College Debt: Not Just For Kids
|By Mila Koumpilova, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.|
She is hopeful she will line up financing for a pet supply shop, where her two golden retrievers will greet customers. Failing that, she trusts her
But she also worries about repaying
"I am certainly daunted by what's ahead of me," said Iverson, of
A growing number of Americans 50 and older face student loan payments, defying the conventional wisdom of college debt as a concern of those in their 20s and 30s.
The economic downturn added to the already swelling ranks
of those arriving on campus later in life to shift career gears. And more parents are taking out or co-signing loans for their children's education.
Student loan debt can be more unsettling in those later years, when it can throw off retirement plans or collide with medical bills. Mixed with stories of successful midlife reinventions are those of garnished
When the economic downturn hit, Iverson was laid off from her job as an information technology director at a local nonprofit. She'd taken the job when she and her husband separated; the couple had run a successful IT consulting business for years.
"I found myself without a job and without much of an education,"
said Iverson, who had some college credit at the time.
After struggling to find another job, she enrolled in a
A year and a half later, she cuts a familiar figure on campus, with her flowing grey hair and a textbook-packed rolling suitcase instead of one of the ubiquitous backpacks. She is a
Student loans made it possible, she says. She used the last
A study released by the Federal Reserve Bank of
Almost 10 percent of borrowers older than 50 are delinquent on their student loans.
Experts suspect the majority of borrowers that age owe for children's or grandkids' student loans. According to the nonprofit
Amid the economic uncertainty, private lenders are also pressing more parents to co-sign on children's loans after they've taken out the maximum federal loans allowed.
More people out of a growing pool of baby boomers are also enrolling to seek an edge on a tight job market or a second
career. In the past decade, the total
Things are looking up for
She'll graduate in the spring from
Since arriving at
The only thing that brings her down: that her student loans -- about
"I will be paying this off till the day I die," Moy said. "That thought scares the bejeebers out of me."
But when borrowers stumble, the fallout can be harsher the closer to retirement age they are, says
Local bankruptcy attorneys say they are seeing more clients in their 50s and 60s with student loans, a rarity in the days before the economic crash. And there's hardly anything they can do about those loans: Federal and private student loans cannot be cleared in bankruptcy, except in extremely rare cases.
"I think we're going to have a whole generation that doesn't get their full
After several earlier cracks at college,
Then, his health started flagging. In 2004, with
Unable to continue as a driver because of his pacemaker, Ferrell started receiving
His cardiologist and his primary care doctor filled out numerous forms. He spoke with more than a couple dozen customer reps before finally getting the discharge this year. His lender will monitor his income in the coming years, though, he said: "The loan is still hanging over my head."
Older borrowers should peer far into the future before taking out a student loan, experts say. They have a narrower window of opportunity to recover from financial setbacks and need to plan for retirement.
Kantrowitz' advice: Weigh your costs against your likely income after graduation, and never borrow more than you can reasonably pay back in 10 years or before retirement.
When it comes to co-signing on private loans, bankruptcy attorneys and some experts agree: Don't do it.
"I tell my kids that as much as I love them, I would never co-sign for a student loan for them," May said.
Loans are on Iverson's mind as she nears graduation, without health insurance and much of a retirement cushion. She and fellow students have compared interest rates and terms. She recently asked an instructor if her nephews and heirs would be on the hook if she dies before paying everything off. But she also cringes at the idea of taxpayers getting stuck with her bill.
"I am not disheartened by any means," she said. "It just feels like an uncertain future."
Mila Koumpilova can be reached at 651-228-2171. Follow her at twitter.com/MilaPiPress.
(c)2012 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)
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