AARP survey shows many seniors struggle with crippling debt

One-third of people over 50 say rising cost of debt is adding stress to their lives, and one in five said it is making them depressed, according to the 2023 AARP Debt Survey.

A whopping 61% of survey respondents admit their level of debt is a problem, and 16% said it is a major problem.

At Forward From 50, I have interviewed a number of people who retired and are engaged in active lifestyles, but without debt. In fact, I suspect debt is often the No. 1 hindrance to a happy, joyful retirement, or certainly No. 2, right behind health problems.

Unfortunately, the two may be related. The staggering cost of healthcare often pushes more seasoned citizens into even greater debt, especially if they rely on credit cards to pay for expenses not covered by insurance.

A friend of mine who just moved to Arizona reported having to pay $700 for a blood test at a clinic and $950 for a one-hour routine physical examination. Yes, he has insurance, but it won’t cover preventative care.

“People are entering the retirement years with mortgages they have to pay, and they’re carrying credit card debt,” Lori Trawinski, director of finance and employment for AARP’s Public Policy Institute, told Fox Business. “We’re seeing auto loans as well. And then to add to this, there is a small percentage of people carrying student loan debt into their retirement years as well.”

That is absolutely stunning to me. People are still paying student loan debt into their 50s and 60s!

Credit cards are often the most crippling type of debt, with interest rates approaching 16% to 18% for people with exceptional credit, according to Forbes. Many seasoned citizens are forced to used credit cards for even routine purchases, AARP discovered.

Overall, 84% of adults 50-plus who carry debt say that taking on debt is necessary for some people to make ends meet and 74% say it is the only way for some to achieve their life goals, noted AARP Researcher S. Kathi Brown.

For people over 50 who have not yet retired, check with a financial advisor because it may be more advantageous to enter retirement with less savings, but zero debt. In fact, AARP found 68% of adults 50 and over who carry debt say that their debt has hurt their ability to save for retirement.

Mike Gill, who retired in his 50s, explained in a Forward From 50 feature, that he and his wife enjoy an active, travel lifestyle while working part-time, limited-term jobs.

“Because we were out of debt when we started, we have not had to draw down any of our retirement money even though we retired in our 50s,” he said.

The news story about debt’s impact on seasoned citizens can be found at on the Fox Business website. The 2023 AARP Debt Survey is available at

AARP offers tools to help seasoned citizens manage their money and debt. They can be found at the AARP Money Map.