Older man in thought (copyright Cha Cha Royale-Brand X-Corbis)
Baby boomers are easing into retirement, but some may find their golden years are haunted by student loan debt that could follow them until they die. 

It's not their children's debt, however -- it's their own. Many boomers returned to graduate school during the recession to bolster their skills, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Student loan debt is actually growing fastest among people over 60, the report notes. More than 2 million Americans over 60 owe student loan debt, with the average balance standing at about $19,500, up from just under $11,000 in 2005, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York

In all, that amounts to $44 billion in student loan debt carried by people who often qualify for senior discounts. 

"I fully expect to die with this debt," a former meteorologist told the Chronicle. After going back to school at 58 to become a mental health counselor, he's now $70,000 in debt and unemployed at 65. 

Of course, it seems like adults in every age bracket are getting crushed by student debt, which is exacerbated by a still-recovering economy. As reported previously on MSN moneyNOW, more PhDs are applying for food stamps, while 284,000 students with college degrees were working at minimum-wage jobs last year. Working at McDonald's (MCD) might be a disappointment if you're fresh out of college, but it takes on a deeper shade of depressing for seniors. 

Older students have seen their debt loads mushroom not only because of rising tuition, but because they often take more time to complete a degree while juggling full-time jobs and family life. 

Some are turning to the government for help. The meteorologist, for instance, slashed his monthly student loan bill in half to $250 through the government's income-based repayment program. 

Another older student, 63-year-old Joan Roberts, told the publication that she's living in subsidized housing and getting by on food stamps, after enrolling in a PhD program for art education. She failed to earn the degree, but still racked up plenty of debt during her eight years of studies. She's also unemployed, and filed for bankruptcy, although the student loans stuck with her. 

"I may never get relief," she said, "and I cannot plan for my future."

Delinquency rates have risen sharply among student debt holders over 60, according to the New York Fed. Almost 13% were 90 or more days delinquent at the end of 2012, double the 6% rate in 2005. 

The bottom line, financial expert Mark Kantrowitz tells the publication, is that older students should avoid debt. 

"They should not borrow more than they can afford to repay in 10 years or by the time they retire, whichever comes first," he said. 

Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi

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