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AARP: Ages 50+ Hit Hard by Foreclosures, Home Equity Losses

July 19, 2012

SALT LAKE CITY - Millions of homeowners age 50 and older still are at risk of foreclosure, according to an AARP national report released today.

Utah doesn't track mortgage defaults by homeowners' age, although the state remains in the top 10 for its high foreclosure rate. For those over 50, says housing counselor Linda Walker with the AAA Fair Credit Foundation, falling behind on house payments is another peril of being in the so-called "sandwich generation."

"It's harder for 'em to start over, if they lose that house - and they don't have parents or grandparents a lot of times that they can go to and ask for help. A lot of times, they are supporting an elderly parent, or their own kids."

Walker used to see homeowners in their 50s and 60s as clients a few times a year. Now, she sees about 10 a week. AARP found that young homeowners still have higher delinquency rates, but the rate has increased faster among senior homeowners, climbing from 1.1 percent to 6 percent in the past five years.

People fall into a gap of sorts when they're close to retirement age, says Walker. If they have retirement savings, they can't access them without a penalty. They aren't old enough to qualify for a reverse mortgage. If they've lost home equity, there's nothing to borrow against, and the report says that is the case for 16 percent of homeowners older than 50. In these situations, she adds, there is no shame in asking for help.

"Money situations are hard for people to deal with, and they don't want to tell people about 'em. But the more people know, the more they talk about it, the more they know where to go to get help."

She recommends a nonprofit, HUD-approved counseling agency, and says there is no need to pay anyone to help with a mortgage modification.

According to the AARP report, people age 75 and older have a higher foreclosure rate than do younger seniors. That doesn't surprise Walker, who says there often is no one to help older Utahans sort out their personal finances.

"I've had a few that have only owed $8,000 to $15,000, and they just didn't open their mail - and they've actually had enough money to pay for it in the bank. One spouse or the other died, and the other spouse didn't know how to take care of bills."

The National Consumer Law Center released a report last week about the growing number of older people losing their homes to liens for unpaid taxes.

The AARP report is online at aarp.us/NXuq0d . The NCLC report is at nclc.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - UT