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Seniors air credit card concerns at Halfmoon forum

About a hundred local seniors turned out at the Halfmoon Senior Center for a field hearing by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit on Tuesday, Aug 7.

The topic was credit cards and older Americans.

U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-Hudson, asked the subcommittee's chairwoman, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-Manhattan, to hold a local hearing after learning the topic was of concern to area residents.

Among the suggestions made at the hearing were improved disclosure of interest rates and penalties by credit card companies, improved financial literacy among seniors, and encouraging seniors to use debit cards instead of credit cards.

Credit cards play an important role in the lives of many Americans by offering convenience and financial security in unforeseeable situations, Gillibrand said. "However, I'm concerned that too many seniors, who after decades of hard work and service to this country, are drowning in unaffordable debt."

Five witnesses testified at the hearing, including Robert O'Connell, Executive Council with AARP New York.

"While credit card companies have every right to earn a profit, AARP is concerned that the consumers in the marketplace be treated fairly and that credit card companies not reap huge financial rewards from the very practices that sink customers deeper and deeper into debt," he said.

O'Connell cited a report, "Retiring in the Red," by Demos, a non-partisan think tank in New York.

The report said that the average self-reported credit card debt among seniors increased by 89 percent from 1992 to 2001 to over $4,000, and that seniors between 65 and 69 years old saw an increase in total credit card debt of 217 percent in that time period.

"Unfortunately, what the data suggests is that many older Americans use credit cards as a plastic safety net to make essential purchases they cannot otherwise afford, including out-of-pocket medical expenses, energy and utility bills, and rising property taxes," Maloney said.

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