Home > Student Loans > Over 50 and Deep in Student Loan Debt

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While the common view of those who carry significant amounts of student loan debt as young adults who are just starting to become financially independent is still accurate, a growing number of people with student loan debt — and in default — are much closer to retirement.

New data from Barclays shows that about 15.5 percent of people in the U.S. who carry student loan debt are between the ages of 50 and 59, and another 4.2 percent is held by people 60 and older, according to a report from the Chicago Tribune. Further, many of the older borrowers are past due on their student loan payments. In all, loans carried by those 50 and up account for 16.9 percent of the total value of past-due balances, with those older than 60 making up 4.8 percent of that figure.

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Free Credit Check ToolIn all, the average amount of student loan debt held by those 60 and older is about $18,250, the report said. And because those people are typically within a few years of retirement, it becomes increasingly unlikely that they will be in a financial position to pay back their lenders once they stop working.

“[T]here is little reason to think that someone in retirement will suddenly attain the means or motivation to make on-time payments after having gone years without making them,” the Barclays report said, according to the newspaper.

Further, the statistics showed that defaults on federal financing, which do not require credit checks but make up some 90 percent of the total U.S. student loan market, would continue to be a problem for the government, the report said. This will become especially problematic because experts note that delinquency and default rates on these lines of credit have been steadily rising in the last year or so, and will likely continue to do so for at least the foreseeable future.

Currently, Americans owe a total of more than $1 trillion on their total student loan balances, the report said. That’s more than what is owed on auto loans and credit cards combined.

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Fortunately, many people who will be seeking new federal student loans this summer got a bit of a reprieve earlier this month. Federal education financing interest rates were set to double at the beginning of July and were expected to cost borrowers considerably over the life of the loan, but Congress voted to maintain the lower rate for another year.

Image: Amanda Mar, via Flickr

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  • God

    My older brother is 63 and makes $2,000 a month gross, not sure what his net is after taxes and the $300 a month he says his insurance is. He still has $30,000 left in student loans for going back to school late in life. The thing about it, the degree didn’t help him get a better paying job. So I think his take home is about $1,300 a month and his rent alone is over $1,200. He’s talking about living in his car until his loans are paid off. He’s also talking about suicide because they want to garnish him for the 15% now, since he’s missed 3 payments. He’s in another state or I’d let him stay with me. He also had prostate cancer and couldn’t work for a while and they didn’t even care.

  • jessica bell

    I am going to be 51 October 25th. I am enrolled at APU for a degree in law. I will be 53 when I leave APU. So does this mean I am to old to get a job? If it does, who cares right? I am in college for two reasons, 1. I love it, and 2. it keeps my mind sharp.
    Who cares if I am OLD? I do not feel old, nor do I act it. if our world is so frigging stupid and hung up on the age of people, then its the world that needs to change, not me and not one of you here. As for the lady who thinks GOD has ignored her, well perhaps he is . I mean, GOD is not going to sit and have a chit chat with you about wanting to die. However, if you have faith in him, he will guide and show you where and what you are supposed to be doing. God made us to live, to learn, to be kind, to be as good as we can and to live without sin. Then we die, He does not sit and make deals with us, we do not choose when and how we die, that is all in his hands. There are the few that decide to take their own life, and this is sad and not in GODs divine plan, so therefore those that have taken control out of GODs hands and have killed their self did not live the way our Lord planned .
    Okay yeah, I know life is rough, and we as humans fall ill and we suffer, but that is life and there is no way around it. But to think GOD has turned his back and is ignoring you is plain foolishness. Perhaps you have just stopped listening. Me? I am not bitter, I do not let life get to me, I have suffered a lot in my years. In fact I am basically homeless, I live in a 5th wheel in a camp ground with my dogs, cat and my 30 year old daughter. But cool, you know what? its not so bad. I have food and I have my health, I laugh and I have friends and I have GOD. we endure till the end, then and only then do we get our reward. That reward is going to be with GOD. Nothing , I mean nothing on this earth is important. Money? Sure you need it to live. However, even the person living on the street has everything he or she needs.( I said needs, not wants) they have food, they have drink and they can find a place to sleep. We are so dependent on money that we loose tract of the value of our life. I do not work ,not at a real job. I work online writing for places like iwriter and textbroker. This brings in a tiny bit of cash, but it feeds me, and my dogs and my daughter.
    Come on. We are old, so what? who cares? Enjoy what is left of your life, laugh, love and be good. Jeeze!!!! people feel sorry for me because I live in a old old 5th wheel. But if I am not feeling sorry for me, why should you?

  • highlanderjuan

    It is my observation that because of age discrimination problems and because of the banksters destroying our economy, seniors, or people over 40 who want a higher education degree, should do it because that is what they want for their own satisfaction. No one (and I speak generically) will consider hiring people over the age of 50 in today’s business environment. Do it for yourself, not for employment purposes.

  • highlanderjuan

    Students should get the same loan rates that are available to the banks.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Lyrik – this is an excellent suggestion, thank you for sharing!

    For older, experienced consumers looking to go back to school, CLEP — or the College Level Examination Program is definitely an option that can help minimize the cost (and time) it takes to earn a degree. It depends on the school, but there are many schools that DO accept CLEP exam scores in exchange for college credit. For anyone that’s interested, you can read more about the College Level Examination Program (and check to see if your school is one that accepts the tests) here: https://clep.collegeboard.org/

  • Margie

    Some very interesting comments here. I am 53 and still half way joke about what I want to do when I grow up. I wanted to be a chef, but back then women did not choose that career. I went to school to be a lab technologist, did that for a few years, earned my teaching degree and taught for two years. Due to series of events in my life, I moved back to the East Coast in 1991, with no jobs available in teaching, I went back to work as a lab tech, while looking for a teaching job. At one point I was working third shift at the hospital and teaching during the day (3 hours sleep a night, not healthy). You do what you need to do as a single parent. I have worked as many as three jobs to support myself and my kids. I wanted my Masters years ago in education, but was always told it was the “kiss of death” to get it before you had a job. The school districts would not hire you with a Masters because they did not want to pay for it. So although I have a number of graduate classes in a number or areas, there were too many interruptions in life to finish. At 53, I just do not see the advantage of spending $20,000 to earn my degree as I will never make up the difference. I cannot retire until I am 68. Everyone here has talked about skills, and here is where I get aggravated. Many years ago colleges talked about getting credit for life experience, well that never happened and they don’t even want to acknowledge a class older than 5 years. Skills are what make you knowledgeable and marketable. While having advanced degrees are useful in many instances, and required, I think that at some point it is more about the colleges making money. And secondly, it is about having an excuse to get rid of the older, yet more experienced worker. The latter event has not happened to me, but at this point I would like to just take classes for pure interest and joy, as one person commented. It’s hard to find that balance, but have to realize that retiring may not be an option for most of us any longer. We may not have the job of our dreams, but if there is no way out, make the best of it, and then find your job outside the work day. Your comments have all helped me realize that I am not the only one feeling this way.

    • highlanderjuan

      Don’t forget that there is a HUGE age discrimination problem in the United States. The employers will never publicly acknowledge the problem, but when you hit 50, you are generally undesirable as a new hire.

      Paradoxical, huh. As a senior you now know how to think, and you now have more education and experience, but no one wants to hire you. What’s THAT all about?

  • Samuel Roberts

    I’ll be 50 years old when I register for school, earning my first Bachelor’s degree. I am deaf and disabled; although I have lots of job skills, including management and IT experience, I am late-deafened, I speak several languages; still, there is little to no chance of me getting hired by any employer. I will need student loans to pay for school, I’ll have to use my Social Security to pay the debts. Am I just trying to live an impossible dream? Currently, my credit is good (in 700s).

    • highlanderjuan

      There is a HUGE age discrimination problem in the United States. The employers will never publicly acknowledge the problem, but when you hit 50, you are generally undesirable as a new hire.

      Paradoxical, huh. As a senior you now know how to think, and you now have more education and experience, but no one wants to hire you. What’s THAT all about?

  • Barbara B

    I was feeling very depressed about myself before I read all of this. Thank you peers for telling your stories. It truly has helped me ,and I am printing this out and putting a copy in my bag so that I could periodically pull it out and read
    it. I am a very unusually youthful 63 year old woman who got on the artist path from the get go. Some of it was genetics. My father: a war hero from WW2 who got on the GI Bill and went to art school and became a great American real painter. I grew up adopted. Never met him but got those art genetics. I started winning little contests early on and though I have 23 credits from back then in college none of it seemed as exciting as what was beginning for me as an artist. I didn’t want to teach. I grew up with unhappy teachers by adoption. I could never get off the artist path and only realized why when I met my biological parents why not. I’ve had many,many temp jobs to go along with the art. I had some shows,got some little awards and lots of “oohs” and “ahs”. Very beautiful,original and labor intensive real art work . No bs. Somewhere in the 80’s it all became techno. Somewheres in the recent years one needs now many degrees in any field it seems sometimes. I have a wonderful 19 year old child from adoption who has cerebral palsy but very high functioning. I have all of this superb art work,many jobs in the past,and now I don’t know what I can do. Mom left us her home from1940,all paid up. The repair,Hurricane Sandy and general dilapidation and property taxes,insurance in NYC/Brooklyn is very very expensive. I count us as lucky. I give great thanks but only through some degree of faith is my spirit able to sustain the blows of feeling like a nothing in this society now. Thank you for your stories. I dont think that I have worded it well or have told it all,but the gist is I think our country is making people feel like crap lately.

  • Wisteria

    I’ve been out of work for 3 years. With the economy plummeting due to Obamacare and almost every company is downsizing to part-time workers, those downsized workers are now looking for full-time work. This is causing even less available jobs making it more difficult to find employment. I am currently attending college with a goal of achieving a Bachelors in Business Administration with a focus on Human Resources. I honestly don’t think this degree with get me a job as I’m 48 years old and interviewers are looking for employees in their 20’s. After 3 years of pounding the keyboard from dusk til dawn, I finally decided that going back to school was better than doing nothing, and more by luck than good grades, perhaps I might even get a job out of it. My mortgage is due to be paid off in 2020. I graduate in 2015. By taking a year off in between classes during my last year, I can stretch my graduation date til 2016. Then by using the 6 months given to make the first payment, and then asking for an additional 6 months due to financial hardship, I can then put off my student loan payments until 2018. This gives me one year until my house is paid for. Unfortunately, this plan will only work if I can manage to keep my house by the time I graduate. Unless of course we suddenly get a president who wants the American citizens to financially succeed and thereby improve the economy….but for the next four years, I simply do not see that happening. Anyone need an experienced, mature but still looks and sounds young, Administration Assistant? The future looks bleak and I need a miracle.

    • highlanderjuan

      I feel your pain, and am in agreement with your comments.

  • VC

    I will be 56 soon. I have about 48 hours of undergrad college credit and no degree. I have worked in Civil Engineering and Civil Construction for 40 years, some years great and some not so good. I wish that I had finished a degree of some kind just because I had the ability and the opportunity and I wasted it; not that it would have really changed things that much. So, if you are in the same boat, just do what I have learned to do; GET OVER IT!
    I have started focusing on what I can do and accomplish instead of wishing my life away over what I should have done or worrying about the limitations that my lack of formal education may present. Some of you will not like, or appreciate, this comment but it is true. “I am so amazed with what God has done in my life in spite of my mistakes that I can hardly believe it!” There, said it! I blew it completely and God still made an amazing life for me when I surrendered to Jesus Christ! I am not rich but I am comfortable, financially. I am not the “brightest bulb in the box” but I have all of the ability and knowledge that I need to do my job and I am still learning everyday. It’s not always about the formal education even though it is a wonderful thing to have. Sometimes it’s just about doing the very best where you are at the moment and leaving the outcome completely up to God.

  • Annette

    I am 47. In 2001, I was at a conference at a local college and was told by the nursing fauilty there that “come back to school, with more education less physical work and I can get back into the workforce”. I had an AAS in nursing and after being diagnosed with MS, I wanted to get off SSD and work. I was let go from my nursing job because of the MS. I graduated with my MS in Gerontological Nurse Practitioner with a minor in nursing education. There are NO jobs for GNP’s( the scope of practice is age 40 and up, health care work places want Adult or Famlily Nurse Practitioners for you can care for a broader range of people). I was also given the HRSA nurse faculty loan(if you teach nursing at a 4 year school you get your loans forgiven, or so I thaught). Now I can’t get a job a faculty because the great number of faculty that were supposed to retire are holding on to their jobs because they can’t afford to retire. Now most colleges want you to have a PhD or a DNP to teach rather than a Master’s. So besides MS, I also have Crohn’s disease, no job, 100,000 in debt(all mine not my children’s) and facing homelessness. I LOVE IT!

    • JS RN BSN

      Annette, Have you tried case management for perhaps an insurance vendor? I know several with nursing degrees who can work from home. Pay is pretty good and work at your own pace…just a suggestion.
      I went back to obtain my BSN after 50, that was always my goal. The satisfaction I recieved from what I learned is priceless. I was encouraged to go further and get my MSN online and I could teach in their online program. Many nursing schools have online programs now, it is a fabulous way to learn. I had a professor who had her gallbladder out and was back teaching the next day.
      Not sure I will get the MSN due to the cost, but if you have the degree you may want to consider that line of work. I do not see retirement in my future so I’m just checking my options as well. Best of luck finding your special job…

  • Vicki

    My company has a “no degree – no promotion” policy so since I only have 30 years experience and no degree I was just told that the kid I’ve trained for the last two years is now my boss. So now I do all the work while he watches baseball games on the computer.

  • Richard Crowder

    Clearly there are 50-somethings out there with student loan debt of their own. But does the figure also include adult children’s debt for which their parents cosigned? If so, what part of the total does this represent?


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    I just turned 64 and can no longer make it in Real estate, I was a realtoar for 30 years, The last 5 years I have gone into my savings to survive, moved into a small rental house with less payment and can’t believe the recession is still on. I’ve been divorced 25 years, Would I be wasting my time going back to school at this age in my life? It will probably take 1.5 years , I’l be 65 1/2, will I get hired at that age?? The banks really screwed realtors, Those that are getting help with their mortgages good luck, I tried to refinance recently only to be told I didn’t have enough income I was leaving over $200,000 in the house as equity. I’ve tried selling to downsize and can’t seem to get lookers in my price range. . My credit score is 720, I’ve never had a bankrupcy, collection or judgment. Who’s out there to help us now?? no one. I have a room mate in my home to make ends meet. No housing allowance, no food stamps, no college help??? I guess if I were foreign or a different race I’d get some help. This stinks, I’ve worked 40 years for this, was a former hair stylist for 12 years, started having feet problems so got into Real Estate. any suggestions I haven’t tried would be helpful. I don’t have the savings left to spend a lot of money so I just sit tight working a part time job making $9.25 an hour. Not what I had planned at 64 years old. Jobs are hard to find in my area because of all the military here that will work for less because they have retirement incomes. Hard work has not paid off.

    • smellyellie

      1.) The banks did not screw realtors. As I remember the housing market pre-2008, realtors were rakng in commissions on inflated home values and bending over backwards to get buyers over-financed.

      2.) If you can’t sell your house in your price range, then you don’t have $200,000 in equity.

  • http://credit.com Shar S

    I am 59 and just completed a AA with honors. Earned a 2 year scholarship to a University to complete my BA. Education is never wasted. Older individuals can be a model to our younger people today. With retirement gaes creeping up slowly and life expectancy increasing don’t let anyone or anything rain on your dreams.

    • the duck

      I agree. I am 51 with a masters degree in a very mediocre government job and still going back to university to take courses. I am doing it as I enjoy learning new things and if I get a better job because of it then all the better. I would also like to add that a higher paying job is not necessarily a better job, it depends on how interesting it is as well as the level of stress attached to it. In my opinion knowledge gained leads to a richer life.

  • jimh

    Getting any old degree is a bad idea — regardless of when you do it. Employers want skills, not just generic knowledge. (More than half of what a person learns in school is ‘filler’ material and largely useless.) Likewise, if you want to be your own boss, a skill is essential. I am an engineer. My skills are a bit common, so jobs are not so plentiful. But, without a degree, one of my co-workers has a lot of formal training in C# and Java programming. He makes more money than I do, and he could get a job anywhere in the country within days. A degree without a skill that can be put to use is a waste of time and money.

  • http://askshirleyd.com Shirleyd

    Returning to school is a choice. Individuals need to ensure they understand the financial aid aspects of attending a career school, trade school, or traditional college. There buying committee needs to be involved. They need someone to process their career desires and goals; at least 2 different individuals. They need to research the financial aid or discuss it with neutral parties who fully understand. Numerous factors come into play including accreditation; type of degree or certificate, certifications of licenses required, hands on experience, location, hours, transportation, level of commitment. Getting a degree does not mean that you have to be an employer. You can evolve into being your own boss; options available. Communication is critical.

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  • Tony Venis

    The 250 years is a typo due to a faulty keyboard. The Technical Department has a lower priority than the faculty when it comes to equipment. I meant to write 25 years as an Iron Worker

  • commonsenseaintcommon

    I am 57 and didn’t get a degree even though at the time my parents would have paid for my college. I thought that they should put the money away for their retirement and I didn’t want to be in the job market begging and groveling for a low level position than at best could be called “head down, rump up”. I learned a trade and made good money until I figured out a business of my own that I run to this day. I laugh at the people who whine about having a degree but nobody will hire them. Having a degree doesn’t mean thet you are capable of abstact thought or that you can create or devise new things. It just means you were a good student. Now the inept people who borrowed money for an intangible are whining about their debt load. They need to stand up to their committments and think of something to do rather than set around crying about how unfair it all is.

    • Tony Venis

      I am 55 years old. After 250 years as an iron worker I experienced a work related injury. That presented me with an oppourtunity to rethink my career strategy. I went back to school and (I now have an AA as well as a BA. I’ve been working as a technitian for the local community college for 8 years now. Due to budget cuts my contract has been locked in at 19 hours a week. After reading about your success and the comment you posted, I have a question for you Sir. Are you hiring?

      • Laura

        Perfect comment

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  • D. Bailey

    I am 55 years of age and $54,000 in college debt. I lost my job in 2003 and was told you should go back to school to compete in the job market. My experience was not enough. Now I have my degree and yes a job but my degree didn’t do anything for me….I keep hoping for something better one day instead I loose sleep about making the payments.

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