If You’re a Financially Insecure Older Adult, Start Here for Help

Many older people, many of them Baby Boomers, are struggling to make ends meet. Assistance for debt, groceries, healthcare and more is available.

An older woman looks concerned as she looks at paperwork while sitting on her couch.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Are you an older adult who wakes up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat because you are afraid that you will run out of money? Well, you are not alone. Nearly half of older adults have this fear. It’s a staggering fear for over 16.5 million people age 65-plus who are economically insecure and who have incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level.

Your paycheck may have stopped; you may have started to have medical problems and bills; the kids may be standing there with their hands out while you are trying to live on a fixed income. Of course you are scared. I’m getting scared just writing this.

Growing pains

There are about 40 million Americans over the age of 65 in our country, and by 2030, some estimate that that number could double. But our country is ill prepared to handle this growth. If you are in this age group, you know how expensive it is to make ends meet, if you even can.

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The result? You may want to pull your hair out, even if you have a lack of hair. What older adults don’t lack, though, is an abundance of debt. Experian found that people ages 58 to 77-plus have an average total debt of about $68,000.

The fear of high debt is real. One in four older people are afraid that they’ll never be able to pay off their existing debt. Forty percent of people 55 and older fear high medical bills.

It was reported that total debt for 70-plus older adults soared by 543% from 1999 through 2019. They are also taking on student loan debt at a surprising rate. In fact, adults in their late 70s have higher credit card and student loan debt than those 50 to 74.

Student loan debt

Baby Boomers have the highest average student loan payments, highest average loan balances and highest average interest rates of all generations. Older people hold about one-quarter of this debt, and it has grown fivefold since 2004. When it comes to individual loan amounts, Boomers tend to face bigger debt loads than other groups. Fidelity analysis found that Boomers had an average monthly loan payment of $620 in 2021. That compares to $490 for Gen X, $510 for Millennials and $480 for Gen Z.

The result? Those 55-plus account for 20% of bankruptcy filings. Job loss and medical expenses are the major culprits. Some feel that bankruptcy is their only way out.

You have not come a long way, baby

Older women are especially scared about not having enough money for retirement. This makes sense, because women live longer than men. Women will be retired for nearly 20 years vs. men, whose retirement is closer to 16 years. Because women have traditionally dropped out of the workforce to raise children more often than men, they have earned less and have not been able to save as much money for retirement. We also have to acknowledge that women still earn less than men. For all of these reasons, older women are more likely to live in poverty than men.

Older adults have to bear some of the responsibility for this dire predicament. They are not total victims in this financial crisis they face now. They lived above their means in a lot of cases—they spent too much, and they saved too little. In fact, when we look at retirement planning, almost half of the households headed by someone 55-plus had no retirement savings at all.

Now what?

For starters, be strong and resourceful and, most of all, proactive. Hiding bills in the drawer will not solve anything. Nor will playing Gone With the Wind’s Scarlett O’Hara, who throughout the epic novel repeatedly puts off worrying about her hardships until “tomorrow.” But tomorrow is today for you!

There are no hard and fast rules, but pundits think that as a retiree, you should live on about 70% to 80% of your preretirement income to sustain the lifestyle you have become accustomed to before you left the rat race.

There is help for older people who are struggling with debt and living expenses:

Debt relief

  • Be proactive. Pick up the phone and call your banks and credit card companies and explain the situation. They may stretch out the payments, lower the interest rates or forgive some of your debt. It’s worth a try.
  • Credit Counseling Services are available. They can also help to consolidate your debt and may make the phone calls to the credit card, student loan lenders and others. They will help you to get on the road to really reduce your debt.
  • Consider a reverse mortgage to take some cash out of your home to reduce some of your financial burden. It gets paid back when you sell, move or die.
  • Bankruptcy is your last resort to get rid of your debt. Please see a credit counselor before considering bankruptcy. You need to understand your options and consequences and the effect on your credit score.

Cutting housing/energy costs


  • Medicaid takes care of about 20% of the people enrolled in Medicare. Medicaid is a health care plan for people with very limited resources. Eligibility varies by state.



  • The Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) pays anyone over 55 years of age minimum wage to work at government or community agencies. To apply, visit careeronestop.org.
  • Side hustles or part-time work and remote work can be another option to earn some money. Check with your former employer. They know and trust you and may be thrilled to have you back part time. You may even make money teaching others some of your hobbies or sharing your talents. Be creative.

You can get a handle on your debt and lower your stress. Fear no more and just imagine how great you will feel when you are able to tell your money where it’s going instead of figuring out where it went.


This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Neale Godfrey, Financial Literacy Expert
President & CEO, Children's Financial Network Inc.

Neale Godfrey is a New York Times #1 best-selling author of 27 books, which empower families (and their kids and grandkids) to take charge of their financial lives. Godfrey started her journey with The Chase Manhattan Bank, joining as one of the first female executives, and later became president of The First Women's Bank and founder of The First Children's Bank. Neale pioneered the topic of "kids and money," which took off after her 13 appearances on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." www.nealegodfrey.com