Average UK Consumer ‘Debt-Free At 69’

A new report has revealed that the average UK consumer will finally become debt-free at the age of 69 – a whole 12 years later than expected. The research, carried out by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) and the loan provider Zopa, concluded that a growing tendency for people to borrow money later in life is leading to more people being saddled with debt well into their retirement years.

senior citizen debt

Whilst the average ‘debt-free birthday’ age was found to be 57, the survey uncovered some dramatic variations across age groups and geographical areas. Key findings included:

  • People aged between 25 and 34 can expect to have cleared all their debts, including mortgages, by the time they’re 71.
  • 16 to 24 year olds will have even longer to wait, with an average debt-free age of 74.
  • Homeowners in the North East of England will be younger than average when they clear their debts, with a predicted age of 57.
  • The results were similar for homeowners in Wales and Scotland, which reported 57 and 58 respectively – largely due to lower house prices and a tendency to get on the property ladder earlier than average.
  • Meanwhile Londoners, whilst typically earning more, could take a whole 20 years longer than their Scottish counterparts to finally become debt-free at the age of 77.


Levels of optimism around clearing debt were also found to vary between age groups. Respondents aged 18 to 24 said they expected to be free of unsecured debts such as credit cards and personal loans by the time they turned 38. The reality is sadly different, with the predicted age of 66 being heavily influenced by student loans.


A more realistic attitude from older age groups resulted in an overall average expectation that people would be free from unsecured debts by the age of 50. Even so, according to the survey they’re more likely to be 64, representing a 14 year age gap between expectation and reality.


One of the main reasons for people being in debt for longer is the rising average age of first-time buyers, which is now 31. Because of this, the 35-44 age group tends to have the highest mortgage debt, with an average balance of £87,400, but is often burdened with other debts as well – extending the time it can take to become debt-free.


Giles Andrew of Zopa explains: ‘…Some people think that their unsecured debt is going to be cleared by the time they are in their mid-thirties or forties, and that is simply not happening. They are not clearing their debt before they get involved in the biggest purchase of their life which is buying a house.’


Andy Gorton, owner of bankruptcy advice service, Bankruptcy Clinic, adds: ‘Consumer borrowing in the UK is growing very quickly. According to the latest Money Charity statistics, the overall level of household debt – including mortgages – totalled £1.455 trillion at the end of 2015. That equates to an extra £627.09 per UK adult compared to the 2014 figure of £1.424 trillion. Meanwhile, average UK household debt levels stood at £53,904 at the end of 2015, with each adult owing an average of £28,891.


With figures like this, it’s hardly surprising that many people can expect to still be paying off debts, both secured and unsecured, into their 60s and 70s. A rise in the state retirement age will offset this to a degree as more people will stay in work for longer – but the fact remains that we’re likely to see more older people having debt problems in the years to come.’

Andy Gorton is the author and editor of the Bankruptcy Clinic

Andy Gorton – who has written posts on Bankruptcy Clinic Blog.

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