Over 20% of Tampa Bay’s senior homeowners are still paying a mortgage | News

At 76, Chrissy Gerulat is still paying off two mortgages.

She’s not alone.

In Tampa Bay, Florida, over a fifth of older homeowners in Tampa Bay remain saddled with mortgages.

The metropolitan area ranks in the top 15 for communities with the highest share of older adults with a mortgage, according to a recent analysis of U.S. Census data for the nation’s 50 largest metros.

Mortgages are the largest debt held by U.S. residents — which is why homeowners are often encouraged to pay them off before retiring.

“I think for a lot of people that’s not necessarily possible,” said Jacob Channel, senior economist at Lending Tree, a company that helps Americans find loans and conducted the analysis. “As home prices have risen, there are a lot of instances where people start buying homes later in life and keep mortgages later in life.”

Gerulat, a retired real estate broker, and her husband own homes in Palm Harbor and Dunedin. They’ll take anywhere from 12 to 20 more years to pay off, she said.

A seven-year Tampa Bay resident, Gerulat isn’t worried about rising costs in the area impacting their ability to foot the bill. They have a nest egg saved up for medical emergencies, she said.

But she knows other retirees, who largely depend on fixed incomes to survive, may be more vulnerable.

“If you’re a widow whose husband dies, and now you’re only getting half the income from Social Security — if you can’t afford the mortgage, you can’t afford the house,” she said. “Those are situations that come up where paying off the mortgage does make good financial sense.”

Having a mortgage into retirement isn’t necessarily risky, Channel said.

“If you’ve budgeted accordingly, and if you’ve got a fixed-rate mortgage, which most people do, it’s certainly something that you can continue to keep a good hold on even after you’ve retired,” he said.

The LendingTree study used last year’s U.S. Census data to look at the share of homeowners who are 65 and older and still have mortgages in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas.

Tampa Bay, long considered a retiree haven due to its warm weather, idyllic beaches and historically low costs, ranks 11th among major metropolitan areas nationwide for largest share of senior mortgage holders.

Median housing costs for a homeowner in the area who is 65 or older with a mortgage is $1,307 monthly, the analysis found.

“What you have is an older population and fairly expensive real estate,” Channel said. “You end up with people who are either getting mortgages later in life because that’s when they can afford it, or who are carrying mortgages later because they can’t afford to pay it off sooner.”

Twenty-two percent of older adult homeowners have a mortgage in Tampa Bay. It’s a slightly higher share than the average across all metros surveyed, which sits at 19%.

“As it becomes more difficult for a lot of people to become homeowners, this trend might continue, and even get a little bit more extreme over the coming decades,” Channel said.

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