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Student Loan Debt: Senior Citizens Owe 4.2 Percent Of All Student Loan Debt

The Huffington Post  |  By Posted: 04/ 2/2012 2:47 pm Updated: 04/ 2/2012 10:30 pm

Student Loan Debt Senior Citizen

It's not just twenty-somethings that are carrying the weight of the student loan debt crisis.

In fact, a sizable chunk of nation's student loan debt is held by senior citizens--many of whom cannot afford to pay off the debt.

Two million seniors in the U.S. who are age 60 and over have student loan debt, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. These seniors owe 4.2 percent of all student loan debt, or $36.5 billion in student loans. (H/t The Washington Post.)

11.2 percent of all student loan debt held by seniors is in default, according to the New York Fed.

Student loans can be a lifelong burden because people who declare bankruptcy cannot get student loan debt forgiven unless they can prove that their student loans are an "undue hardship." As a result, seniors can lose much of their Social Security income to student loan payments.

Many seniors are barely getting by, debt aside. Nearly half of all Baby Boomers are at risk of having to downgrade their living standards after retirement, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

There are a number of reasons why seniors may still carry student loan debt. While some are still paying off debt they took on in their 20s, others have gone back to school. They also may take on more debt by co-signing student loans for their children or grandchildren, according to The Washington Post.

Because of the tough economy, Baby Boomers have gone back to school in droves to build their job skills. The number of U.S. college students between the ages of 50 and 64 surged 17 percent between the fall of 2007 and the fall of 2009, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics cited by the Columbus Dispatch. At Columbus State Community College, the number of students who are at least age 50 has spiked 81 percent since fall of 2007, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

Some have borrowed so much in student loans that it would require an unrealistic salary to pay the loans off. The top 1 percent of student loan borrowers owe at least $150,000 in student loans, according to the New York Fed. It would require a salary of at least $207,000 per year in order to pay off $150,000 in 10 years; $137,000 per year to pay off the loans in 20 years; $117,000 per year to pay off the loans in 30 years; or $109,000 per year to pay off the loans in 40 years, according to the FinAid calculator.

Total U.S. student loan debt now exceeds $1 trillion, topping credit card debt as the largest source of unsecured consumer debt in the U.S., according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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