Debt can squeeze the spending power of seniors: Scott Terrio
March 10, 2022
Scott Terrio knows all about the issues facing senior retirees. Terrio, who is Manager, Consumer Insolvency at Hoyes, Michalos Licensed Insolvency Trustees, recalls doing “a lot of speaking engagements for senior groups” about money and debt. He said “retired people, who have lived a long time, ask a lot of questions (about finances), and they are certainly not a retiring bunch.”
Save with SPP spoke recently with Terrio by phone.
He says that debt is a problem for retirement, “both at the front end and the back end.” Debt can certainly encroach upon the money people want to set aside for their retirement, he explains, but it is even a bigger problem for those who are actually retired.
“Life is expensive,” says Terrio. As interest rates declined, and people’s equity grew, retirees – most living on a fixed income — began taking on debt for the first time. Seniors, he explains, began tapping into their equity for “various things,” such as helping the kids and grandkids get ahead and buy homes. These days, many have tapped into credit to pay for day to day living, he says.
Today’s retired seniors began making use of their equity, but at the same time, began to live longer. “People are living much longer than ever before. Retirement can last for 30 years or more.” That can be costly, Terrio says. “The cost of (long term care) will kill you financially,” he says. “Care is very expensive – thousands a month – and that adds up if you live into your 90s.”
Retirees typically get into trouble gradually, he says. A lot of newly retired seniors don’t realize that they will usually owe income tax unless they have their pensions and government benefits adjusted to withhold more tax. “They are used to being on payroll, where someone takes the tax off for you. That doesn’t happen when you’re retired, and you can find yourself in a hole.”
Owing the Canada Revenue Agency for unpaid taxes isn’t usually a huge debt, but if you don’t have money to pay it, it can be “the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” he explains.
It’s having to pay for things like taxes that starts seniors looking at credit, and debt, he notes.
Once you use up your credit card room, “the banks love giving lines of credit and higher credit card limits to seniors, who tend to have equity, and since nine of 10 of them tend to pay it back.”
That’s why the expected jump in interest rates is also concerning, Terrio says.
“When interest rates go up, they have a direct effect on lines of credit,” he says. “Even an increase of $100 a month in interest payments is bad news for a senior. Now they have to pay that every month. And since the real rate of inflation is probably six, seven or even eight per cent, everything you’re buying is now more expensive and you have less money to spend. That’s the main issue.”
Debt is not something people get into on purpose. “In any age category, very few get into debt intentionally. It’s a gradual creep, usually driven by events such as loss of a job, sickness, divorce. You can maybe absorb one of these things at a time, but two – no way.”
As well, older Canadians want to help their children and grandchildren save for education and housing. “We are seeing the greatest intergenerational wealth transfer of all time,” Terrio says. And that can use up savings and leave people with debt as their only option.
The problem with debt is that it no longer is seen as a bad thing, Terrio says.
Maybe, he says, older folks once saw debt as shameful, but it is “not a shame thing” for many Gen X, Gen Y or millennials. “The younger people get accustomed to it, they less they are bothered by it.”
The problem, he concludes, is that debt “is seen as cash flow as opposed to debt.” People need to remember that credit card and line of credit money “isn’t your money… it’s the bank’s money.”
We thank Scott Terrio, who many years ago worked in Swift Current for a major farm equipment company, for taking the time to speak with us. Did you know that the money in your Saskatchewan Pension Plan account is locked in until you reach retirement age, and is also creditor-proof? If you run into financial troubles on your way to retirement, your SPP nest egg will be unaffected. It’s another great feature of the SPP.
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Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.