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Are Your Aging Parents in Financial Trouble? It’s More Common Than Most of Us Realize

Written by OurParents Staff
 about the author
15 minute readLast updated February 12, 2024

Do your aging parents have trouble making ends meet? If so, they’re not alone. Because financial struggles are rarely discussed in person, let alone online, you may feel isolated when helping your parents deal with financial problems. Let’s look at why some older adults have money trouble, what challenges you may face in helping them, and tips from adult children in similar situations that can help your parents save money.

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Common reasons why seniors struggle with finances

A few root causes come up repeatedly when reviewing the financial struggles in seniors: a decline in financial decision-making abilities, loss of traditional pensions, not enough savings, and rising expenses. Additionally, many companies no longer offer traditional pensions. In their place, businesses have switched to 401(k) programs, but only 35% of American workers even have such an account.[01] Of those who do, most aren’t saving anywhere near enough for retirement.
Even diligent savers are running into trouble in their retirement years. Health care costs more now than it did a generation ago, as does college, which means many grandparents are chipping in to help their grandkids get a degree — and that means less money going toward retirement savings.
One more factor can complicate older adults’ finances: a decline in decision-making skills. For people who have always been careful with funds, things may change when memory loss occurs or cognitive function declines. This can lead to costly mistakes and may even make your loved one a target for scammers. It also leaves older adults more vulnerable to making impulsive choices with their money at the point in their lives when they need sound finances the most.
Learning how to help your parents with money management may help get their finances back on track.

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How to talk to your parents about finances

It’s one thing to understand that your parents need help. It’s another thing altogether to actually have those discussions with your mom and dad. To get some insight, consider the case of Amy. An engineer with a tech company in the Austin area, Amy manages the delicate balance of keeping a roof over her parents’ heads while helping them maintain their personal dignity and parental authority.
Her advice is simple: “When you need to talk to your parents about finances, try to catch them when they’re in a good mood.”
No one responds well to a stressful topic when they’re sad or anxious. Present your financial concerns as things you’re thinking about doing for yourself. For example, if you’re concerned that your parents have no plan for what happens if they can no longer make their own financial decisions, and you want them to consider setting up a power of attorney, you might say, “Hey, Mom, I’m planning this for myself — do you think it’s something you’d like to do, too?”
Expect some pushback, and “understand what your triggers are,” Amy advised. For some parents, accepting help from their children sparks feelings of embarrassment, and there may be some backlash as they act out in ways that re-establish the interaction pattern the two of you had when you were younger. Try to avoid taking the bait, staying focused on the problem you’re trying to solve.

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Tips for helping your parents financially

You can try some or all of these approaches, depending on your parents’ situation:
  • Ask your family to help. Helping your parents with money may mean asking family members for support. Amy is able to cover the mortgage payments on the home she bought for her dad and mom so they can focus on paying down their debts: “My parents took care of me, and I can do this for them.” If your parents need more financial help than you can provide, talk to other family members to see if they can contribute a set amount each month.
  • Consider selling the home. If your parents are at risk of foreclosure, it’s usually better to sell their home rather than default. Foreclosure can make it hard to buy or rent a new place. Talk to a senior real estate specialist about your parents’ options.
  • Explore the option of bankruptcy. This is not an easy choice, but it can reduce your parents’ overall stress. For some people, the relief of not having to dread mail or phone calls can be enormous. Start by talking to your parents, their financial advisor and attorney, and a reputable credit counseling agency to weigh their options.
  • Help your parents apply for assistance. Seniors with low income and limited assets are likely eligible for Medicaid. If either of your parents served in the military during a time of war and have a low income now, they may qualify for veteran or spousal benefits from the VA, such as the veterans pension.
  • Help your parents cut expenses. Moving to a smaller home or moving in with you could save your parents thousands of dollars per year. Even if your parents’ home is paid for, it may be cheaper to move to assisted living than to pay for in-home care alongside the taxes, insurance, and maintenance on their home. Your parents may be able to cut other expenses, too, like cable plans, subscriptions, and memberships they no longer use.
  • Help your parents earn some income. If it’s possible for your parents to take on a part-time job or work from home, work can bring in more money, soothe your parents’ pride, and help strengthen their social ties.
  • Plan before there’s a bigger problem. Families and financial advisors should work with clients as early as possible (ideally, in their mid-50s) to create a plan to handle any changes in decision-making skills that may arise later on.
  • Try negotiating with your parent’s creditors. If your parents agree, you can help them contact their creditors and explain their situation. You may be able to work out a payment plan or have some of the debt forgiven. If so, try to get those agreements in writing, and remember that forgiven debt may be considered taxable income by the IRS.[02]
Another thing to strongly consider: When you assist your parents financially, pay their expenses directly rather than give them cash. This approach ensures timely bill payments, which is crucial if your parents struggle with cognitive decline or poor financial decision-making. If your parents face significant financial challenges, consider buying assets in your name instead of co-signing loans to avoid personal liability.
Helping your parents pay the bills can be difficult, but it can also be an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with them — and pay them back for the help they gave you when you were growing up. It can also help you see what you’ll need to plan for and discuss with your own kids so that your family can be better prepared from one generation to the next.


  1. United States Census Bureau. (August 31, 2022). Who Has Retirement Accounts?

  2. Internal Revenue Service. (October 31, 2023). Topic No. 431, Canceled Debt – Is It Taxable or Not?

Meet the Author
OurParents Staff

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