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Debt limit debate: Impact on senior citizens

The tension between Congress and the president has many senior citizens who rely on Social Security nervous.
October 14, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Another day goes by without a deal between Congress and the president on raising the debt ceiling, and that's another day closer to the likelihood of serious financial consequences. Among those to get hit the hardest are senior citizens.

"My Social Security check is supposed to be coming this Thursday, and I don't know if it's coming or not," said Rosa Cardenas of South Pasadena.

Talk to any seniors these days and you're sure to hear words of fear.

"I worry about Social Security, but more than that, Medicare. I had a stroke three years ago and if it hadn't been for Medicare, I mean I would have no savings left," said Lynn Duffy of San Gabriel.

If Congress doesn't straighten things out, it could mean the Social Security system would be unable to pay retirees; private pension plans could take a hit; the stock market could plunge and so could 401ks.

"I think the impact of a default is something that we've never had in this country before. Of course, we've never defaulted on our debt and I think people's reactions would be quite negative. I think people would be afraid, they'd be very emotional, they would try to run for cover," said Alan Whitman, the managing director at Morgan Stanley in Pasadena.

But Whitman warns investors not to run for cover and not let their emotions take over.

"We kind of tell people, 'Hold steady, remain OK where you are, and try not to let your emotions drive those decisions where you're going to overreact and then regret it at a later date," said Whitman.

Not only will retirement accounts, Social Security and Medicare be affected if we default on the debt, but we might see mortgage and credit card interest rates go up as well.

"Congress has no choice but to come to a working agreement, because they can't allow those things to fail. People need those dollars in order to maintain their lifestyles," said Whitman.

August 2011 was the last time there was a debt limit stalemate, but a default was avoided at the last minute. Even so, the stock market plunged and took seven months to recover after that. So it's possible we could have a rough ride ahead of us.


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