The Impact of Student Loans on Your Own Retirement

Roddy MarinoRoddy Marino, CIMA, Executive Vice President
National Accounts & Distribution

An education is one of the greatest gifts a parent or grandparent can give to the next generation. The problem for many, however, is that it comes at the cost of their own retirement.

People over the age of 60 represent the fastest-growing segment of individuals taking out loans for education. Over the past decade, student loans taken out by individuals over the age of 60 grew from $6 billion in 2004 to $58 billion in 2014. To put the dollars into perspective, consider another staggering statistic—the numbers of senior citizens with student debt exceed 760,000. Some have co-signed loans or taken Parent PLUS loans to help children or grandchildren get an education. Other seniors carry old debt from when they returned to school to get advanced degrees or in the pursuit of new skills needed for a career change.

A mistake some retirees make is they incorrectly assume that they will never have to repay their student debt. Only two things can make federal college debt go away: satisfaction or death of the borrower.

shutterstock_44454148Federal student loans aren’t forgiven at retirement or any age after. Bankruptcy won’t even discharge a federal student loan, and the consequences to a senior who defaults on a federal loan are severe. The government can garnish Social Security benefits and other wages. Recent reports indicate over 150,000 retirees have at least one Social Security payment reduced to offset federal student loans. This number represents a drastic increase from the 31,000 impacted in the year 2002.

The government can withhold up to 15% of a borrower’s retirement benefits and can also withhold tax refunds in the event the borrower defaults on a college loan.

If repayment is not possible, you may want to explore a few options to minimize the impact on cash flow once you are on a fixed income. You could stretch out the term of the loan as long as possible through extended payments, or enter into an income-driven repayment plan. Typically, borrowers must pay 10-20% of discretionary income in an income-contingent scenario.

Both strategies could reduce your monthly payments; however, ultimately either strategy will result in higher total payments. To put it simply, debt of any kind is best retired before you retire.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.