Boomers Face Credit-Card Quandary as Economic Doldrums Bite

February 19, 2013 | | Reuters |

Harsh, an IT professional from Tuscola, Illinois, is 62, around the age at which a lot of people start actively planning to retire to a white-sandy beach with a frozen margarita in hand.

Harsh's debt snuck up on her as she helped her two daughters with college and living costs. She went back to school after a divorce and dealt with unexpected expenses such as big dental bills. Now she has about $300 a month in minimum payments, spread across three credit cards, and the balance never seems to go down because of all the interest she is paying.

"I totally did not think this was what my future held," says Harsh. "I don't want to leave debt to my daughters. I guess I'm going to have to work until I die at my desk."

Harsh is not alone in her predicament. According to new figures from the New York City-based policy research organization Demos, Americans over 50 are struggling with a surprising amount of credit-card debt. Low- and middle-income households of older Americans who owed credit-card companies for three months or more have racked up an average of $8,278 in debt, according to Demos.

"What was surprising was older Americans were carrying so much more credit-card debt than younger people," says Amy Traub, a senior policy analyst at Demos, noting that those under 50 who had debt for at least three months had accumulated an average of $6,258. "It's a troubling development, and it says that the tough economy has been taking a toll on American households."