Retirement Security Medallion

Retirement Security

More and more people are retiring, and many are living longer in retirement. Health care costs are rising, Social Security is stretched to the limit, and debt—both personal and public—is a threat to financial security. Many Americans may find themselves without adequate savings in retirement.

View our report on The Nation’s Retirement System

Older Adults May Be More Vulnerable to Abuse

Elder abuse is the physical, sexual, psychological, or financial abuse or neglect of older people who may be unable to defend or fend for themselves. The incidence of elder abuse is expected to increase as the size of the older population grows, further straining the social service and criminal justice systems charged with protecting that population. Read more in our Key Issues page.

Guardianship is one way to protect the interests of older people who are mentally or physically unable to manage their personal or financial affairs. State and local courts or federal agencies, such as the Social Security Administration, may appoint individuals—typically family members—or organizations to manage financial affairs or federal benefits on behalf of people who are unable to do so. However, sometimes older adults can be exploited by the guardians appointed to protect their interests. Read about how courts and federal agencies, including SSA, can better screen and monitor such persons and better coordinate with one another to combat elder abuse nationwide.

Income Isn’t the Only Financial Challenge

Financial literacy is a key element in avoiding financial exploitation and ensuring financial security in retirement. For example, with the decline of traditional employer-based pensions, retirees are increasingly responsible for managing their retirement assets to ensure adequate retirement income. Read more about the effectiveness of financial education and enhancing the federal government’s role in this area.

Financial products targeted at older Americans are increasingly complex, and may carry both benefits and risks of exploitation.

  • Reverse mortgages—a type of loan against a borrower's home that provides a lump sum or periodic payments to the borrower—can help seniors face financial hardship or improve their quality of life. They are growing in popularity as a supplement to retirement income, but they are relatively complex and costly and the population they serve is vulnerable. Read more about reverse mortgages.
  • Annuities with guaranteed lifetime withdrawals can help older Americans ensure they do not outlive their assets, but do present some risks to consumers. We examined the benefits, risks, and regulation of these annuities—learn more from our report and podcast on these complex products.
  • Pension advances—lump-sum payments in exchange for a retiree’s pension payments—did not compare favorably with other financial products or offerings that we reviewed, and these products raised consumer protection concerns.
  • Student loan debt and other forms of personal debt can affect the financial security of older people who are approaching retirement. Student loan debt can be especially daunting because, unlike other types of debt, it generally can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. Learn more from our blog and podcast.

Services for Older Adults

Many older adults want to age in their homes and communities. Their ability to do so often depends on the availability of services, such as home-delivered meals, home-based care, and transportation. Some frail older adults may rely on informal assistance from family and friends, while others rely on services from paid providers.

The Older Americans Act (OAA) was enacted to help frail older adults maintain their independence and avoid premature nursing homes and depletion of their income and assets. Programs paid for with a mix of federal, state, and local funding provide a broad range of services, including:

  • Nutrition: The largest proportion of funding for major home and community-based services and related activities under the Older Americans Act (OAA) goes to state units on aging for nutrition services.
  • Transportation: Funding under the OAA helps states to provide rides for older adults to doctor’s offices, grocery stores, and pharmacies, senior centers, meal sites, and social events.
  • Housing: A growing number of older Americans live in “continuing care retirement communities,” which aim to provide lifelong housing, household assistance, and nursing care in exchange for a sometimes sizable entrance fee and ongoing monthly fees. Learn more about continuing care retirement communities and the risks they can pose. HUD’s Section 202 program supports rental housing for very low-income elderly households. Read our recommendations for improving the Section 202 program.

We have reported that many older adults may need, but do not receive, such services. GAO has presented options to better target resources towards needs.

As the older population continues to grow, communities will find it increasingly difficult to meet the demand for the supports many older adults will need to age in their own homes and communities. This makes it important to ensure that the federal resources available for this purpose are used effectively and efficiently. Read more about efforts to coordinate funding from across the government and recommendations to coordinate transportation services, specifically.

GAO’s Key Reports on Related Retirement Challenges