The cost of education can last a lifetime, as many people into their 50s and 60s are finding out.
According to Federal Reserve, 2.8 million people in the U.S. over the age of 60 are sitting on some amount of student debt, a number that quadrupled from 700,000 in 2005 and continues to grow.
“This is really a sledgehammer against the older generation in more ways than one,” says Alan Collinge, creator of online advocacy group for borrowers Student Loan Justice.
Collinge has been campaigning for change surrounding laws for student loans since 2005, after trying to figure out a way to pay off his own crippling college costs.
“It’s a really devastating phenomenon, and I’m seeing it destroy, literally wreck, families across the country,” Collinge says.
In 2018, Americans over the age of 50 owed more than $260 billion in student loans, up from $36 billion in 2004, according to the Federal Reserve.
And most can’t afford to pay, forcing retirees to continue to work well past retirement age.
“The problem has become exponentially worse since we began this fight 13 years ago,” he says.
In Collinge’s group, he hears stories from people ages 18 to 80 years old, who can hardly afford to live, let alone retire.
“The federal government can and does garnish Social Security from seniors as a result of their student loans, so we’re hearing stories from people who at the end of the month they’re unable to buy medicine even unable to pay their rent,” Collinge says, “What kind of country does this to their senior people?”
On top of that, Collinge says more people in their 50s and 60s are taking out Parent Plus loans to help their children and grandchildren pay for college, which adds to the financial burden.
“This is a nationally threatening phenomenon,” he said.
Through his advocacy group, he tries to offer help and resources to folks who are struggling. He’s currently on a road tour talking to legislators around the country, encouraging them to reform borrower laws, expand their rights and get colleges to crack down on sky-high tuition costs.
“Student loans are the only loans in the country not subject to bankruptcy, why is that? The numbers are just getting so astonishing now, I can only hope that the new Congress puts this issue front and center and doesn’t get distracted by the palace intrigue because this is a problem affecting real people it just won’t wait any longer.”