Back-to-school season means another year of loans for thousands of American college students. But it’s not just recent graduates who end up burdened with student debt, which now totals more than $1 trillion nationwide. Increasingly, their parents and grandparents are paying off student loans, too.
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the number of people age 60 and over with student loan debt has quadrupled in the last decade from about 700,000 to 2.8 million. The average amount they owe has almost doubled to about $23,500. Most borrowers are between 18 and 39 years old, but consumers over age 60 are the fastest-growing segment of the student debt market, according to the CFPB.
More than 70 percent of borrowers are repaying loans that financed their children’s or grandchildren’s education. Other older borrowers have debt from their own education, including degrees they pursued mid-life.
Many paying for a child’s education took Parent PLUS loans, federal loans that are available to parents to help pay for an undergraduate education. But critics say the program allows people to borrow too much, with little assessment of a family’s ability to repay.
This debt is especially a burden on seniors who have retired and are living on a fixed income — almost 40 percent of federal student loan borrowers over 65 are in default. If someone defaults on a federal loan, the government can garnish their Social Security payments, which are the only source of income for some people after retirement. Right now, about 114,000 Social Security recipients over age 50 are having their benefits offset because of a defaulted student loan.
We’re asking: Are you retired or nearing retirement, and paying off student loans? The PBS NewsHour reporting team is gathering personal stories about how student debt has affected people’s ability to save for retirement, and their income once they have retired.