If you’re worrying about your child’s student debt obligations, you might want to check up on your parents, too. The Chronicle of Higher Ed reports that adults over 60 have the fastest growing student-loan debt and that their growing delinquencies are leading the Department of Education to garnish Social Security checks. Stung by the Great Recession, many older boomers went back to school in the hopes of burnishing their resumes. Unfortunately, employers’ reticence to hire older people who are out of work has led to continued unemployment and an average debt of $19,000 for this group.
The piece includes a poignant quote from an unemployed 65 year old, who laments that he “fully expect[s] to die with this [$70,000] debt.” Tragically, though he might die with his debt, his debt might not die with him. True, federally-backed loans are always discharged when then borrower dies. However, this is not the case with private loans: if family members had cosigned for the deceased borrower’s loan, they can be held liable for his unpaid debt. In other words, an unemployed 70 year old woman can be made responsible for her now-deceased husband’s loans. Since adults over the age of 40 are taking on private loans in increasing numbers, we can imagine that this nightmarish scenario will become more common for seniors. The need for serious student loan reform couldn’t be clearer.