Figures released today by the equity release provider indicated one in five over-65s were struggling to repay balances accrued by surprise costs such as car repairs or helping their children in emergencies.
Their average credit card balance, the study revealed, was around £3,500, which is 286% more than the average single pensioner’s monthly income of £906 and 80% more than the £1,937 earned by couples.
Indeed, over half of this age group only clung on to their credit cards in order to pay one-off major bills, the research found.
Car repairs seemed to be the most commonly-occurring surprise bill, with 49% of over-65s citing it as their reason for relying on plastic.
Meanwhile, 39% said house repairs had been paid for with their card and 19% had used credit to help their children with financial emergencies.
Key Retirement said, levels of secured and unsecured debt had increased amongst over-65s from £70 billion to an estimated £80 billion in the past two years. Around £12 billion was attributable to unsecured debts such as credit cards and loans.
Dean Mirfin, chief product officer at Key Retirement, said: “It is astonishingly easy to sleepwalk into debt and it should be a case of expecting the unexpected in retirement as clearly many are facing shock bills.
“It is not possible to plan for everything and sometimes an unexpected bill will mean having to rely on credit cards to fund it.
“The problem then compounds itself if people cannot clear the balance and get caught by another surprise bill.
“Unfortunately, it all adds up which means a serious financial burden in retirement. People need to get help and look at all their assets which should include their property, if they are a homeowner.”
Key has released a guide, Managing Debt In Retirement, with independent financial expert Alvin Hall to provide advice and help to those both approaching and in retirement.