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From 1991 to 2007, the rate of personal bankruptcy filings among those ages 65 or older jumped by 150 percent, according to AARP, which will release the new research from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project. The most startling rise occurred among those ages 75 to 84, whose rate soared 433 percent.
The study did not address the specific reasons behind the trend. But experts say medical bills have played a major role in the debt that has forced many elderly Americans into bankruptcy proceedings.
"Health care is a big issue for the elderly," says George Gaberlavage, director of consumer and state affairs at the AARP Public Policy Institute. "And out-of-pocket expenses have been going up."
"In past generations, older Americans were more financially secure," says Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law professor and co-author of the Consumer Bankruptcy Project study. "Now, instead of going into retirement loaded with assets, Americans are hitting their retirement years loaded with debt."
In previous decades, Warren notes, Social Security helped lift millions of older Americans into a solidly middle-class life. But now, with the rising cost of food, drugs and housing, Social Security often doesn't go far enough.