Studies show that people in the United States are waiting longer to retire. Whether it’s because they’re motivated to stay active in a career, want to make a difference in the world or struggling with skyrocketing bills, 46 percent of US employees over 50 now say they plan to work longer than they once expected. A third of workers 55 to 64 expect to work at least five years more than originally planned, according to a 2011 Towers Watson survey.
Here are some top reasons people give for postponing retirement, according to Towers Watson, Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging Work and other experts on baby boomers and work:
1. They’re staying longer in jobs with employer-paid benefits because private health insurance is so expensive. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of older workers cite health coverage as a reason to delay retirement, according to the May/June 2010 Towers Watson retirement attitudes survey of 3,099 US workers in nongovernment jobs. Covering health-care costs is even more important to people in poor health: Of that group, an overwhelming majority (77 percent) say they’ll keep working until they’re eligible for Medicare benefits.
2. They’re saddled with debt. Older Americans are sinking under credit card, medical and other bills; 63 percent of workers said they were actively paying off debt, more than double the number from 2009, according to the Towers Watson survey. Retire Smart columnist Mark Miller found that in a recent national sampling of consumer debtors, the average age of bankruptcy petitioners is rising, with the sharpest increase among those over age 55. While older people account for a relatively small share of overall bankruptcy filings, the rates of increase are dramatic: From 1991 to 2007, the percentage of bankruptcy petitioners age 65 to 74 rose 178 percent.
3. Their homes are mortgaged to the hilt or can’t sell in the current market. Some boomers dream of moving someplace new and affordable in retirement. But realizing that dream is getting harder. According to Miller, 63 percent of people in their late 50s and early 60s are carrying mortgage and home-equity debt, up from 49 percent in 1989. Since the housing bubble burst, it’s gotten a lot harder to sell. Between 2005 and 2010, mobility rates among older US homeowners fell 39 percent, the sharpest drop of all age groups, according to a report from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, which predicts some homeowners will not be able to retire elsewhere unless housing and financial markets stage a sharp rebound.
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