than 12 million users.

 

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