Here’s what they found, along with some feedback from financial experts on what people can do if they face these situations.
Many struggle with debt. Some seniors are carrying more debt into retirement after years of helping children and grandchildren, says Mike Sullivan, a personal finance consultant with Take Charge America, a national nonprofit credit counseling and debt management agency. The move to fixed income can generally make it more difficult for retirees to cope with debt payments, he said.
Some seniors turned to credit cards after facing an unexpected financial shock, such as a large medical bill, the CFPB report found. Others may still be paying off their mortgages or student loans, says Stacy Canan, of the office for older Americans for the CFPB. If consumers think they may start to fall behind on payments, they should contact their lenders to see if their loans can be adjusted, Sullivan says. A credit counselor may also be able to help them come up with a budget, he adds.
They face complications with reverse mortgages. Homeowners taking out reverse mortgages — which are loans that allow an owner to tap into the equity in their homes and delay repayments until he or she dies or sells the house — are generally still required to pay property taxes and homeowner’s insurance. People who fall behind on those payments may be at risk of facing foreclosure and losing their homes, according to the report. This situation can come up for seniors who struggle to keep up with monthly bills if the income they receive from the reverse mortgage is less than what they expected, says Jean Setzfand, senior vice president of programs for AARP. That’s why she recommends that reverse mortgages only be considered as a “last resort,” she says.
Some have difficulty recovering from scams or identity theft. Seniors frequently filed complaints if they had a hard time correcting errors on their credit report or disputing unauthorized purchases on their credit cards, according to the CFPB report. Many consumers said in the complaints that they weren’t sure about which steps they should take to find a solution. Consumers should check their statements regularly to scan for unusual charges and catch fraud early, says Canan.
There’s confusion over banking products and fees. Many of the complaints filed by older consumers were related to confusing charges on their bank and credit card statements. In some cases, consumers spotted subscriptions or services that they don’t remember signing up for, a sign that they may have been enrolled in unwanted add-on services when opening an account, Canan says. Other times, consumers had a hard time understanding how interest charges worked on their credit cards, according to the report. The findings are a reminder that consumers should check their statements regularly to look for unusual charges and to make sure that their cards are working as expected, Canan says.
There are challenges managing finances after the death of a spouse. The loss of a spouse can create financial challenges for the surviving wife or husband, particularly if that person was not used to managing the finances, Canan says. Many of the older consumers filing complaints with the CFPB said they had difficulty gaining access to certain assets, such as savings accounts, even after providing the necessary documents. Some people who had taken out reverse mortgages also had trouble staying in their homes if the agreement was in the deceased spouse’s name, according to the report. Some people may need to seek the guidance of a financial professional who can help them rework their strategy, says Setzfand.
Clarification: This story has been updated with a clearer explanation of a reverse mortgage