A publication of NCLC’s National Legal Resource Initiative for Financially Distressed Older Americans
National Consumer Law Center – 77 Summer Street, 10th Fl. – Boston, MA 02110 – 617/542-8010
Advice for Seniors About Credit Cards
Credit card debt can cause tremendous financial problems for
consumers. Credit card problems are a leading cause of consumer bankruptcy
filings. Contrary to popular myth, huge credit card bills are not mostly due to
irresponsible overspending. Many low-income consumers resort to credit cards
to meet pressing family needs after losing a job or due to an emergency. Others
find themselves hopelessly in credit card debt due to snowballing finance
charges, late fees, and other high fees.
Older Americans are by no means immune from this problem. The
average credit debt of older Americans rose by 89 percent between 1992 and
2001, from $2,143 to $4,041. Seniors between 65 and 69 years old saw the most
staggering rise in credit card debt—217 percent— to an average of $5,844.
Among seniors with incomes under $50,000 (70 percent of seniors), roughly one
in five families with credit card debt is in debt hardship, that is, they pay more
than 40% of their income for debt payments.1
This publication is designed to help elder advocates to educate their
clients to use credit cards wisely. A companion Consumer Facts publication
“Your Credit Card Rights” provides information on what to do when an older
American has a problem with a credit card company or merchandise bought
with a credit card.
1 Tamara Draut and Heather C. McGhee, Retiring in the Red: The Growth of Debt Among Older
Americans, Demos, February 2004.
77 Summer Street, 10th Fl
Boston, MA 02110
Things To Think About Before Taking A New Card2