Student Loan Debt Is Crushing America’s Senior Citizens

Ballooning college tuition rates have caused the amount of student loan debt held by Americans to skyrocket over the last two decades, and the total passed $1 trillion early this year, according to some estimates. The majority is held by young Americans — those under 40 account for nearly 60 percent of outstanding loan debt, and the age 40–49 set accounts for another quarter of it.

While that debt has perilous consequences for younger Americans — nearly a quarter are delinquent, according to the Federal Reserve of New York — the burden of loan debt is hurting another, unexpected class of Americans: senior citizens. Altogether, seniors hold $36 billion in student loan debt, and the increasing burden of that debt is crushing those who can’t afford to pay it back, the Washington Post reports:

New research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows that Americans 60 and older still owe about $36 billion in student loans, providing a rare window into the dynamics of student debt. More than 10 percent of those loans are delinquent. As a result, consumer advocates say, it is not uncommon for Social Security checks to be garnished or for debt collectors to harass borrowers in their 80s over student loans that are decades old.

The recession exacerbated the effect of loan debt for senior citizens, who found it increasingly hard to find a good-paying job. And unlike other debt, student loans can’t be retired in bankruptcy, though Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin (D) has introduced legislation that would change that.


College costs are rising rapidly, and as a result, some students are choosing to drop out of school instead of shouldering ever-growing debt. But according to consumer advocates, failing to address the cost of college or the student loan process is likely to make the debt situation even worse for senior citizens in the future. As Suzanne Martin, an attorney with the National Consumers Union, told the Post: “This current generation of borrowers is going to be a generation of seniors who are burdened with debt.”