Americans Who Should Be Prepping for Retirement Have a Fast-Growing Student Loan Debt Problem

"Student debt is often thought of as a young people's problem, but it's becoming increasingly clear that it's also plaguing older Americans," MarketWatch reports.

"Between the second quarter of fiscal year 2017 and the first quarter of FY 2018, Americans aged 50 and older saw their federal student loan debt grow by about $18 billion, according to government data released this month. While that $18 billion is less than the growth in student loan balances among those ages 25 to 49-years-old, older borrowers' outstanding student debt increased at a faster rate during that period.

'It's a concern to see debt held by people in their 50s and 60s,' said Robert Kelchen, a professor at Seton Hall University who focuses on higher education finance. 'That means that either you're working longer to try to repay it or you're hoping that it will be forgiven.'

Policymakers, advocates for older Americans and student loan borrowers, and the public at large have started to take notice of seniors' challenges with student debt, thanks in part to reports from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Government Accountability Office. The data released this month offers fresh evidence of this trend.

The unique problems of student loan borrowers over 50 'needs to be part of a comprehensive discussion,' about various ways to mitigate the nation's student debt problem, said Ryan Gruenenfelder, the director of advocacy and outreach for AARP Illinois. His organization, which works to advance the interests of those 50 and older in Illinois, threw its weight behind a law that requires student loan companies to be regulated by the state. The organization decided to support efforts to get that law passed because older Americans are increasingly a constituency affected by the actions of student loan companies.

'We don't have a lot of policy positions on this issue,' Gruenenfelder said of student debt, 'but we do have concern, just because of the impact on people over 50.'

Many of the factors behind the growth in older Americans' student debt are the same as those fueling the increase in student debt more broadly: stagnant wages and rising college costs mean that loans are becoming increasingly necessary for financing higher education. The changing job market also means that attending some college is becoming increasingly necessary for workers to re-tool throughout their careers. But the experience of student debt is different among older Americans for a variety of reasons."

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Publication Date: 4/16/2018

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