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When Personal Finance Meets Shared Economic Pain

Amy Traub

It's just dumb to approach retirement with a bunch of credit-card debt.” 

That’s the response of one personal finance expert to a recent Demos study on older Americans and credit card debt. My research found that among low- and middle-income Americans carrying credit card debt, a third of households headed by someone age 50 or older used credit cards to pay for basic living expenses such as rent, mortgage payments, groceries, or utilities because they didn’t have enough money in their checking or savings accounts to cover these costs. Half of those in our sample carried medical expenses on their credit cards; a quarter report that loss of a job contributed to their credit card debt. 

To me these findings – and our other research on credit card debt – had clear political implications. We shouldn’t be contemplating cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits when many Americans on the cusp of retirement are already taking on debt to make ends meet.