An alarming number of Americans are entering retirement with student loan debt. Normally, student loan borrowers are between the ages of 18 to 39. However, a 2017 report issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, showed that people over the age of 60 are the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. population carrying student loan debt.
More than 2.8 million Americans over the age of 60 are carrying some type of student loan debt. This figure has skyrocketed from the 700,000 individuals reported in 2005. Between 2012 and 2017, the balance carried by people over the age of 60 nearly doubled from $12,100 in 2012 to $23,500 in 2017.
Additionally, according to a 2019 AARP report, just 15 years ago, borrowers who were over 50 held $47 billion of the total $455.2 billion in student loans nationwide. By 2018, this figure had jumped to $289.5 billion of a total of $1.5 trillion.
It is not that seniors are taking out loans for their own education. In fact, 73 percent of borrowers over the age of 60 are paying off student loans that they either co-signed or took out directly to help their children or grandchildren pay for college. Only 27 percent of them are paying on their own loans or their spouse’s loans.
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It is a dilemma that many parents face. They do not want their own children to be saddled with student loan debt, so they take out loans to help their children or grandchildren. That sacrifice ends up costing them in the long run, especially when it comes to retirement. If the parent falls behind on paying on the debt, his or her Social Security benefits can be reduced by up to 15 percent. At a time when the senior consumer relies on a fixed income based largely on Social Security benefits, that 15 percent cut can hurt them significantly.
Many older Americans are forced to hold off on retiring indefinitely until they can pay down their debts, which takes a serious toll on their quality of life. The consequences of taking on a Parent Plus loan may not be truly understood by a parent or grandparent who is just looking to help a child or grandchild. The same goes for parents or grandparents who agree to co-sign on a student loan. Both involve their own set of unique risks.
Parent Plus loans allow parents to take money out to help cover the amount of federal student loan funding their child may not qualify for and completely cover costs of attending a university. With how much it costs to go to college, many students find themselves needing to either resort to private loans to fill in the gap or turn to their parents for Parent Plus Loans. Once the parent is on the hook for payment, however, the loan balance cannot be transferred to the student. The high interest rates that go along with Parent Plus Loans also makes them difficult to pay off.
If a parent or grandparent co-signs on a student loan, this decision puts them at risk in the event the student is not able to keep up on payments. Even if the student can escape the debt in a bankruptcy case, it still stays with the co-signor.
It is always recommended that parents and grandparents truly think out the decision before deciding to take on a financial obligation like a Parent Plus Loan or co-signing on a student loan. They need to know what the possibilities are in the event they are not able to make payments in the future to protect themselves and prepare for retirement.