There are a myriad of articles exploring the student loan crisis in the U.S. and just as many statistics trying to encapsulate the issue into tweet-size bites. As a graduate with absurd levels of debt, I too am prone to fall for a creatively crafted piece of student loan click-bait as much as the next person.
However, what scares me the most isn’t the click-bait, the blog posts, or the (frighteningly) large per-student debt figures. What scares me most is the idea of my potential being capped before it’s ever realized, seeing the things my future should hold that may not come to fruition because of a student debt albatross around my neck. You can see that future too; all you have to do is look at older Americans who still carry student debt.
Early in January, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released a snapshot report, from The Office for Older Americans and the Office for Students and Young Consumers, titled “Snapshot of older consumers and student loan debt”¹. It is a showstopper.
The Student Loan Crisis for Seniors
Since 2005, the number of Americans with student debt, 60 years and older, has quadrupled from 700,000 to 2.8 million seniors and the amount of debt each senior carries has doubled from $12,100 to $23,500 for a total of $66.7 billion dollars. While a large section of these seniors are carrying unpaid debts from their own schooling, many are co-signers with or borrowers for their child or grandchild’s education and are now feeling the effects. As of September 2016, the national average for student loan default is 11.3%², according to the Department of Education, but Americans 65 and older default at a rate of 37%.
These debts are often tied to quality-of-life issues for our seniors as well. 39% of consumers age 60 or older have not fulfilled healthcare needs due to their loans. In 2013, adults nearing the age of retirement had less saved up in their retirement accounts than counterparts without such debt. Notably, consumers without loans with an IRA or similar product were found to have as much as $20,000 more in savings than similar consumers with said debt.
In an article on December 2016, The Washington Post reported on a Government Accountability Office report which stated that over 110,000 people age 50 or over had social security benefits garnished³.
Some of our most vulnerable citizens living on fixed incomes, disability or savings alone are feeling the pain of their student loan debts. Whether they have defaulted, are losing benefits or don’t have enough saved for retirement, having student loans as they leave the workforce means more hardship for those Americans and their families.
These numbers are only slated to balloon exponentially as more consumers with student loan debt age and retire. Combined with a loss of potential savings and earning potential for young Americans with debt, all of these factors leads to an apocalyptic forecast for my generation in 25 to 30 years’ time.
There are two solutions and both are necessary. Congress must act now to prevent an entire generation of student loan borrowers from retiring with existing debts and fixed incomes. The financial implications of millions of senior citizens unable to meet their basic human needs should be reason alone to act. To leave this ticking time bomb unchecked will be catastrophic for our country.
Fortunately, there is still hope for our current students and children. This is why prevention early is key. Here at CARE, I have seen firsthand the impact that can be had on a young person’s life when you help them realize their own power when it comes to personal financial management. Our presentations are free for any group or classroom and volunteering couldn’t be easier. Join our organization today at www.care4yourfuture.org
About the Author
Ian Redman is the Communications and Development Program Coordinator for Credit Abuse Resistance Education (CARE). After graduating from George Washington University, Ian ran his own consulting firm working in local politics. Ian moved on from politics to focus on his first passion: helping students. He found CARE and decided to share his own student loans story. As of posting, his private student loan debt is $83,710.66.