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Financial Assistance for Seniors: Government Programs and Debt Help

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Events that have created woes for seniors in the last few years — inflation, soaring healthcare costs and a pandemic that won’t go away — are proof of the old adage: Aging isn’t for sissies.

There is help for seniors struggling with debt. A variety of government and nonprofit agencies offer programs that can polish some of the financial tarnish off your golden years. Being courageous, determined, and resourceful in the face of mounting years doesn’t mean going it alone.

Types of Debt Worrying Seniors

One thing America has in abundance is seniors in debt, and there is reason to be worried about it. Consider: 53% of those 75 or older reported having debt, compared to 21% in 1989.

One of the top concerns of adults 65 and older has always been not having enough savings for retirement and not being able to pay off debt.

This is not idle fretting. The National Council on Aging and Consumer Finance reports that the number of adults who retire with debt is increasing, and increasing with them is the amount of debt they have.

Of adults who are 55 and older, one in four worry they’ll never pay off their debt, and 22% are afraid they won’t be able to afford rent or will need help with mortgage payments.

Medical Debt

High medical bills are a major anxiety for seniors. Forty-five percent of adults between 55 and 64 and 39% of adults 65 and older reported having concerns over medical expenses. In 2020, older adults’ medical debt totaled nearly $54 billion, 20% more than in 2019.

Student Loan Debt

Another debt-related problem is seniors taking on student loan debt. There’s a good reason some call the situation a crisis. There are six times as many student loan borrowers in their 60s or older as there were in 2004.

Those in the 60-plus category have nearly 20 times as much student loan debt as the same age group in 2004. The total student loan debt of those 3.5 million Americans 60 and older: $125 billion.


The cost of housing is  something else to cause concern says Lyle Solomon, a consumer finance litigator and the principal attorney at Oak View Law Group outside Sacramento, Calif.: “People nowadays are buying larger, more costly houses with less down payment and, as a result, carrying larger mortgages into retirement, which can push them toward a massive financial problem if they aren’t vigilant.”

Great. Even the American dream is a problem!

Meanwhile, more than 15 million adults aged 65 and older are classed as economically insecure, with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level. That number for 2024 is $15,060 for an individual and $20,440 for a family of two.

Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies published a study in 2023 that noted an alarming 400% increase in median mortgage debt for adults between 65 and 79. It was no better for those 80 and older, who saw their mortgage debt rise 750%.

Obviously, getting older doesn’t always mean things are getting better. Here is list of resources to tap if you need some help.

Social Security Income

Squint hard and, if you’re receiving — or soon to receive — Social Security or Supplemental Security Income benefits (or both), you can detect the faintest silver lining around the hungriest inflation in 40 years. Those collecting Social Security payments saw cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) spiking at a historic 5.9% at the beginning of 2022. The benefits for those who have not yet tapped in received a similar boost to their future income.

The boost added about $92 to the average Social Security check, which is now $1,767 per month. That’s an average only; your benefit may vary.

Organizations Helping Senior Citizens

Help abounds in programs for seniors seeking a smoother path through earned benefits. There are more than 2,500 of them, according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA).

You just need to know where to look.

NCOA created Resources and Support for Older Adults Living Alone: A Comprehensive Guide, which contains practical tips and resource recommendations from geriatric health experts and advocates, including:

  • PACE programs, which use Medicare and Medicaid to help older adults get home-level nursing care.
  • Benefits like the Aid and Attendance pension that help veterans offset the costs of long-term care.
  • NCOA’s BenefitsCheckUp tool, which helps older adults identify their potential eligibility for benefits and other programs.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” says Jay Zigmont, a certified financial planner and founder of Water Valley, Miss.-based Live, Learn, Plan. “Many seniors are reluctant to ask for help until things get tough. Your family, friends, and community are here and ready to help where they can. That help could be in filing for Medicare, budgeting, making food, or anything you need. Just ask.”

Leading Assistance Programs for Seniors

Finding financial help for seniors is one thing, but if you aren’t sure who to ask, or where to look first, you can start with the following programs.

  • Volunteers of America — provides a wide range of service programs, such as meal programs, transportation, help with Medicare enrollment, nursing care, and affordable housing.
  • Senior Living — offers a database of senior living options from independent living to hospice-based care.,
  • Feeding America — provides meals for seniors by working with a nationwide network of food banks.
  • Retirement Jobs — helps seniors not only find companies that match their skillset and employment needs, but also navigate age bias to secure employment.
  • Dental Lifeline Network — provides access to dental care by working with volunteer dentists and dental labs across the U.S.
  • Meals on Wheels America — through locations across the country, serves home-cooked, nutritious meals to adults 60 and above, served at home or in a group setting.
  • AmeriCorps Seniors — links volunteer seniors to other seniors for daily tasks and companionship.
  • National PACE Association — offers rehabilitation, personal, medical, and other types of care.
  • ADA Paratransit — provides complimentary transit to eligible seniors with limited mobility.
  • BenefitsCheckUp — provides access to services for seniors, such as medications, healthcare, tax relief, and senior employment.

Government Programs for the Elderly

Some government programs can bridge the gap between expenses and income. There are senior-specific government programs available at local, state, and federal levels.

Three major expenses after retirement are housing, food, and healthcare.

Here are just some of the programs available to seniors across the nation that can help cut those costs.


Through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program, local licensed contractors perform an energy audit, then provide remedies for identified inefficiencies, which include:

  • Cleaning, tuning, repairing, or replacing heating systems, cooling systems, or both.
  • Installing programmable thermostats.
  • Repairing or replacing water heaters.
  • Installing insulation.
  • Replacing inefficient refrigerators with energy-efficient models.

Preference is given to people over the age of 60 and families with one or more members who have a disability.

There’s even more on the energy-efficiency front.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is a 40-year-old program that aids families with high energy costs. The plan includes help with cost-management of home energy bills, energy crises, weatherization, and minor energy-related home repairs.

For those who have trouble paying rent, the Housing Choice Vouchers Program, formerly known as Section 8, provides subsidies to low-income families and the elderly to help pay rent.

The section 504 Home Repair Program provides a grant of up to $7,500 to senior homeowners to repair damages deemed hazardous to safety and health.

The threat of foreclosure is another housing concern for seniors. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – more commonly known as HUD – has its own search engine to help identify local, HUD-approved housing counseling agencies. These agencies offer free services to help prevent foreclosure.


It’s undisputed that seniors spend more on healthcare than any other age group. Just how much may come as a surprise.

Approximately 40% of retirees report that their healthcare expenses in retirement are higher than they expected, according to the Retirement Confidence Survey done by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

This is likely connected to a misunderstanding of the scope of Medicare’s coverage. A 2021 survey by the Insured Retirement Institute showed that four in 10 seniors believed Medicare alone would provide complete coverage for all healthcare needs, but that’s not how it works.

Medicare is the primary healthcare subsidy for seniors, and it comes in three parts:

  • Part A covers hospital stays and is free if the primary holder (or his or her spouse) has paid Social Security for at least 10 years.
  • Part B covers outpatient services. In 2024, the typical monthly premium for Part B is about $174.70, with a yearly deductible of $240. After meeting the deductible, those enrolled usually pay 20% of the Medicare-approved amount for most outpatient services.
  • Part D covers prescription costs. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimate the monthly premium for Part D in 2024 to be about $55. Higher-income beneficiaries pay more. Another way to get prescription coverage is through a Medicare Supplement Plan or a Medicare Advantage Plan.

If you’re struggling to pay your premiums, you may qualify for a Medicare savings program.

The following are other programs designed to aid seniors with the cost of healthcare:

If you qualify for Social Security and have limited resources, these are a few savings programs that can help:

  • Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB) Program
  • Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB) Program
  • Qualifying Individual (QI) Program
  • Qualified Disabled and Working Individuals (QDWI) Program

In 2022, the most recent year for which information was available, the limit in countable resources for QMB, SLMB and QI was $8,400 for individuals, $12,600 for married couples. The limit for QDWI was $4,000 ($6,000 for married couples).

Countable resources include money in a checking or savings account or stocks and bonds. They do not include your home or personal belongings.

About 20% of Medicare enrollees are also enrolled in Medicaid. Medicaid is a healthcare plan for people with very limited financial resources. Eligibility varies by state, but if you qualify for SSI, you should also qualify for Medicaid.

Americans experiencing significant hearing or vision loss can access technological help through iCanConnect. The National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program is a federal plan administered locally in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Established by the Federal Communications Commission, iCanConnect provides training and equipment. For those who qualify, iCanConnect covers the cost for a variety of communications devices and technology, including computers, braille displays, smartphones, tablets, and more.


While the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that retirees, on average, spend less on food any other time in their lives, managing to eat – and eat well – can still be costly. Here are some programs designed to help seniors pay for food:

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps low-income seniors with groceries by providing monthly stipends. This program used to be known as Food Stamps.

SNAP requires proof of limited income and resources for a person to qualify. The maximum gross monthly income was 130% of the federal poverty level. The poverty level for 48 contiguous states in 2024 was $1,255 a month for individuals. Plus 30% would be $1,631. The poverty level for two is $1,703 per month, plus 30% is $2,214. Another important program that helps the elderly with food costs is the Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP). The SFMNP provides low-income seniors with coupon booklets to use at participating farmers markets and food stands. The coupons are meant for fresh and organic produce and cannot be used for canned or dried goods.

However, if canned yams are more appealing, The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) can help. TEFAP provides a variety of foods to low-income households, like canned and fresh fruits and vegetables, along with meat and dairy products.

If you qualify for SNAP, there’s a good chance you qualify for TEFAP, but you should contact your state distributing agency to be sure.

The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) works to improve the health of low-income elderly persons at least 60 years of age by supplementing their diets with nutritious USDA food.

Food and administrative funds are distributed to participating states and Native Tribal Organizations. Not designed to provide a complete diet, CSFP food packages are good sources of the nutrients typically lacking in the diets of the beneficiary population.


A job can add some extra income while alleviating some of the boredom you may be experiencing since retiring.

According to a Stanford study, “The Power of Working Longer,” only three months of additional work generates the same increase in retirement income as 30 years of saving an additional 1% of earnings.

This means that it may be easier to work a little longer than to save a little more.

For retirees looking to re-enter the workforce, the Senior Community Service Program (SCSEP) pays anyone over the age of 55 minimum wage (federal, state, or local, whichever is highest) to work at government or community agencies.

SCSEP provides training for a variety of jobs from teacher’s aide to computer technician to helping local nonprofits. You can even use the skills you acquired during your work life to pursue other career opportunities.

To apply, visit They can connect you with your local SCSEP office so you can get started on training.

“When seniors face a financial crunch due to debt and lack of income, they should focus on making money,” says attorney Solomon.

Consultant, subject-matter expert, teacher — all are prime candidates for seniors with a certain level of expertise and energy.

“Businesses generally hire consultants to assist them with specific tasks or provide assistance during transitions,” Solomon says. “Seniors can earn a lot of money, especially if they have the experience that companies are looking for. In addition, seniors usually have some leeway when it comes to selecting their working hours.”

Solomon also suggests investigating online or work-from-home jobs. Just be wary of any scammers, that is, anyone who asks for money upfront to set up your home office.

“Finding your sweet spot can be a challenge,” says CFP Zigmont, “but the local disability services or unemployment office may be able to help. Look at options for shorter days or less physical jobs if you have limitations. Find something you enjoy first, then worry about finding the right pay.”


Some low-income seniors may fall below the threshold necessary to file a tax return. To determine this, check with the IRS or a qualified tax preparer. Those who do not fall below the threshold should make every effort to be sure they’re paying Uncle Sam precisely what’s owed, and no more. Here are some items to consider:

  • Credit for the Elderly: At the end of 2021, low-income adults age 65 and older who qualify may claim a credit that reduces their tax bill from $3,750 to $7,500. Seniors should check with the IRS or their tax preparer to see whether they qualify.
  • Standard Deduction for Seniors: Since rules designed to simplify filing included in the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017, most taxpayers have used the standard deduction. For the 2024 tax year, the standard deduction for seniors filing singly was $14,600. Married senior couples filing jointly could claim a standard deduction of $29,200.
  • Medical Expenses: Seniors with high medical expenses may qualify for an itemized deduction that is better than the standard deduction.

Senior Citizen Financial Planning

The rule of thumb is the average retiree needs about 70%-80% of his or her preretirement income to maintain an accustomed lifestyle once he or she stops punching the proverbial clock. Depending on your commitment to thriftiness, if you earned $50,000 a year while working, you should be comfortable with somewhere between $35,000 and $40,000.

Again, these are estimates. Your mileage may vary.

Spending on a variety of core necessities was skewed dramatically by the impact of COVID-19. For instance, housing costs surged; as we sheltered in place, transportation spending slumped. Before the pandemic, however, the BLS provided the following targets for spending in its Annual Expenditure Report.

  • Housing – 32.4%
  • Transportation – 17.1%
  • Food – 12.9%
  • Healthcare – 12.2%

These are the four greatest expenses for people over the age of 65. After the age of 75, healthcare costs eclipse transportation, taking up 16% of your income, while transportation drops to 13.9%.

These are only the averages. How much each person spends on each category will vary. Don’t set aside 17% of your budget for transportation if you live walking distance from your usual haunts, or you have satisfactory and inexpensive public transportation nearby.

In short, financial planning is not just for youngsters still building their lives and careers, saving for the kids’ college, or investing for retirement. Financial planning is for anyone who manages a household budget with an eye for maximizing its potential.

There’s plenty to read on the subject online, in bookstores, and at the library. Local community colleges or credit unions can be reliable sources of information, too.

“If they have equity in their home,” Solomon says, “seniors can take advantage of reverse mortgages to pay off debts. For unsecured debts, they can enroll in a debt settlement or a management program. Bankruptcy for seniors should be their last choice at this advanced age.”

Additional Resources for Seniors

Navigating these changes and the resources meant to map them can be confusing and frustrating. The information often isn’t straightforward, and knowing how or where to find help might take practice.

Even finding reliable help can come at a risk. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has noted that elder fraud is on the rise. Between 2021 and 2022, elder fraud losses reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center increased by 84%, the total amount in losses exceeding $3 billion.

Scammers often target seniors due to a presumed vulnerability. In particular, the FBI encourages wariness of those posing online as potential romantic partners, tech support agents (who may request remote access to computers), or as relatives who claim to be in urgent financial need.

Recognizing scam methods is advantageous for everyone, but knowing the types of scams aimed at seniors in particular can help you protect yourself from exploitative cons. Remember: if it’s too good to be true, it probably is, and if someone is pressuring you for money, stay away. When someone requests payment up front for services not-yet-delivered, that is typically because they never will be.

To report elder fraud, call the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 833-FRAUD-11 (833-372-8311).

Of course, scams are not the only type of elder abuse to exist. For those seeking to guard against fraud and abuse, or for those unsure of how to address either, the following resources can be useful.

For other or general legal matters, try the following resources.

For some extra help for senior healthcare, the following sources can help.

  • Medigap Search – locates Medicare Supplement Insurance and presents step-by-step instructions to enrolling.
  • Authority Dental’s Provider Search – locates lower-cost dentistry options.
  • Hearing Aid Project – in addition to listing state-level, national, and international resources for hearing aid assistance, you can also apply for assistance directly on the program’s site.
  • Eldercare Locator – a search that connects those seeking assistance with various difficulties, including housing, food, transportation, legal matters, and counseling, to agencies and organizations that can provide it.

These all-encompassing guides offer more information on subjects from cutting costs to estate-planning.

Lastly, the burden of debt can be heavy for those preparing for or actively managing retirement, but help is out there. For financial assistance for seniors in debt, start with the following.

Among the best for helping stressed consumers get on top of their financials are nonprofit credit counseling organizations. Experts certified by these agencies have heard every horror story, and they know the tools to cure your financial nightmares — without cost or obligation.

About The Author

Bents Dulcio

Bents Dulcio writes with a humble, field-level view on personal finance. He learned how to cut financial corners while acquiring a B.S. degree in Political Science at Florida State University. Bents has experience with student loans, affordable housing, budgeting to include an auto loan and other personal finance matters that greet all Millennials when they graduate. He has a prodigious appetite for reading, which he helps feed with writing from Scottish philosopher Adam Smith, the “Father of Capitalism.” Bents writing also has been published by JPMorgan Chase, TheSimpleDollar and


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