One of four homeowners 30 years ago who were in their late 60s and 70s still had a mortgage. These days, nearly half have one. When people turned 80, mortgages used to be unusual, with just 3 percent being mortgage holders. These days, one in four of these older seniors have mortgages, according to “Housing America’s Older Adults 2019,” a report by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.
Seniors who have paid off their homes have more money to spend, which improves their standard of living in retirement.
The Squared Away Blog, written by the Center for Retirement Research of Boston College, reports on developments over the last 30 years that may explain why more older retirees have mortgages:
- Americans today seem to have less aversion to debt than the generation that grew up after the Great Depression. In addition, the 1986 tax reform act made mortgages debt more attractive because it eliminated the income tax deductions for interest on credit cards and other types of consumer debt.
- Mortgage rates have fallen dramatically in recent decades. Many retirees were able to reduce mortgage payments by refinancing old, partly paid off mortgages and replacing them with new 30-year loans with lower interest rates.
- The increase in house prices has made it more difficult to pay off a house before retiring.
- Baby boomers responded to the mid-2000s housing boom in by taking equity out of their homes. This increased the size of the mortgages they had in retirement.
It’s a negative trend that the share of households age 65 and older that are paying more than 30 percent of their income for – either rent or a mortgage – is at a record high.
See the report for other housing problems facing older Americans such as income gaps, lower home ownership rates, housing costs, housing accessibility, and lack of age friendly communities.