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Last Updated: Friday, 10 February 2006, 19:10 GMT
Have Your Say: Elderly debt

Over 60s are getting deeper into debt than almost any other age group, according to one debt advice agency.

On Saturday, Money Box heard the story of one woman who was shocked to find her late aunt had built up 26,000 of debt on four different credit cards.

We asked for your comments. This is what you had to say.

I am 69 years-old and am in a lot of debt with my seven credit cards. I didn't have very much money of my own and did not want to be a burden on my children.

These debts are ruining what time I have left of my life
I realise now that I will probably end up an even bigger burden on them now as don't know where I will be able to get the money to pay back my debts.

These debts are ruining what time I have left of my life. I have been stupid and know I don't know what to do.

It has been a comfort to hear that there are other people in the same position as me. Thankyou.

My aunt passed away last year, aged 73, owing nearly 15,000 to banks, credit card and finance companies with an estate of just over 700.

She was living in rented accommodation so there was no way these companies could be reimbursed. Surely they should not lend to elderly people on a fixed income with no property of their own?

I have had to go to all the time and trouble of obtaining probate just to give these companies a fraction of what was owed to them.
Pat, Essex

There is no doubt in my mind that the credit card companies are completely cynical in their approach and give no consideration to the consequences of their ludicrously irresponsible lending policies.

The credit card companies are completely cynical in their approach
Peter Wakelin, Worcester
Any denials on their part are of course total nonsense and mere spin, as every right-thinking person knows.

I am 59 and financially savvy and luckily am in the fortunate position of being able to clear all my debts with plenty to spare in the next few months and credit cards will no longer be an issue for me.
Peter Wakelin, Worcester

I am very shocked that the key question in the case study you used was not asked: was the elderly relative in question fully aware of what she was doing? Perhaps she was.

Perhaps she intended to use her house to cushion her pension and thinking "you can't take it with you" decided that credit cards were the most convenient way of achieving this goal.

Perhaps she wanted to live a slightly nicer lifestyle, and, having paid for her house, took a conscious decision to benefit from the equity therein.

In general the levels of debt people are allowed to get into in this country are pretty appalling, but elderly people who own their own homes are probably the one group who really do have the means to pay it back.

I know of a number of people in their 50s who have been enticed into large debts by irresponsible banks keen to maximise their loans business.

People with a relatively minor, short-term financial problem are granted loans, gold cards and other inducements. This initially solves their problems but often the debt increases and repayments become unrealistic.

Banks... must take a more responsible attitude to helping their clients
John, Hampshire
At this stage the local high street bank hands over the "problem" to their credit recovery colleagues. Legal action and bankruptcy have in my experience been the consequences.

What should be done? Legislation, better codes of practice, public exposure of offenders, corporate responsibility...

Banks make large profits, they must take a more responsible attitude to helping their clients and not just think of us as short-term sales opportunities.
John, Hampshire

I can barely believe this! A disappointed relative with apparent support from a high profile Liberal Democrat, complaining about the fact that her aunt was permitted to run up debt.

Do our liberal values not permit a retired person of sound mind to run up whatever debts she wishes for whatever necessities or luxuries she wishes to enjoy in her retirement?

It is a matter between her and her bank and neither has earned the slightest recrimination.

Who actually suffered as a result of this situation? The woman who died is obviously no longer affected. The credit card company will get the money they're owed. In this case, is it just the case that the family are reluctant to forfeit what they feel is their inheritance?
Anneka Maize

I don't want to see older people victimised by scammers, but I'd rather see them make their lives a little more comfortable than worry about leaving assets for a younger generation that is completely able-bodied.
Denise Dumas, London

I was appalled at attitude of the niece of the lady who had died. She was apparently not wanting to pay the deceased's credit card bills from the estate.

The aunt had presumably led a better quality of life due to the extra money, and if that reduced the amount she can pass on to others, so what? Do they begrudge the fact she had money to spend towards the end of her life?

I would hate to see the banks apply any kind of age discrimination on who can borrow
John Bradley, Newcastle
Secondly, I would hate to see the banks apply any kind of age discrimination on who can borrow.

The banks should carry on as they are - lending on the basis of their judgement as to whether the borrower can repay - not on the grounds of age.

The family should pay off these credit card bills without running to the BBC to sort out their problems.

The money was borrowed, the deceased lady enjoyed it while it was there, and now it should be paid back. The niece is no worse off than she was before the death. (My sympathies on her loss)
John Bradley, Newcastle

I am sick of older people - of whom I am one - being regarded as a hapless group, incapable of running any aspect of their lives without the help of some well-meaning but quite often incompetent special interest group.

I am happy to say that my bank treats me, and presumably its other older customers, as what we are, and that is, responsible, thinking, competent adults.

What a pity Money Box doesn't do the same and at least use the phrase "some older people" indicating that it does not think we are all lacking in the ability to make intelligent financial decisions.

After all, a large majority of us have managed to run our lives successfully for quite a few years.
Peggy Thompson, Warwick

I am delighted with the comments I am reading. I was angry with your caller and felt happy that her aunt had some enjoyment in her life in her "modest" way. If it can be taken out of her estates, why not?
Caroline Jamison, Salisbury

I can't see anything wrong with people making use of their savings or the capital invested in the property. But what I find really difficult to understand is the attitude of some people who suggest that the behaviour of the banks in the cases cited on this page is acceptable.

I do not believe that credit limits are determined on ability to pay. Rather they are increased on the banks assessment that because you have paid in the past, then you'll pay in the future. And probably that simple formula works the majority of the time.

Also, I wonder if a credit card issuing bank can be aware of whether you own or rent the property in which you live. You have to declare this information when you first ask for a card, but do they check later on to ask if you have sold you house and moved in to rented accommodation? Is there a clause in the small print that says you have to tell them this?
Geoff, London

So many women of 60 plus have found themselves without the chance to build up a pension and in low-cost, short-lease housing, after divorce. The only way of getting extra income is via credit card.

Times change - but not the cold hard facts of living on the poverty line that is the basic pension
Lynne Rees, London
I am in this position and have told my children that they can finance me now and take it out of the proceeds on my death - or I use credit cards for my large bills which roll in with regularity.

Only a generation ago, most families did not expect more than enough to bury the dead and perhaps a Post Office account with a little hard-earned savings. Times change - but not the cold hard facts of living on the poverty line that is the basic pension.
Lynne Rees, London

When I come to retire, I will see nothing wrong in acquiring large credit card debts, provided I can meet the minimum monthly repayments without hardship.

If pensioners were given a decent pension they would not be faced with having to take out large credit card debts
Jill, Eastbourne
The fact that my property will be worth less when I die because the credit card companies will take the money owing to them doesn't bother me.

It would be interesting to know if credit card companies offer the same limits to those pensioners on low incomes who do not own their homes.

Of course, if pensioners were given a decent pension that did not just go up in line with the Retail Price Index but also in line with increases in fuel and council tax, they would not be faced with having to take out large credit card debts.
Jill Balquin, Eastbourne

My 82-year-old mother was bombarded by false competition and lottery scams.

When we realised she had spent her entire life savings and was running up debts on her credit card I spoke to the company concerned.

I pointed out that she was on basic pension and therefore her credit limit was too high, that her card had clearly been hit a number of times, sometimes 10 times day with fraudulent debits for the same amount.

She is now 7,000 in debt and with no ability to pay
Julie, Guildford
They refused to completely cancel her account but cancelled the current card and investigated the fraud.

I asked them to set a small credit limit, but in fact they re-issued the card, ignored the continuing fraudulent debits from the same companies, and left her with a ridiculously large credit limit.

She is now 7,000 in debt and with no ability to pay. They didn't tell her that she had exceeded her credit limit but just sent her monthly bills with increasing charges which she didn't understand.

We are still in dispute with them and fear that they will make a move against her only asset, her home.
Julie, Guildford

My mother, on a small pension, ran up credit card debts before she died, which we repaid out of her the sale of her house, and in a way, I felt very pleased that she had been able to spend some of her sorely needed capital before her death.
Sue, Oxford

What is wrong with an elderly person deciding to live well and die poor?

I have told my son he can have it while I am alive but not to expect anything to be left when I die
Deborah, Frome
Their beneficiaries may be put out but it's not their money and they should not feel aggrieved if their relative's estate is depleted by repayments to creditors.

The niece who sounded so aggrieved did not claim that her aunt had suffered in any way.

I have told my son he can have it while I am alive but not to expect anything to be left when I die.
Deborah Gibson, Frome

My husband has left us with 150,000 worth of debts through various loans and credit cards.

I am amazed that each of the companies did not undertake a full credit history on him before agreeing to the loans.

I am very keen for new legislation to stop this happening any more.

I have been faced with the shock of finding out and the risk of losing my home and my business.
Caroline, Hereford

Perhaps credit cards are the only way an older homeowner can spend some money to enhance their old age. Does it really matter?

If the money in the estate covers the expenditure there doesn't seem much of a problem.
Stella, Stratford Upon Avon

I don't see why elderly people shouldn't spend on their credit cards, provided they are aware of the debts they are incurring and that money may be taken from their estates to pay their debts after their death.

Far better for someone to enjoy their own money in their lifetime
D Jay, Bath
After all, many older people have lots of money tied up in their houses but a small fixed income on which to live.

Obviously, if people die leaving huge debts, which their families are liable to repay, that's another matter.

But far better for someone to enjoy their own money in their lifetime, rather than living miserably on very little income, leaving vast sums, which have built up in their estates, to relatives or the tax man.
D Jay, Bath

Your piece on debt and older people was patronising and ageist as it implied older people can't make informed decisions about going into debt and need to be protected from them selves.

You clearly stated the woman who owed 26,000 on her cards didn't have enough income to justify the lending.

Many older people are asset rich and income poor. What your piece should have pointed out was the difficulty older people in such situations have in getting cheap and unbiased financial advice, so they can access the value of their assets with out putting their homes at risk.

Overall, not the level of insight and analysis I expect from BBC Radio 4.
Andrew Reece, Coventry

My mother had a credit card account. The arrangement was that this account would be financed by payments taken by the bank from the current account.

Unfortunately, only the minimum amount was being transferred.

My mother had no possibility of paying the amount accruing from her pension.

Although she was being made aware of her financial situation by the usual bank statement she always read the balance as an amount remaining in her account.

Additionally, whenever the bank became concerned, they would arrange a meeting, which always resulted in an extension of the credit limit.

My mother's ability to pay was not a concern to them
The outstanding balance had risen to 3,000 and was increasing rapidly.

The severity of the situation was made apparent to me only when I was granted Power of Attorney.

In that capacity my initial enquiries to the bank were met by the response that they were unconcerned as the account was being financed by the current account.

My mother's ability to pay was not a concern to them, any more than was the increasing balance.

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