Haunted by Student Debt Past Age 50
Americans age 60 and older are the fastest-growing age group of student loan debtors. Older debtors, many of whom live hand-to-mouth on fixed incomes, are more likely to default. When that occurs with federal loans, as happens with nearly 40 percent of such borrowers who are 65 and over, the government can seize a portion of their Social Security payments — even if it pushes them into poverty. About 20,000 Americans over the age of 50 in 2015 had their Social Security checks cut below the poverty line because of student loans, with poverty-level benefits falling even further for 50,000 others, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office.
A report issued last month by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau shows that the number of Americans aged 60 and older with student loan debt has grown fourfold over the last decade, to 2.8 million in 2015 from about 700,000 in 2005. The average amount owed by these borrowers has nearly doubled, to $23,500.
Some older borrowers are carrying their own education loans, but most fell into debt helping their children or grandchildren, either by borrowing directly or co-signing loans. As these borrowers age, they have increasing difficulty keeping up loan payments while also paying for food, housing, medication, and dental and medical care.