CFPB: Seniors Carrying More Mortgage Debt, Face Greater Risk Of Foreclosure

The Great Recession has resulted in a number of economic challenges for seniors, including increased mortgage debt, less affordable housing and a greater risk of foreclosure, according to a report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

About 80% of the 41 million Americans age 65 and older own a home – and the rate of homeownership among this group has remained fairly stable over the past several decades, the report finds. However, due mainly to the refinancing boom of the 2000s, a higher percentage of seniors are holding mortgages than in the past. Second mortgages, including reverse mortgages, are also keeping many seniors mired in debt for longer periods of time – and the debt loads are heavier than in the past.

According to the report, the percentage of seniors carrying mortgage debt increased from 22% in 2001 to 30% in 2011. Among those aged 75 and older, the rate more than doubled during that same time period, from 8.4% to 21.2%.

What's more, the average amount of mortgage debt per senior increased by about 82% – from $43,300 in 2000 to $79,000 in 2011.

In addition, many older Americans have accrued less home equity than their age group did a decade ago. This decline in home equity is a major concern, as home equity is frequently a senior's only asset. As the CFPB points out, the result is less financial security and greater financial risk.

Making things even scarier for older Americans is the fact that the cost of housing (including rents) has increased significantly in the past year. According to the report, more than half of the 4.4 million retired homeowners with mortgage debt spend 30% or more of their income on housing-related costs.

Finally, the report shows that delinquency and foreclosure rates among seniors increased five-fold after the financial crisis. From 2007 to 2011, the percentage of seniors (age 65 to 74) who were seriously delinquent (90-plus days late or in foreclosure) increased from 0.85% to 4.96%. For those over age 75, it increased from 1.01% to 5.87%.

The report is based on data gathered from the Census Bureau, the Federal Reserve and consumer complaints submitted to the CFPB, among other sources. As a result of the report's findings, the CFPB is reminding older consumers approaching retirement to think about their mortgage pay-off date and to consider their retirement income and expenses.

‘A home can be a place of security for older Americans in their retirement years – a roof over their heads, as well as a valuable asset,’ says Richard Cordray, director of the CFPB, in a release. ‘But as more seniors carry significant mortgages into retirement, they put themselves at risk of losing their nest eggs and their homes.’

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