Hey, you there...are you retiring with debt on the books? We get it, you don’t want to talk about it. But statistics released CIBC in July show that you’re not alone. A full 59 percent of Canadians are retiring with debt, 19 percent more than just over two years ago. So, back to your debt. Sorry to bring it up again, but you simply can’t ignore it. Not forever, anyway. Because that old debt will only get bigger and badder over time, until it completely derails your retirement plans. Here we’ll take a look at what’s going wrong for retirees and what you can do to put yourself on the right track. Here’s a hint: It’s time for your debt to come out of the closet.Hey, big spenderSo why are today’s retirees leaving the working world with an albatross around their necks? It may not sound like much of an accessory, but that’s exactly what a lot of the debt carried today’s retirees amounts to. Stephanie Holmes-Winton, a Halifax-based advisor, author and money management expert, chalks it up to the BaBoomers and their legacy of living large. This is, after all, a generation known for its culture of spending. (They practically invented the concept of “keeping up with the Joneses”.) But their drive for the good life isn’t the only thing that dragged the boomers under water. It was in their working years that mortgages got bigger, kids started to live at home longer and post-secondary education costs continued an upward march. So boomers turned to debt, because it was plentiful and, for large periods of time, relatively cheap. For a lot of those who haven’t retired yet, living on debt has worked out okay...so far. But debt tends to be stealthy. It grows slowly over time, building on itself until the best a borrower can do is make the payments and keep the whole thing going. Before you know it, it’s time to retire - with all that debt threatening to crush any hope of retiring in style.Why debt’s a big dealBut just because everyone appears to be in debt (or 72 percent of Canadians, to be exact) doesn’t mean it’s no big deal, especially for retirees. When you’re still working, paying down debt is possible; you could work more, spend less, even get a higher paying job. Once you’re retired, you’re limited to three options: live cheaper, withdraw your savings or dig into registered accounts. And, unlike paying down debt with employment income, these options have some pretty serious consequences that could leave you eking out a meagre living on dwindled savings, paying higher taxes and even suffering clawbacks on your government benefits such as old-age security. More worrisome, the CIBC statistics show that most of the debt retirees are carrying comes in the form of credit cards and lines of credit; that is, high-interest loans that are super-risky if interest rates rise (don’t kid yourself, they will). And while retirees may have less debt than other Canadians overall, it may still cost them more because it’ll take them longer to pay it off.How to get a monkey off your backWhether you’re retired or just on your way, you can do something to tackle your debt before it takes you down. It starts with admitting that your debt is a problem and asking for help. If you have an advisor or financial planner who’s helping develop a financial strategy for your retirement, tell them about the debt you’re carrying and insist that debt management be a part of your retirement plan. And we’re not talking in general terms. Holmes-Winton says that in order for such a plan to be effective, it needs to be specific, and include details on what to pay, how much and even how to structure your accounts. The good news is, there’s still time – no matter what stage you’re at in the retirement game.“There are lots of options for dealing with debt, but not if you can’t talk about it,” Holmes-Winton says. “When it comes down to it, you can either start living the life you have, or cling to a reality that doesn’t exist and have it slap you in the face.”No more secretsRetirement is supposed to be a time to kick back and enjoy some of life’s simple pleasures after decades of hard work. Do you really want to spend it scrimping to pay for stuff you bought years ago? You might think that your debt is your little secret, but once you retire it’s unlikely to stay a secret for long. And now that you know better...why would you want it to?