Is it possible to be too old for a new card?

By Marianne Curphey

Many of today's pensioners are among the most financially comfortable members of the population. They have a guaranteed fixed income, have likely paid off their mortgage, and have spent a lifetime saving. Yet it seems that in some cases, their age restricts them from getting credit, even if they have a record of handling money responsibly.

Take, for example, Monica Groves, who told the Daily Telegraph she was 75 when she was told by Lloyds Bank that she was "too old" for a credit card. Groves, from Oxfordshire, said she and her late husband, Barry, had been customers with the bank for around 50 years, and that they had always kept a balance of £1,000 in the current account and that it was never overdrawn.

Groves said she wanted a credit card not to borrow money, but because she felt reassured by the greater protection she would receive when she made purchases using the card.too-old-credit

Lloyds told the Daily Telegraph that it never declines anyone based on age, and that its policy was to assess all lending requests on an individual basis.

Jasmine Birtles, founder of the website MoneyMagpie, says even if pensioners are on a relatively small pension, that income is guaranteed, unlike the salaries of working-age people. So, in theory, older people should be better placed to handle credit than younger people.

Philip Pearson, an independent financial adviser and director of P&P Invest, agrees that age should not be a barrier to an individual obtaining credit. 

"The most important consideration as far as the lender is concerned is the credit worthiness of the individual," says Pearson. "This is determined by the security of their income, and the quality of their credit worthiness."

Why older Brits have a harder time borrowing
"Financial services firms, including credit firms, are able to put age restrictions on their products and many do this," Colin Kinloch, debt expert for the Money Advice Service, said in an emailed response to questions. "Credit cards offer shorter term credit solutions and so there are generally fewer restrictions due to age than a mortgage but they do still exist."

Birtles says financial services companies are "a bit backward" when it comes to recognising the needs of older customers.

"Mortgage companies are very slowly starting to adapt to the needs of people aged 75 or older who might need a loan, and some now provide mortgages up to age 85," Birtles concedes.

Nevertheless, Birtles says some companies are still more wary of unsecured credit -- credit cards or loans where the debt is not secured against your home -- because of the possibility of not being paid back.

"There is the aspect that if you do have an unsecured loan and die while it is outstanding, your estate does not necessarily have to pay it," she explains. "Credit card companies are further down the pecking order when it comes to creditors."

However, the blame isn't totally on lenders. According to Jane Tully, spokeswoman for the Money Advice Trust, which runs the charity National Debtline, there has been an increase in the number of people older than 65 seeking debt help.

In addition, older peoples' financial prudence may mean that they have hardly borrowed anything, so they don't really have a financial footprint in terms of cards or loans, says Birtles.

What you can do about it
First, Pearson says, no matter what your age, checking your credit record before attempting to borrow is prudent. If you notice an error on it, which is possible, especially if it's been a while since you've checked it, be sure to take steps to correct it.

If you're having debt struggles, seek help from National Debtline or another free debt advice charity to work out a plan to get your finances back on track, Tully says.

If the problem is simply not having enough of a financial footprint, borrowing and repaying small amounts on existing cards may help to build up your credit score.

"You only need to spend about £15 a month, and then make sure you pay it off before interest is due," Birtles says.

Finally, if you feel that you have been treated unfairly due to your age, you can complain first to the firm involved, and then to the Financial Ombudsman.

See related: Child-rearing costs are putting parents over 60 in debt, A guide to debt advice organisations

Updated: 12 July 2017