Not so long ago debt "was a four-letter word when spoken in the same breath as "retirement." Before waltzing into their golden years, older Americans paid off their loans, then celebrated by burning the mortgage.
How things have changed!
Now a third of folks 65 and older have a mortgage vs. 20% two decades ago, according to recent Census data. Median balance: $56,000.
Meanwhile, seniors 65 and up carry an average $10,235 on credit cards, think tank Demos reports.
The affluent are not immune, either. Among households headed by those 65 and up with incomes over $100,000, 25% have nonmortgage liabilities, says the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
Money 101: Planning for retirement
You don't have to be totally debt-free before your golden years, to be sure. But financial planners caution that too much red ink, and the wrong kinds, can diminish your standard of living.
Make sure IOUs won't weigh you down by taking these steps before retirement:
See how you'd manage. Remember that your income is likely to decline once you leave the workforce.
"You don't want to go into retirement with more obligations than you can honor," says Gail Cunningham of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
So use T. Rowe Price's Retirement Income Planner to estimate what you'll get annually from pensions, Social Security, and investments. Then total up the monthly nut on mortgages, car loans, and other installment loans; add on what it would take per month to pay off your credit card in three years and your HELOC in five (you can use CNNMoney's debt-reduction planner to calculate both). Divide the sum by your projected monthly income.