Senior debt a global concern, say experts

Canadian seniors are not alone in facing hard financial realities

Senior debt a global concern, say experts
Experts from around the world gathered to discuss the problem of senior debt at a conference in Ottawa Tuesday.

The conference, called “Carrying Debt to the Grave? The Increasing Indebtedness of the Elderly,” was held at Carlton University. It tackled the effects of indebtedness on seniors in Canada, the Netherlands, Portugal, and the US, according to CBC News.

"We knew that people [around the world] were working on this issue but we didn't think they were talking to each other, so we decided to try and bring them together," Saul Schwartz, professor of public policy and administration at Carleton University, told the news outlet.

As of 2012, 42.5% of people aged 65 and older were still in debt, according to Statistics Canada. While more recent figures are not available, factors such as huge mortgages, costs of divorce, health expenses, extending help to adult children, and investor abuse continue to take a financial toll on older Canadians.

“The prevalence of those things has been increasing and therefore the problems of debt amongst the elderly have been increasing,” Schwartz said.

Stacy Yanchuk Oleksy, director of education and community awareness at the Credit Counselling Society, said there are plenty of seniors who “have such a deep sense of obligation to pay their debt [that] they will forego repairs to their home, medication, [and] food, which has a significant impact on health and stress.”

Nadja Jungmann, a conference participant representing the University of Applied Science in the Netherlands, said seniors in her country face similar realities: increasing debt, having to work past 65, and extending financial help to adult children. An additional challenge is divorced women having to rely on government benefits, which often makes it hard to make ends meet.

According to both Schwartz and Jungmann, seniors can be hesitant to ask for assistance in dealing with debt. “People often don't go because they feel ashamed that after a life, in which they worked hard, now they are overly indebted,” Jungmann said.

“People need to know that there are solutions out there. They don't need to be ashamed,” Schwartz said. “You can't stick your head in the sand but you need to seek out the options that are available to you.”

Schwartz added that while borrowers are largely responsible for their situation, there should be strict regulation of lenders who unfairly sell people on debt.

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