Older Americans have more debt, less retirement security

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By Lindsey Reiser

SURRISE, AZ (3TV) -- When you're approaching 65, or past it, you should be worry-free when it comes to work and finances. But it turns out many are going deeper in debt.

"I had hopes of doing some travel, not extensive travel, but I did have hopes of making a couple of trips," said 73-year-old Esther Turner. "That's not going to happen, obviously."

Since Turner was laid off three years ago, she's had to rely on her credit cards for big expenses that come up.

"Things happen, one thing after another, if it's not a sprinkler system going or your water heater going, which happened consecutively, things happen" Turner said.

Turner isn't even thinking of retirement; in fact, she's looking for work.

"I have to think about either downsizing or selling the house completely," Turner said.

Turner isn't alone. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, the number of people age 55 and older in debt increased from 63 percent in 2010 to 65 percent in 2013. And how much debt they have is growing, too; about 9.2 percent of older Americans in 2013 had debt payments greater than 40 percent of their income, compared with 8.5 percent in 2010.

"You have this idea of retirement where it's going on trips and vacations and living that dream lifestyle and it is hard to see," said financial planner Joe Gleason with Gleason Financial Group. "The debt they're incurring is a result of being downsized in a job during the recession."

Like in Turner's case, underemployment is to blame. Other than foregoing restaurants and cable, he said having a plan of attack is crucial.

"If you've got a mortgage that's at 3 percent interest, that's a lot better than a department store credit card at 18 percent interest," Gleason said.

"It is what it is, things happen and you have no control over, so you bite the bullet and try to go on," Turner said.