The Average Credit Card Debt for Baby Boomers Is $6,785. Here's Why That's a Problem

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  • Baby boomers have higher credit card balances than any other generation other than Generation X.
  • Because many baby boomers are retired on a fixed income, they risk getting trapped in an endless cycle when they rack up credit card debt.

Older Americans clearly are not immune to credit card debt.

Americans on a whole aren't strangers to credit card debt. And the average consumer today owes $6,320.98 on their credit cards, according to New York Life’s latest Wealth Watch survey.

Baby boomers, however, owe considerably more. Their average balance is closer to $6,785. And while that's not the highest balance among different age groups -- that dubious distinction goes to members of Generation X -- it's clearly higher than $6,320.98.

The reality, though, is that any amount of credit card debt is dangerous for baby boomers. Here's why.

It's hard to owe money when your income shrinks

Many baby boomers are either retired or on the cusp of retirement. And that means they may be limited to a fixed income -- one consisting of monthly Social Security benefits and modest withdrawals from an IRA or 401(k) plan.

In fact, it's often the case that retirees end up living on less income than they did while they were working. But when your income takes a hit, managing credit card debt payments can be difficult. And it puts you at risk of never paying off that debt in your lifetime.

To be clear, dying with credit card debt won't necessarily leave your heirs responsible for it individually. But if you have assets you want to leave behind to the people you love, your creditors will generally have the right to go after your estate to get repaid. So if you don't manage to pay off your credit card debt in your lifetime, those companies could get their money one way or another.

How to tackle credit card debt when you're older

If you're a baby boomer and are able to shed all of your credit card debt before retiring, that's great. If not, you may want to consider some creative ways to drum up cash and knock out that debt as quickly as possible.

One option is to become a participant in the gig economy. That could mean driving for a ride hailing service or moonlighting as a personal chef.

Another option is to see if your home could help you drum up cash. Many older people downsize their homes once they stop needing so much space. But if you didn't go that route, it may be possible to rent out an area of your home and use that income to pay off your credit card debt.

Keep in mind that you don't have to commit to a full-time tenant to monetize your home. If you live in an area that's touristy, you can rent out your home for a couple of weeks out of the year when you're not using it yourself.

Credit card debt is something that's best avoided at any age, but it's especially important to try to avoid it during retirement. And if that ship has sailed, your next best bet is to do what you can to shed that debt quickly. The sooner you do, the less money you're looking at losing to interest charges.

Our Research Expert

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