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I’m 57 and owe $152,000 in student loans — and I’m not alone

student loans

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Rosemary Anderson, 57, is on the hook for $152,000 in student loans she took out 20 years ago.

The divorced mother of two grown daughters represents a growing number of older Americans with student debt.

The 50-and-over crowd makes up 17% of $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt — a 30% increase since 2005.

Anderson’s loans financed her own education. However, one of the main reasons for the big increase is because more parents have taken out loans to finance their children’s college education.

“We’re seeing a rise in the number of people with two generations of debt: People who are paying for their children’s education, but also paying off their old student loans,” said Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, which researches the rising costs of higher education.

Older workers, who have lost jobs, have found it difficult to get re-hired, leading them to fall behind on repaying their loans. And their kids, who may have shouldered the burden of repaying their loans, also haven’t been able to find well-paying jobs.

Anderson, who lives in Watsonville, Ca., fears for her future, when there’s the likelihood of her social security payments being garnished.

Her fears aren’t unfounded. American Student Assistance, a non profit that counsels people with student debt problems, said that over the past year it has worked with 1,000 Americans who have had their social security payments garnished to pay for old student debt. That’s a sharp increase from just 200 people in the previous year.

Anderson’s loans are driven from a decision late in life to earn two degrees and paying for them with loans totaling $65,000 from the government and various financial firms.

She earned her bachelor’s degree at 37 and a master’s degree at 44, both in human resources. While Anderson has never regretted the decision to get higher education, the costs have been severe.

After graduation, Anderson was paying six checks a month to Sallie Mae, Wells Fargo and other financial firms. So she decided to consolidate all her loans into one big loan with the Department of Education at the prevailing 8.25% rate.

The catch was that she could not refinance. Since then, interest rates on student loans have fallen below 3% and today can be had for 4.66%.

“If I had taken out a loan with a loan shark I would have been better off,” Anderson said.

The issue caught the attention of Senator Elizabeth Warren, who introduced a bill earlier this year to allow millions of people like Anderson to refinance their student loans. However, the bill was blocked in June.

Anderson was counting on the bill for a “last minute stay of execution” as she calls it.

She stopped making payments on her student loans about six years ago after a bout of unemployment, a divorce and tending a brother who fought AIDS.

Still she has avoided being technically in default by rolling her debt over several times and watching the interest compound and the amount of her loans balloon in size.

Related: Grieving parents hit with $200,000 in student loans

Next April, Anderson won’t be able to do that any more and will have to make payments of $699 a month until she is 81 years old. She worries about how she will make ends meet.

Anderson brings home $3,400 a month from her job in business operations at the University of California in Santa Cruz. She has a $2,200 mortgage payment and has to live on what’s left, and earning some extra income by finding odd jobs on Craig’s List.

“I will be working for as long as I’m employable. I will never be able to retire,” said Anderson.

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12 comments

  • Mike

    I am so confused. I could not afford college, married at 21 with a high school education, two children the next three years. I worked my butt off at three jobs at a time to support my family. 48 years later I have two successful children with great careers and a wife whom I love. How do you get all of this debt and not be able to get a career that will help you earn enough to retire your debt? Not being mean, or nasty, what happened?

    • D

      Hi Mike, I understand your inquiry. People are staying in the workforce longer, and there has been a shift in job requirements. Some people earn a college degree only later to find out that they need experience on top of the degree which they do not have. Therefore, they go back to school to get another degree they believe would be useful and once again run into the same situation. The lack of experience leads to individuals working in fields or areas that pay far less than what they owe in student loans. The loans accrue interest so if you are only paying the minimum then the balance is a lot higher.

    • a twenty something

      The workforce is totally different than it was 48 years ago. 48 years ago you could get a good job without a college education and if you had a college education, you were really in the money. Now, these days job require college for mediocre paying jobs so eveyone feels the need to go to college. Then as someone else mentioned, you have to have experience. So, if you go from high school straight to the workforce, you have a low opportunity to get a really good paying job because they require degrees. So, then you have to go to college. Basically, the ways its set up you have to internship and have a college degree for a good job. You real;y have to start from the botttom or luck up by knowing someone or something.

    • Stuck Indebt

      I originally had 60k (40k + 20k) in loans and refinanced at 8%. I am stuck without being able to refinance. Since I graduated with my lsych degree (Masters) I could not find a job to pay enough to support a family. My daughter was bkrn with Down syndrome and a heart condition and my wife went through stage3c cancer which bankrupted us. I didn’t plan for any of this, but it happened. I now have to work as a banker because I couldn’t find a job in the field in which I have my degree. I’ve had to let the loan compound the interest and now owe 100k. I’ve wanted to pay, but could not since I have graduated. I see no end to it and payments start next month. Doesn’t seem right as I took them out in good faith but fixed now at 8%, I can’t see a way to do it.

  • C

    Don’t these people know that College is Expensive? Don’t they know the Costs up front before
    signing on the bottom line? Don’t they Agree to the costs to get what they want, and make a loan
    to get it? Is this a Media Government’s set up to set up tax payers to pay off everyone’s college debt? Then tax payers can pay for FREE college for everyone, including illegal invaders and their extended families, from anywhere in the world?

  • dmcgrann

    I really don';t think that the article means much, because I really don’t know why these folks didn’t take out their loans (if they needed them) and got their bachelor’s degrees when they were, say, 23 or 24 years old, not at 37 years old.,

    You make choices.

  • manalishi

    It’s impossible, Obama fixed the economy. Everyone has great paying jobs and unemployment is at 6%.. (Extreme sarcasm intended)

  • Johnnie G

    College and University fees are outrageous and a shell game. I have a bachelors and masters, they served me well. But someone taking on that kind of debt these days is really taking on a risk.

  • Bruce Johnson

    I’ve been reading articles like this for a long time. The negative comments against the woman profiled in this article seem to run along the lines of: “Why didn’t you major in something more lucrative?”, or “Not my problem”. This attitude has to change or we’re going to create ugly resentment in people who are being punished severely for doing nothing more than try to make their lives better.

  • Rene

    Try being in your 50’s and lose a good paying job (especially as a single woman). NO one wants to give you a chance. I went back to school and got a bachelors, still no luck. Now, I am told I need a masters, and all the jobs want that and experience. How the heck do you get experience if no one is willing to try you out? This economy and country are rigged, especially against older females. Maybe, if some of you men had any guts to not leave your wives for younger women, we wouldn’t be in this boat. And, you women in hiring capacities who discriminate against an older woman, shame on you!!! You’ll get older too one day. If you’re lucky.

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