Helen Nugent

Debt-free in retirement? Dream on

Debt-free in retirement? Dream on
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My parents are lucky. They're in their 60s, mortgage-free and not bogged down by any personal loans. But if new research is to be believed, they are likely to be one of the last generations to enjoy this financial freedom in retirement.

Saga Personal Finance has found that one in eight of the over 50s still has a mortgage. And the figure for so-called 'second-lifers' - people aged 50 and above who have children with a new partner following a previous marriage or long-term relationship - is one in five.

There's more bad news. The average mortgage debt owed by second-lifers is significantly higher than the typical amount for people their own age without a new family. According to Saga, which specialises in products for the over 50s, second-lifers estimate they have more than £80,000 left to pay on their mortgage compared to £60,000 for their contemporaries.

I can't imagine being mortgage-free in my 60s, let alone my 50s. In a world where it has become more common to start a new family after divorcing or separation, or have children later in life, debt has become a lifelong noose around the neck.

Consider the fact that as well as having a bigger mortgage to pay off, second-lifers are also more likely to have non-mortgage debts, such as loans. Around 18 per cent of those with a second family have almost £12,000 of outstanding debts on average, compared to 12 per cent of traditional families who have to find around £10,000 before they are back in the black.

And what about the cost of childcare itself? A recent report by the Child Poverty Action Group found that the cost of raising a child from birth to adulthood has reached a new high of almost £150,000, for food, clothing, childcare and 'social and cultural participation'. Those after-school clubs and music lessons really add up.

Saga surveyed almost 9,000 people - far more than is usual for a financial poll - so there's good reason to take its findings seriously. And there's no denying social change. The research found that 1 in 17 were 41 years or older when their youngest child was born, presumably leaving many people in their 60s paying for teenagers' driving lessons and university fees.

How is this growing band of second-lifers paying off their debts? Analysis of Saga Equity Release Advice Service data shows that some may be turning to the value in their property to help clear some of this debt, with around one in five people releasing equity from their home to pay off their mortgage, while one in three used the service to clear debt. So no inheritance for the children born later in their parents' lives.

Jeff Bromage, chief operating officer at Saga Personal Finance, said: 'Having children in later life keeps people on their toes and feeling young at heart. However, the cost of raising a child is continually increasing and these days people need to keep a close eye on their finances and make sure that they are getting the best deals, whether that’s when you’re borrowing money or investing it in the stock market.'

It's good advice. But not everyone has the luxury of disposable income or a pot of money squirrelled away for tough times. Perhaps the solution is a return to the habits of our parents: start a family young, take career breaks to bring the children up, and pay off the mortgage before collecting your P45. If that sounds deeply unappealing, you may need to prepare yourself to work until you drop.