You hoped you could finally relax, having gotten the kids through college and finally seeing retirement peeking just around the corner. But your later years aren't a time to let your guard down.
People over the age of 55 are filing for bankruptcy faster than anyone else, according to a study by John Golmant and Tom Ulrich, researchers at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. News reports of the study say that courts should anticipate a wave of new bankruptcy petitions as the baby boom generation ages.
The boomers' financial problems stem from growing mortgage debt and rising health-care costs, especially prescription drugs. Those costs mean boomers can't weather rough financial patches as well and they become vulnerable to bigger financial woes, just at the time many had probably hoped to finally be older, wiser, and financially secure.
This doesn't mean boomers have to sit by idly and wait for their turn at the bankruptcy judge's bench. They can take some defensive measures before their finances get too strained. In fact, we could all probably practice a little better defense when it comes to protecting ourselves from certain financial woes.
Reconsider your home loans
It has been tempting in this era of low interest rates to trade up to a bigger and better house or to tap into your home's equity for a source of easy cash. Those may be exactly the right decisions for you. However, a low-cost loan doesn't mean you're getting something for nothing -- you're still taking on debt. That's debt that you'll have to keep paying back once you've spent your home equity on remodeling projects, college costs, cosmetic surgery, or whatever caused you to seek the money in the first place. Before deciding to borrow against your home, figure out how those extra debt payments may affect your finances in good times and in bad.
Attack your health-care costs
Deciphering your insurance company's medical statements can be about as much fun as a root canal. Like taking your medicine, it tastes bad, but it's good for you and for your budget if a little investigation turns up some cost-saving measures. Start by learning everything you can about your health insurance policy, so you'll know what's covered and what's not before the doctor pulls out his prescription pad. Take the time to fight for your rights if your insurance company declines your claims. Learn whether you can cut your prescription drug costs by opting for generic drugs from companies like Mylan Labs
There are also some different health-care accounts that may help make your insurance costs more affordable. If your company offers them, look closely at any flexible spending accounts, which can cut the tax bill on your medical spending, or high-deductible insurance plans. Make sure the new medical coverage fits your needs before jumping to a lower-cost plan. The change could cost more in the long run if medical services you need aren't covered. Don't forget to floss and eat your green veggies, too.
Save for an emergency
Whatever your age, no one should be without a nice pile of money stashed someplace very safe and easily accessible just in case of financial turbulence. When you get older, you may be tempted to shortchange that emergency stash a little bit, especially if the kids aren't living at home and you're getting close to that golden moment called retirement. But those might also be the years when it could take longer to recover from a financial setback. Lose your job at age 30, and you'll probably find a good replacement fairly soon. Lose your job at age 60, and you might find it so difficult to get hired that you've accidentally entered retirement five years sooner than you expected.
As you get older, it's worth taking a little time to sit down and recalculate your emergency fund needs. Take your health and your career into account, as well as your plans for entering retirement. You might also want to make sure you're saving that money in the best place while you're at it. You can get help with both at the Savings Center.
If you want to shore up your personal finances across the board and make sure you're doing everything you can to avoid meeting that bankruptcy judge some day, take a cruise through the Motley Fool Green Light newsletter. You might find it especially useful to take a look at the personal finance calendar in January's edition, which could start you on a year-long financial tune-up.
Fool contributor Mary Dalrymple hopes to avoid court, bankruptcy and otherwise. She doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. Barr Pharmaceuticals is a Stock Advisor pick. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.