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From 2007 to 2016, the share of families in which the head of the household is age 75 or older and has debt increased 60%, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. The average debt for those families in 2016 was $36,757, up from $30,288 in 2010.

In a piece for CNBC, staffer Annie Nova reports that high balances and calls from collection agencies can leave many older Americans feeling helpless.

The average monthly Social Security check is $1,404, and more than 40 percent of single adults receive more than 90 percent of their income from that check, according to the government.

Older Americans' debt can threaten this.

The number of Social Security recipients 65 and older who had their check reduced because of their student loans increased by more than 500 percent between 2002 and 2015, according to the Government Accountability Office.

"There's just fewer options you have at that stage of the game," said Justin Halverson, a financial advisor and co-founder of Great Waters Financial in Minneapolis.

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