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Top 5 Signs a Senior in Your Life is Struggling with Debt

The Golden Years May Have a New Name: The Bankrupt Years

In the past month or so, a number of articles in the news have come out showing that seniors are declaring bankruptcy at an increasing and alarming rate. The debt burden on seniors is going up due to student loans, credit cards, and lack of retirement savings.

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Often, the difficult part for seniors is talking to someone to figure out what to do with debt. They are vulnerable to scams and slick sales pitches because of this fear of others finding out that their finances are not in great shape. There also tends to be a feeling of pride and really wanting to solve the problems themselves because that is how they have always done things.

The problem then becomes getting help for someone who may not be willing to admit to others, especially close family members, that there may be a problem. So, what are some signs that will help you identify potential problems before a senior in your life has to resort to bankruptcy?

  1. Unopened mail. This is not necessarily a generational or senior issue. Someone who is afraid and avoiding a debt problem will avoid opening the mail. From a senior standpoint, caregivers or family members may notice piles of unopened mail on the counter or in a drawer.
  2. Never-ending phone calls. Someone who is in debt will usually receive a lot of phone calls from creditors or even collection agencies. The phone ringing off the hook can be unnerving to the senior, but also a noticeable red flag that something may need to be addressed.
  3. Avoiding home repairs. Home repairs can be expensive and can be one of the first things that get neglected when money is tight. Paying attention to the condition of the home when visiting a loved one can clue you in to problems before the situation becomes dire.
  4. Skipping meals or not going out with friends and family. I once met with a lady who was worried about her mother. Every time she would ask her mother to go out for a bite to eat, the mother would come up with an excuse. We later found out that the mother was embarrassed that she could not afford to eat and did not want her family members knowing how bad it was.
  5. Missing mortgage payments. There have been interesting studies done that show that consumers are more likely to pay credit cards than mortgages when money is tight. Why? Because if you are one day late on your credit card payment, they are calling you multiple times a day (see #2 above). Mortgage companies very rarely call because they know if you do not pay, they can foreclose. There have been times where we only found out that the mortgage was not being paid because a notice of sale was posted to the door and a family member saw it.

If you notice any of these red flags, it can definitely be a difficult conversation to have with a loved one. However, the sooner the problem is recognized, the easier it is to develop options and strategies.

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Jen Lee, Attorney at Law
Jen Lee Law

Jen Lee is the managing attorney at Jen Lee Law with offices in San Francisco, San Ramon, and Tracy, CA.  She focuses her practice on helping individuals and business owners come up with effective legal and financial strategies to deal with debt and credit issues.  Jen is the creator of Employees Are Assets™, an innovative program to reduce financial stress in the workplace and save employers thousands of dollars every year. She is the co-author of Preventing Credit Card Fraud: A Complete Guide for Everyone from Merchants to Consumers, published by Rowman & Littlefield in March of 2017. Jen has 2 daughters, Ingrid (4) and Heidi (2), and is also active in dog rescue and foster organizations.