Friday, January 30, 2009

debt & seniors

A 2006 study out by AARP, says that between 1995 and 2004, the average credit card balance carried by senior citizens went from $1,970 to $4,906 -- a 149 percent increase. This according to, a US-based site for caregivers. Their article guides caregivers to carefully watch what is happening, as seniors may lack the perspective, or the cognitive ability to understand their debt load and their funds.

In Canada the situation it different, in that we have Medicare, drug plans, and different methods for funding home care. That said, it is important to have early identification of cognitive abilities and executive functions of seniors as they become at risk for financial issues such as debt load, the costs of maintaining a home, they are at risk from anyone who can prey upon them, including those who interact with them on a daily basis.

According to Statistics Canada and the Bank of Canada, we have accumulated record amounts of debt — more than $36,000 per person in 2007, compared to $13,500 per person 30 years earlier. With seniors making up an increasing percentage of the population, we know that seniors, too, are retiring with debts. Scott Hannah, president of the Credit Counselling Society, a non-profit agency serving Western Canada, says that 14% of his clients are over age 56. We know, too, that elderly women are at a greater risk for poverty than men. Seniors on the Margins: Aging in poverty in Canada (PDF) - September 2005.

We have rising bankruptcy rates, and many offers to put mortgages on homes for seniors who meed money. Yet, once a spouse dies, a senior must sit down with someone and evaluate their living conditions. With rising property taxes in Ontario, seniors are having extensions, and phased-in increases, but if you cannot afford physically, socially, emotionally and financially to live in your large home - it really is time to revisit this issue.

Wicked people who prey on seniors, to bilk them of their hard-earned cash. They offer contracts, take their down payments and disappear. Some offer bizarre deals on natural gas delivery, on a door-to-door basis, and rip people off that way. Unless you are vigilant, this may get by anyone at any age. (I nearly got hooked in!)

The credit card companies keep upping one's credit limit, with ridiculous interest rates, and numerous offers to send one MORE cards. offers this advice:
  • Help out (financially), but only a little and be careful
  • Tap outside helpful resources -bank managers, churches, Meals on Wheels, CCAC, Food Banks, Red Cross
  • Hire an agency to help with the financial issues, such as paying bills (check out the links under resources), look for Senior's Services, i.e., A Friend in Need, etc. from the website, it helps if you try 211[insert your community], i.e.,
  • There are Geriatric Care Management & Assessment Services, i.e.,, that will help you connect when government agencies lack resources
  • Seek help from siblings - don't be afraid to delegate
  • Safeguard your own money

Stories abound on (free) credit counselling, but prevention is the key. As an adult son or daughter it would be prudent to monitor parents. What worked for them in a previous (economic) era might not work now.

I have written previously about planning ahead, as well as being vigilant. You must sit down with ailing seniors, help them to determine where they are, how they are doing, what happen if/when... There might be shame involved, or you might feel reluctant to finally turn over that relationship from adult child to supportive caregiver, but you owe it to yourself and your parents to help them find advice, support and encouragement and sort out myth from reality.

You have to show that you have their intersts at heart. You must find the right time: use tax time, or their mail as a cue or a key into the subject. I finally wrote mom a letter and told her that I was worried and stressed giving her extra care, and that I was able to find *us* more help and to let me know when she needed it. That turned things around. Parents often do not realize, as much as teenagers do, that their actions have an impact on you and that you worry about them. As with teens, or toddlers, you give only as much help as they need, and encourage them to make decisions on their own - if they are capable.

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