While debt is a huge drain on most American families, it is stabilizing and in some cases falling for many households, except those headed by individuals over the age of 75, according to new research from the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

The number of families headed by seniors older than 75 that had debt increased, as did their level of indebtedness. In 2010, almost four in 10 such families (38.5%) had debt, up from 31.2% in 2007. Their average debt was $27,409, more than double the $13,665 they carried in debt in 2007. Even more concerning, the percentage with debt payments greater than 40% of their income—a measure of debt load trouble—increased to 4.9% in 2010, from 4.3% three years earlier.

In contrast, families headed by those nearing retirement (55 – 64) or in early retirement (65 – 74) had very small changes in these debt measures and in some cases, they saw improvements, according to EBRI. For example, families with heads between the ages of 55 – 64 had an average debt level of $107,060 in 2010, down from $112,075 in 2007.

For all American families with heads age 55 or older, the percentage with debt held steady from 2007 to 2010, at roughly 63%. Furthermore, those with debt payments greater than 40% of income dropped to 8.5% in 2010 from almost 10% in 2007. 

The findings are consistent with an earlier report released this week that showed that almost one in five elderly American households outspent their income by more than 50% in 2009 and some (14.3%) outspent their income by more than 175%. 

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