Tips for older student loan borrowers

by Grace

How can older Americans sidestep student debt trouble?

With the need to retool career skills or pursue new vocations, more Americans are taking on loans to finance education later in life — for new degrees, certificates or course work called continuing education units to improve knowledge in demanding professions.

According to the Government Accountability Office, student debt held by those 65 and older has risen significantly in recent years, growing to about $18.2 billion in 2013, from about $2.8 billion in 2005. While it’s not known how much of that is the result of college loans co-signed for children or grandchildren, a good portion is for continuing education. Before the last recession, the working-age population pursuing “re-entry” courses jumped 27 percent over a decade, according to the Education Department.

The New York Times’ advice for senior citizens seems to be the same that younger student loan borrowers should follow.

… “Do a cost-benefit analysis. How will it maximize my earnings? Will I be able to service the debt?”…

“Evaluate your postgraduate payment plan,” Mr. Weber suggests. “What will your salary be after graduation? Will there be an immediate payoff in terms of a higher salary?”…

You can overpay for a degree or certificate that will yield little career advancement or salary increases. Mr. Weber warns against for-profit colleges that market aggressively and says their programs and graduation rates should be carefully vetted.

The federal government offers some flexibility in paying back loans, including income-based repayment (IBR).

But what happens after you’re out of school with continuing education debt if you can’t increase your income or don’t start earning money right away?

If you have federal loans, you can qualify for a break from payments until you can start paying them down. See the Education Department’s federal student aid website to explore the options.

Another option is income-based repayment, available only for federally guaranteed loans. Private loans are the least flexible in terms of repayment.

Retired borrowers may be more likely to qualify for IBR.

“If you’re at or near retirement, your income may be lower, which may affect your ability to repay your loan,” she said. “There is income-based repayment available, which can make repayment more manageable, but can also extend the repayment period, leading to more interest accrual. It’s something to keep in mind as you plan for the future.”

Since assets are not counted in determining eligibility for IBR and similar debt relief programs, senior citizens with substantial home equity and retirement accounts may find it easy to qualify.

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John F. Waskimarch, “Managing Student Loan Debt as an Older Adult”, New York Times, March 19, 2015.

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