Senior Citizens Account for Nearly 5% of Student Loan Debt
April 6, 2012

By Carlin Sack for

It’s not just the recent college graduates that hold significant student debt. Currently, senior citizens hold about $36 billion in student loans, or about 4.2 percent of the national student loan balance, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

As this generation aged from young students taking out loans for college to adults who borrowed to go back to school and pay for their children’s and grandchildren’s educations, their debt has only increased. Instead of paying off their debt throughout life, some people in the 60+ age range have growing debt because of the recent economic downturn.

Recently, national attention has been focusing on the size of student debt as it passed nationwide credit card debt. But the bigger story behind these reports is that student debt is not only large, but it is also long-lasting.

In a recent article, the Washington Post identified this “longevity of debt” as a main concern with the economics of the nation’s higher education system, along with increasing tuition rates.

Even despite bankruptcy, student loan payments still persist. Additionally, higher unemployment rates over the past several years have left many senior citizens without a consistent income to make student loan payments.

Of course, these facts affect younger generations as well. This is not exactly the news current college students and people who have graduated during the recent economic recession want to hear. Students now are receiving the message that in addition to having giant student loans, the debt will weigh on their shoulders throughout retirement.

Current college students are already aware that student debt could prove to be a big economic barrier in the future. But have all of these warnings from the media and economists changed the behavior of the current generation of college students?

While older generations warn of looming student debt that lasts until old age, obtaining a college degree is still stressed as a top priority for youth. Tuition rates nationwide are rising along with the number of people getting undergraduate and graduate degrees. Students may choose a more economical college, but some may not even consider economics in the end.

Current college students and graduates should not ignore all the warnings and reports about student debt, but should comprehend them as truthful reflections of the current economic situation and to serve as a warning against a similar one in the future. The $36 billion student loan debt of people 60+ will hopefully not be an indicator of what will happen in the future if students learn a lesson or two from their elders.

Carlin Sack writes for and attends Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism

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