By Tamara Crane
Debt is a bully. It can be bigger, stronger and more intimidating than any schoolyard kid who took your lunch away when you were younger. It’s especially hard for seniors. Seniors are faced with debt when their fixed incomes have little excess to dig themselves out of mounting bills.
Older middle-class Americans are now carrying more credit card debt than younger Americans, according to the AARP. Some debts are from old loans or more recent ones that older Americans take to go back to school or pay for college for their kids. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) reports that for older Americans, debt collection is the top complaint.
For some, their “golden years” may feel more like “leaden years,” as they face harassing phone calls from debt collectors. Some seniors even report receiving illegal threats to garnish their Social Security and other federal benefits. The distress caused by being harassed by a debt collector aggravates any existing medical conditions and could endanger their health and well-being.
We need to fight back against this problem. Washington Community Action Network and the Alliance for a Just Society are planning a national conversation on debt. This conference, Up From Debt, will talk about the impact of debt on people’s lives and analyze how the structures and institutions push people into the debt trap. The convening will go deeper into specific battles including credit card, medical, student, mortgage debt as well as the legal financial obligations of prisoners as they re-enter society. The Up From Debt conference will be a place to break the shame and isolation of debt to gain empowerment and find solutions.
The conference takes place on Saturday, March 14, at the SEIU 775 Office on 215 Columbia Street in Seattle. Register at www.washingtoncan.org or call Xochitl (pronounced Sochi) at (206) 557-9456.
As we are building this movement. We would love to hear your story, good or bad, about debt, to be shared with others who may be in the same situation and need to know they’re not alone. You can get in touch with us by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (206) 389-0050. Meantime, here is what the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recommends:
Protecting your federal benefits: Seniors need to know that most federal benefits are protected from debt collectors. When federal benefits are received by direct deposit to a checking account, the bank or credit union is required automatically to protect up to two months’ worth of these benefits. Benefits received on government-issued prepaid cards are also protected.
Identify the debt: Older consumers report that collectors often reject or ignore their attempts to correct cases of mistaken identification. Identifying where the debt originated from can often eliminate debt collector’s harassment.
Putting a stop to the harassment: One of the most common debt collection complaints the CFPB receives from seniors is that that collectors use abusive and aggressive tactics to intimidate, aggravate or coerce them into making payments. Stand your ground!
Tamara Crane is on the Executive Board of Washington Community Action Network and is a PSARA member