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Study finds seniors are falling deeper into credit card debt

Households in Ohio and around the country headed by individuals over the age of 50 now owe more money to credit card companies than younger households according to data compiled by a leading think tank and the AARP. Half of the older Americans surveyed by Demos and the AARP's Public Policy Institute said that they had used credit cards to pay medical bills, and one in three told the researchers that they regularly use their cards to pay for food and other basic needs.

The worrying trend of seniors turning to credit cards to make ends meet is sometimes seen as evidence of poor financial planning, and older Americans who have failed to save adequately for their retirements can find themselves caught in a debt trap that is difficult to escape. While younger people can often take on extra work or borrow from their parents during financial emergencies, seniors generally have few options available to them in times of need.

Many older Americans are struggling to keep up with health care costs that have been soaring. An executive with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling says that spiraling levels of medical debt have prompted health care providers to start transferring unpaid bills to debt collectors much more quickly than they have in the past.

Using high-interest credit cards to pay for basic necessities or cover medical expenses may keep bill collectors at bay temporarily, but it does little to address the underlying causes of financial distress. Filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy allows for a fresh start, but many people struggling with unmanageable debt are reluctant to explore these options. Attorneys with debt relief experience could clear up many of the misconceptions surrounding such an action, and they may also explain how taking this path puts at least a temporary end to harassment from creditors and collection agencies.

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