Over 60 and still paying student loans

Imagine being ready for retirement but still making payments on your own or your child's student loan debt.

By Karen Datko Apr 5, 2012 3:22PM

Depressing fact of the week: About $36 billion of our nation's burgeoning student loan debt is owed by people 60 and older.

 

That stunning fact from research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York was reported this week by The Washington Post, which added:

 

More than 10% of those loans are delinquent. As a result, consumer advocates say, it is not uncommon for Social Security checks to be garnished or for debt collectors to harass borrowers in their 80s over student loans that are decades old.

(Post continues below.)

Total U.S. student loan debt in the third quarter of last year was $870 billion -- compared with the $693 billion owed on credit cards. "Of the 241 million people in the United States who have a credit report with Equifax, our data provider, about 15.4% -- or 37 million -- hold outstanding student loan debt," says the Federal Reserve.

 

As you would expect, younger people are carrying the bulk of that debt.  

  • People under 30 owe 34% of the total. 
  • Those 30-39 owe nearly 33%.
  • The 40-49 group owes 16.4%.
  • Those 50-59 owe 11.3%.
  • Those 60 and older owe 4.2%.

It's unclear how many of the people 60 or older are still carrying debt from their early 20s, how many went back to school at a later age, and how many co-signed a student loan for a child or grandchild.

 

Image: College graduate (© Corbis) About that, we say: If you're asked to co-sign a private student loan, think twice, and if the answer is still yes, think again and say no. There are alternatives for your young student. As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau notes, "The most common federal student loans don't require a co-signer."

 

Don't burden your old age with a debt that generally can't be discharged in bankruptcy and will stay with you until your dirt nap.

The only positive info we could glean from the Federal Reserve report is that most students aren't borrowing the harrowing amounts that we've been hearing so much about:

About one-quarter of borrowers owe more than $28,000; about 10% of borrowers owe more than $54,000. The proportion of borrowers who owe more than $100,000 is 3.1%, and 0.45% of borrowers, or 167,000 people, owe more than $200,000.

Are you still paying (or defaulting) on student loans years after the fact?

 

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146Comments
Apr 5, 2012 10:33PM
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College loan debt promises to be the next big bubble busting.  And with college loan debt exceeding all credit card debt, it promises to be a frightening explosion.

 

Easy money from the feds, states, private banks changed the game for colleges and students. And let's not forget that parents were fed (and bought into) the line that it is their responsibility to pay for their children's college education.  Excited by the new influx of money, colleges opened their arms and accepted all the hopeful teens who wanted the good life a degree would offer and/or the fun of 4+ years living the college experience. 

 

Colleges reduced their admission standards.  This was seen as a way of giving all deserving youth an opportunity to better themselves.  And all were seen as deserving a chance to atone for their high school wastefulness.  Colleges began to give placement exams, identifying students who were deficient in reading, math, and study skills.  These students were accepted into college and spent their first semester taking courses designed to get them caught up.  The courses carried the cost of your standard 3 credit undergrad course, without the college credit.  All they had to do was pass, and they would begin their real college course sin the spring.  They were a full semester behind, but it was time they could make up at the other end. 

 

With the growing numbers of new students who had no idea where they were headed in life, colleges allowed, even encouraged students to declare themselves as un-declared for the first 2 years... until they had a better idea of where they wanted to focus their studies.  And if that undeclared status meant that they didn't get all the courses in they needed to move on with their chosen major as a junior and senior, there was plenty of time to get them in at the other end.

 

The 4 year degree began its stealthy transformation into a 5 year degree. 

 

College used to be a full time job and it was the norm for students to take 18 credits a semester.  That was changed when colleges adopted a flat fee plan... $X per semester for 12-18 credits... you choose what's best for you.  You can guess what far too many chose.   Taking only 12 credits meant a lighter load, supposedly allowing more time for studying.  For many, it expanded hanging out time and partying time.  And it extended the amount of time students spent in college attaining their degree... as did the remedial coursework and the undeclared major and the absolute ease in which students were allowed to change majors midstream, even when the coursework from one fell far short of what was needed for the other. 

 

Employers began to preach that a college degree was needed for jobs that never needed one before.  The interesting thing is that many didn't care what your degree was in, just so long as you had one.  It showed that you were committed to bettering yourself or something. 

 

Impressionable teens were told to do what made them happy.   They were encouraged to assume large chunks of debt without considering the job market and what they could earn with that degree.  Or even if it was possible to get a job in their chosen field. 

 

And now we have high unemployment and thousands upon thousands of young men and women graduating from college each year.  Each one of them is hungry for a job to pay the bills.  Most are finding those jobs don't exist.  Their student loan debt threatens to crush them and, oftentimes, their parents and grandparents.  Like the American dream of home ownership that went bust due to greed manipulation, so goes the dream of a college education.  The dream has become a nightmare.   

 

  

Apr 6, 2012 8:14AM
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I worked full-time while going to school. I had to take out loans because my income which was less than $30,000 was "too high" to qualify for grants or other types of assistance. I was a single mother and owned a modest home with a mortgage. Graduated with a business degree and saw a slight improvement in my wages. As the economy got worse, I started working a 2nd job. Then, I lost my full-time job. By this time, I was over-qualified and too old - yes, don't kid yourself age discrimination is out there - and every job I applied for (along with 200 other people) had a starting wage of $10. Hardly enough to support myself and my youngest child still at home. I was taught to study hard in high school so I could get a scholarship ..... never happened even though I graduated in the top 10 of my high school class. I was told ...... go to college .... get a better job. Never happened. I'm still paying my student loans and I'm over 50. My youngest child is now attending a state school and it already scares me how much money she's had to borrow. No, she doesn't party, she doesn't go shopping ..... she studies hard and works. It's still not enough. The problem still boils down to greed ..... college administrators make BIG bucks and keep builidng new, fancy buildings supposedly to give our kids a better education ....but tuition and school housing costs are sky-rocketing. Who is making out the best??  I'm afraid it's not the students.
Apr 10, 2012 10:16PM
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jobs=retraining=student loans

add in divorce, job losses, raising children...

NO WAY OUT

I say free retraining after 50 and

all student loans forgiven at 65.

Let us retire and be able to pay for our

own diapers with dignity!!

 

Apr 5, 2012 8:57PM
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The argument that people should not pursue professional/medical degrees because of the potential to incur massive amounts of student debt is not a very good one.  We wouldn't have any doctors, lawyers, engineers, pharmacists, etc. if that were the case and/or those paths would be limited to only those people who were already relatively wealthy.  The problem is that the cost of education has skyrocketed while wages have failed to keep pace.  Moreover, because the debt cannot be discharged through bankruptcy, there is absolutely no incentive for creditors to work with debtors who fall on hard times, either because of illness or unemployment, etc. 

Apr 5, 2012 4:45PM
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I have over 200000+ in student loan debt from optometry school and undergraduate school combined.  Unfortunately, there were only 16 optometry schools in the country, so tuition rates were not that competitive.  I got some schoalrships, but most of my financial aid is student loans.  Doctors don't make as much as the average person thinks we do.  I don't even make $100,000 a year, but have a house payment and another house payment in the form of a student loan.  Raising the student loan rate to a fixed 6.8 percent makes it impossible to expect any early repayment on my part.  Over 20 years, that is a lot of interest.  My home only has a 4.875 interest rate.

 

Apr 5, 2012 6:14PM
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1985 college graduate in BS Electrical Engineering, fortunately for me, only $2,600. debt for 4 years. HOWEVER, I was eating lots of macs and cheese made with water couldn;t afford butter or milk, ate beef liver, lived in one room rented, cooked on hot plate...roughed it to the max. Got some vetables and cookies from the store's dumpster...it was tough but worth it. I'm way more wealthy than i could imagine today...comes from humble beginnings. No wouldn't co-sign for my kids or grandkids...they need to get some skin in the game and go food hunting in college and live in a room, share a bathroom.
Apr 5, 2012 9:34PM
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I joined the military so I wouldn't have any student debt. I am in my last semester of graduate school, and only paid for one semester total.

Apr 6, 2012 9:46AM
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i went to college pursuing the healthcare field (at the time i was delusional enough to think that my efforts as a doctor will actually help people who would be appreciative), got my degree after four years(loans -- my parents were poor and only had high school educations), went off to medical school for another four (loans--because the summer jobs i held in college could not pay for the train i took everyday), and another five years becoming a surgeon. I am about half a million dollars in debt (the interest on my student loans is more than the principal). I do not take vacations, my wedding was very modest (no honeymoon yet after 5 years), i do not invest in the stock market, cannot afford an IRA, i live in a two bedroom apartment with my spouse, which is practically bare, i lease the cheapest brand of car out there and i have been wearing the same clothes since college (thank god i don't go to fancy restaurants! we do eat a lot of pizza though). I always wonder how other people do it.....

But by my calculations, i will never be a "rich" doctor and will pay off my student loans when I'm about 70 years old. I often worry if I should get that cup of coffee at Dunkin Donuts or save it for the parking....

I work for the people, and always will. I have to, right? What else can I do.

Can anyone tell me solutions? Positive comments are appreciated. I am very tired.

Apr 6, 2012 10:02AM
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I'm 46 and went back to school and got two degrees.  I work in an office (when I'm working) as a secretary / receptionist, a job that traditionally didn't require college.  Now you look at employment postings and it says you need a degree.  For what!? To answer the stinking phone?  It's ridiculous. 

I had thought about teaching but once I got into it and saw all the bureaucracy and crap and listened to all the other teachers complain about it, it turned me off.  Now unless the next Mega Millions becomes mine, I'll be paying until I die.  And right now, I'm unemployed and can't pay much of anything.  I don't regret getting my degrees, but I wish there was a better way to utilize them.  And I wish I'd focused more.

My advice is really think about what you want to do before you get in there.  Take time off after high school if you have to.  Find as many alternate ways of paying for it as you can.  If you have to work your way through school, do it.  Don't stick your parents with this.  Or yourself. 

Apr 5, 2012 10:49PM
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I had $20,000 in student loans after attending college.  I chose not to consolidate any of these loans, and paid every penny off in 7 years.  It wasn't easy being single making only $8.00-9.00 an hour, paying a car note, rent, medical bills, utilities, and groceries.  I did it though.  When you take out student loans, you should accept the responsibility of paying them back.  You may have to do without a lot of wants, but it can be done.  Also, due to paying off my loans I ended up with very good credit. 
Apr 6, 2012 2:47AM
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i think the real issue has been overlooked. seems the real issue at hand is why the cost of college is so expensive and why it keeps increasing. i think it may have something to do with one's pay and school athletic programs. someone is benefiting from these high costs and it isnt the students.instead of obama pushing greater education equality, seems he should be pushing for education cost reform.
Apr 6, 2012 7:45AM
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End the Uni professor pension dole and tenure for a start.
Apr 6, 2012 9:54AM
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The system is broken. Even today, one can qualify for $30,000 per year in student loans to get a Theater degree at a private college, based on the FAFSA. As long as the government makes this loan money available, there is no incentives for colleges to charge less. As long as there is a chance that you will never have to pay the loan, there is no reason not to take the money.

 

The real problem is that the government throws too much money at student loans, and is not setting any standard for receiving the loan that has anything to do with the ability to repay. Rather than having a monopoly in the student loan business, the government should get out of it.

Apr 6, 2012 8:43AM
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Welcome to the Educational Industrial Complex
Apr 6, 2012 9:45AM
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JRSJRS -  What ever happened to training on the job?  During the last century, so many, many workers "made it".  Guess what - they were not college educated!!  They had intelligence and initiative and learned their job and succeeded.  If businesses would go back to more than the basic , rudimentary training you get, then you would see that some people could do your job.  That's like expecting a child to able to read before they enter kindergarten.  A chemist  would have to do college, a doctor, a teacher, a scientist, but not the majority of the jobs out there.  It really boils down to basing everything on "the bottom line"  Greed and profit.  No wonder this world is in such dire straits.  The people factor has been eliminated.
Apr 6, 2012 7:35AM
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You folks who have never been to college are not expected to "get it."  College is not a trade school where you learn to fix a refrigerator or become a tech.  College/University training takes students to the next level of thinking so they are less apt to become Tea Party supporters or some such nonsense.

 

Ah yes...The I went to college so I am smarter than you and know better than you idiot,

I did not go to college, I went to Viet Nam instead, I do not have any student loans, I have a small farm and a small business both of which are successful and paid off, I am not asking anyone to subsidize me or mine, I am not defaulting on my loans. If you are so much smarter because of your college education then how come you are still paying on a student loan and did not get a job that paid enough so that you could pay it off.

Apr 6, 2012 12:45PM
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I worked at UPS , getting up at 3 am , unloading packages for 4-5 hours a day while going to college full time. It sucked but I didn't have to borrow a dime or grovel for others to finance my way. We raised 3 sons who all worked and paid for their own college tuition. All are debt free with good jobs and nice homes. Its called sacrifice, hard work ,determination and persona responsibility.
Apr 6, 2012 11:41AM
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Rather then putting people in debt over their heads with the high cost of education and your health costs why is there not more effort put into just lowering the cost in the first place. Why have these costs got out of hand, is it the actual cost of the service or is it just greed by people who are in full control of take it or leave it and could not care less of what hardship it is causing.
Apr 5, 2012 9:41PM
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Unfortunately we can't work as we go to school and pay it off. Tuition is a few thousand dollars per semester, requiring the typical high school student to work at least part-time hours for an entire summer for at least TWO summers just to pay for half of the tuition at a state college!

If anything what I anticipate more young people doing is forgoing college upon high school graduation, working full-time for a couple years to save up enough money, and then going to school. The days of young people readily entering your traditional university will be gone as more students go to community colleges and then transferring with an AA or AS. Honestly, that is what I am doing now after earning a bachelor's in a worthless field and I wish I had done this a long time ago.

Apr 5, 2012 10:20PM
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I had $23K in loans when I graduated from graduate school in 1985. My father was a pastor and didn't make enough to put me through college, but made too much for me to qualify for work/study or grants.  Thus, I took out loans.   Upon graduating, paying off my $23K loans was priority, only second to tithing to my church.  I did that within 10 years.  Was it easy? Not really?  Was it fun? No.  Was it the right thing to do?  Yes. 

'

Too many people want things for free.  We have a "give it to me now - I'll pay later" attitude.  Then, too many don't want to pay later, or the price is too high.  If you don't pay for your loans, who do you think will?  The government?  The government is YOU, your neighbor, your family...  One way or another, you will pay.

 

Wake up America.  Nothing is free except for salvation.  Take responsibility for yourself.

 

 

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