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New research from ING Direct shows that Australians are failing to pay off their homes by retirement, hence leading to growing sums of mortgage debt even as they enter their senior years. Those in the 65 to 80 age bracket owed an average of $158,500 in 2015, compared to the average debt of $156,000 way back in 2013.

“We’re seeing some Australians carrying over into retirement with debt,” said Tim Newman, ING Direct head of product. This is largely due to more expensive housing, requiring borrowers to take on higher debt and borrow at a later age.

“If you buy in your mid-30s, it’s likely you’ll still carry debt when you retire,” Newman said. “It’s definitely a concern if people haven’t thought about and factored in how they’re going to repay the debt.” In fact, retirees are increasingly considering downsizing in order to release equity and pay out their debt.

However, higher house prices are not the only cause of this phenomenon. One-fifth of Australian home owners use their housing wealth to meet their spending needs, according to Curtin University’s Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre associate professor Rachel Ong.

“They typically do this through the use of financial products that allow them to withdraw equity from their home by increasing the mortgage debt secured against the home,” she said.

According to the suggested retirement standards of the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, those who want to maintain a modest lifestyle by retirement need at least $23,651 and $34,064 a year for singles and couples, respectively.

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