One in five (20%) people retiring in the UK in 2016 expect to be in the red, owing £18,800 on average, according to research from Prudential.
The average is £3,000 or 14% lower than the typical debt of £21,800 last year.
Women planning to retire this year with debt will owe around £17,800 – a sharp £7,000 fall compared with 2015. The debts held by men remain virtually unchanged at around £19,600.
People retiring in debt in 2016 typically expect it will take three and a half years to pay off what they owe, but more than one in 10 (13%) say it will take seven years or more, and one in 12 (8%) believe they will never be debt-free.
A separate report released this week from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) found that 69 is the average age at which people can expect to celebrate their “debt-free birthday”.
The report, commissioned by peer-to-peer lender Zopa, found that people are generally over-optimistic about when they will be able to clear everything they owe, and underestimate their debt-free birthday by around 12 years.
The average level of retiree debt has fallen for four years in a row, halving since 2012 when people owed around £38,200, Prudential found.
New retirement freedoms introduced in April last year give people much greater freedom to cash in their pension pot how they wish. Some retirees may have put some of this cash towards paying down their debts.
Stan Russell, a retirement income expert at Prudential, said: “The average amount owed by retirees has been falling since long before the pension freedoms came into being, so we have to assume that other factors have been encouraging people to pay down their debts before they give up work.
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“However, our results show that the new freedoms are giving a helping hand to retirees who are keen to balance the books – 15% of those taking cash from their pension savings this year are doing so to pay off their mortgage while 12% are clearing unsecured (non-mortgage) debts.”
The biggest source of debt for people retiring in 2016 is credit cards, Prudential found. Just over half (51%) of people retiring in debt this year owe money on their plastic – while one in three (33%) have yet to fully clear their mortgage debt.
As the housing market continues to recover, the proportion of retirees owing money on their mortgage has fallen steeply, from 43% in 2015.
One in four (25%) people retiring in London and the South West this year will have debts, making these the regions where retirees are most likely to owe money.
The North East was the least likely region for retirees to say they still have debt, at 7%.
In Scotland, 18% of people retiring this year expect to have debts outstanding, while in Wales 14% will retire with debts.
Mr Russell said that despite the fall in average debt levels, the proportion of retirees owing money has remained “stubbornly high”.
Last year, 19% of retirees were expecting to retire in debt. In 2011, the figure was 21%.
Mr Russell pointed out that as well as professional financial advice, there is also free help available from places like the Government’s Pension Wise service and Citizens Advice.
Prudential’s research surveyed 1,000 people who are planning to retire in 2016.
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