THE BLOG
10/23/2014 04:45 pm ET Updated Dec 23, 2014

Baby Boomers and Student Loans are Pouring into Retirement

No, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you. I knowingly wrote the words "baby boomers" and "student loans" in the same sentence. And yes, they are related. Surprised? So was I.

We talk a lot about the 10,000 baby boomers reaching age 65 every day and the challenges they face as they pour into retirement. One challenge rarely associated with baby boomers is how student loan debt is jeopardizing their retirement nest egg. Really? Student loan debt? That's a Millennial issue, right? Not exactly.

A recent study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office indicated that "some 155,000 older Americans are now seeing deductions from their Social Security checks to pay off their federal student loans - up from 31,000 a decade ago." While some of those loans were taken out by Boomer parents to help fund a child's education, nearly three out of four dollars of the Boomers' loan balances were for their own education. According to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's latest report on household debt, the number of Americans age 50 and older with outstanding student loans has nearly tripled to two million since 2005.

While Boomers only make up about 11 percent of the total outstanding student loan debt balance, the study is a wake-up call to those of us nearing or at retirement. I am Gen Xer myself and, at one time, my monthly student loan debt was greater than my mortgage payment. The picture for Millennials has only gotten more daunting as the growth of student loan debt continues to outpace the growth in disposable income - meaning that the ability to reach retirement free of large student loan balances is only getting harder.

So what do Americans with student loan debt do? For baby boomers, rebounding from student loan debt isn't easy. Managing income and debt in retirement will be a constant balancing act. Putting together a budget and working with a financial advisor on a retirement income plan can help with this. For Gen Xers, we are in our peak earning years. Take advantage of low rates. Consolidate. Shorten payment duration. Tighten your belt and try to pay down the debt before you retire. For Millennials, save for retirement. Be smart about how and when to pay down your debt, and try to manage your debt consumption. If you must take out a loan, only take the smallest loan necessary and don't be tempted by low interest rates. Still in school? Get a part-time job to help cover a portion of your expenses, rather than following the "buy now, pay later" mantra.

While there isn't a Staples "Easy Button" to get rid of that debt, the long term implications of carrying large student loan balances into retirement are increasingly clear. The sooner you clear your debt and take control of your money, the better. As you may remember reading, at the moment of retirement, our paycheck stops like a light switching off. (Click!) Make sure you're prepared.

PHOTO GALLERY
States With Highest Average Student Debt - TICAS - Class Of 2012