Older Americans are caught in a financial crunch

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According to a recent USA Today article and a survey by Demos, consumers 65 and older are carrying an average of $10,235 in credit card debt, up 26 percent from 2005. Reduced retirement savings, rising medical costs and fixed incomes are leaving many senior citizens feeling hard-pressed for cash; forcing them to rely on credit cards to manage day-to-day expenses.

With as many as 9.5 million retired Americans trying to rejoin the workforce, it's evident that this population has been hit especially hard by the recession. According to AARP, a quarter of the one million Americans that filed for bankruptcy last year were age 55 and older, which implies older consumers are feeling financially vulnerable and desperate.

The experts at Money Management International (MMI) offer the following suggestions to help senior citizens get out of debt and stay out of debt.

Prioritize your debts. Some debts are more important to pay promptly than others. For example, you must continue to make mortgage or rent payments so that you do not lose your home. You must also pay utilities and provide food. Also, be careful not to let your insurance coverage expire - both medical and personal.

Know your rights. Do not feel "bullied" by collectors into making payments you cannot afford or paying debts that may not be yours. Visit to read about your rights when dealing with collectors.

Work with your creditors. Many creditors, particularly doctors and hospitals, may be willing to reduce your required monthly payments. If you are able to negotiate a revised payment schedule, get all of the details in writing to avoid future problems.

Consider a reverse mortgage. A reverse mortgage can turn the value of your home into cash without having to move or to repay the loan each month. For more information, visit .

Consider mail order. Many seniors are overwhelmed by the high cost of prescription drugs, and credit cards seem to be a quick resort. Contact your insurance company and consider purchasing them through the mail, which is most often less expensive.

Just say no. Be careful to avoid letting your children or relatives use your credit cards or by co-signing for loans. This is a quick way to get into a world of financial trouble.

Research opportunities for income. If you have a whole-life insurance policy, you may be able to cash out. You might also consider taking on a part-time job or selling unneeded assets.

Finally, don't be afraid to ask for help. Research any and all assistance offered by local city and county government offices, or seek help from your local United Way. If you would like help in repaying debts and establishing a realistic spending plan, visit .