Baby boomers may die with college debt

Student loan burdens are growing fastest among the over-60 crowd, many of whom sought graduate degrees during the recession.

By Aimee Picchi Apr 16, 2013 3:51PM

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


More on moneyNOW

Apr 16, 2013 6:15PM
Really?  A PhD in Art?  You spent eight years working to get a Doctorate in Art, and still didn't get it?  The inability to pay off your student loans is clearly not your biggest problem.  Your decision making abilities seem to be the real issue.
Apr 16, 2013 5:55PM
who would have guessed a PhD in Art Education wouldn't pay off??? You took the classes, you took out the loan, NOw pay it back! It's that simple.
Apr 16, 2013 5:57PM
So now the boomers who complained about this generations whining about debt understand that a University Education costs way too much.  Too many administrators, book publishers lining their pockets with money.
Apr 16, 2013 6:10PM
Was in a music store the other day and was listening to a young man talking about his next purchase. He said he gets money from his student loan and as soon as the next payment arrived he would be buying a guitar. Guess how bad I will feel for him if he can't repay his debt? And please, skip the music major theory. Guess how disgusted I get when I have heard more than once, young people using their student loan money for things other than classes and books... If your defense is education has become to expensive your right, in many places it is. If that is the case for your economic situation go somewhere cheaper or maybe work part time, summers... You know, work your way through school.
Apr 16, 2013 6:05PM
PhD for Art Education...nice...that career pays well...not...another Liberal that wants the Government to pay for her stupidity.
Apr 16, 2013 5:12PM
student loans.....another bubble created by the government !
Apr 16, 2013 6:21PM

I simualtaneously worked three (3) different part time jobs through college, averaging about 40-45 hours a week, which included evenings and weekends. Weekends I'd work about 10-12 hours a day.  I guess it was kind of tough... but it wasn't THAT tough, you know? It was definately do-able, and left me ample time to check out the incoming freshman crop each year, LOL's.  The upshot of this story, is that the day I graduated from college... while I had no more available spending money than anyone else... I DID NOT OWE A SINGLE PENNY to any loans, for the simple matter that I never BORROWED a single penny. Being a white male, I also never qualified for a grant, dang the luck. But the important thing here, is that a young individual CAN get through the university system without having to go in debt with student loans. Unfortunately, most children that age are simply not mature enough, DISIPLINED enough, to cut out the 'youthful BS' from their college years and hunker down in earnest. Oh, yes, back then an undergrad four (4) year degree actually only TOOK most of us four (4) years (mine took just over three years, constant double summer sessions, overloading classes, 18-20 credits, etc). And the reason I did so? Hey, graduating in 3.5 years, or even 3.2 years, is that much cheaper on my apartment rent, utility bill, etc, thus making college cheaper.


I do not understand all the crying about how people "had" to take those school loans... when in reality they wanted the excess money to fund their beer drinking, clubbing, etc. Work your way through school... it's not impossible. In fact, the only down side of it is that you can then NOT complain the rest of your life about owing student loans.


Of course, my whole life since, I've never been one to live on credit, or loans, either.

Cash on the 'barrelhead' DOES work.


And I recent, as a consciencious tax payer, the friggin' government erasing of those student loans. So do without whatever your fun is, whether it be that new motorcycle, of a huge flat screen TV. Pay us our money back.


And if you're young enough, not in school yet and you read this, think about it, and DO NOT 'borrow' money to get through college! Do you REALLY think it's so tough being in school classrooms (perhaps) 12 hours a week is SO HARD... that you cannot also do other things, such as WORK to make money?


Sorry to say this, as I know most did, indeed, borrow loans, but... you were silly enough to do so as kids, and that's your problem, not mine. My kid is only eleven, and he already knows how he can do it without taking loans. Yes, I pray he uses my insight... time will tell.

Apr 16, 2013 6:13PM
If you borrow money for school, pick a field that is growing so you can get a job and pay it back.  Art education??  That's the kind of PhD you better be able to pay for out of pocket.
Apr 16, 2013 6:21PM
The sad part of the education fiasco is employers put little faith in degrees and still expect well educated employees while paying wages that don't keep up with the loans the students. Multiply the problem when considering the recession. Many who graduate will not find jobs relative to their degrees. The older graduates will also face age discrimination.
Apr 16, 2013 6:11PM

Plenty of high paying jobs for engineers.

Apr 16, 2013 6:34PM
The problem with student loans is lack of control. That borrowed money should go directly to the school to pay for the student's study, room & board, etc, but instead it goes to the student and the student is spending it on Coach Purses.
Apr 16, 2013 6:31PM
You borrowed it, so pay it back. This is not the "Give Me Generation"!
Apr 16, 2013 7:06PM
There seems to be a lot of confusion about what colleges and universities provide for society.   They provide "education," not jobs.  Some educations are more conducive to finding a job upon graduation but there is no warranty either expressed or implied that your completion of any curriculum at an institute of higher learning will provide you with a job.  The colleges and universities educate you and the employers in society decide whether you received an education that might be of benefit to their organization.  College graduates with engineering degrees have a much higher employment rate than students with degrees in English Literature.  It's called supply and demand.  So if you maxed yourself out with student loans because you wanted to major in theater, communication, sociology, psychology and dozens of other, not in demand fields, it's not the fault of the college, university, society or the employers in the world.  It's your fault for electing to get an education in a field where jobs are hard to find.  But that doesn't mean you didn't get a fantastic education, which is what you went to school for and borrowed money to accomplish.  Don't blame the colleges or universities if you graduated and are almost unemployable by virtue of the field of study you received your degree in.  
Apr 16, 2013 6:22PM
 The problem is, it is not just school the loan is made for. It is also for living expenses. There is the problem!!!! What ever happened to the choices you make are yours to deal with?
Apr 16, 2013 6:47PM

I knew it would be a waist to time to go back to school at my age, because I'd never get a return on my investment.  Corporations just don't hire you much after 50 ... they are trying to get rid of you as I found out and with most of the high end salaries going to overseas for the cheap labor I could see that there will be no use for a college degree much anymore in the future .... unless be bring back Manufacturing (our Economic Foundation) back to this Country which the Retail, and Service Sectors are build off of to sustain City, State and Federal Jobs. One does not exist without the other.  And this is also the cause of the Global Economic Decline.  There is just not enough Manufacturing to go around and is causing the Financial & Economic Failures of the "World".  We need to get back to the Basics.


Look around you ... do you not see one item that is not Manufactured in front of you ????

Our House would be "Empty" otherwise !!!!  That's where we're headed ..... can't you all see ?


Mary Anne / 35 yrs. in Manufacturing Procurement.

Apr 16, 2013 6:32PM
Silly me......Lenders are protected by Government Guarantees, and don't care abut ability to repay, they just take there "toxic" loans to the Gov pay window,  just like the Mortgage Loan lenders did.
Apr 16, 2013 7:00PM

When I got my student loan a year ago, to go back to school for a Masters in Psychology, I was an unemployed R.N. and pretty much the only criteria they went by was that I had repaid my Undergraduate loans. I was shocked. I'm 43 and almost halfway done with my Masters; the thing is that even if I am unable to find a job in psych, I'm a nurse and will always have a way to make a living.


PhD in Art ?

Apr 16, 2013 6:21PM
Typical government, make loans to anyone even if they have no way to pay it back.  Just another way to control your life.  The taxpayer will pick up the tab as usual.  Why did the government give this person a loan for a usless degree?  "Joan Roberts 63-year-old , 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". To make matters worse after 8 years she never got the PhD.  Why is the government giving anyone a student loan over 50 years old?  It's a bad financial bet, and the chances of these older people keeping their jobs is not very good or getting one is almost impossible.  Age job discrimination is alive and well for 50 or over.   
Apr 16, 2013 6:42PM

I know the pain of this. I started my education in 2001 at a Vocational School. Was told I could make the big bucks was done. Wrong! Since then I have struggled with jobs, working my way to the top. I have also incurred more loan debt trying to put myself above the rest during the bad economy all while trying to raise a family. I am going to be 42 this year and I just got a job three years ago that pays me well. Thank the Lord!! I have growing kids with growing needs and fear that I will take this debt with me to retirement. I don't want to be retired and in debt. I pray some relief will come to those that are in this similar situation.

Apr 16, 2013 6:29PM
these debts can always be blamed on "preditory lending"!!! LMAO
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