Older students lead loan delinquents

Graduating students attend New York University's commencement ceremony at Yankee Stadium on May 16, 2012 in the Bronx borough of New York City.

Kai Ryssdal: We've talked before about some of the changes student debt is bringing. How young people are living with their parents longer, putting off marriage. But some data out this week from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York caught our eye. It said the people struggling the most to pay off their student loans aren't fresh faced new graduates. They're practically old, as in, in their 40s.

From the Marketplace Education Desk at WYPR, Amy Scott reports.


Amy Scott: The New York Fed says 40-somethings have a higher student loan delinquency rate than any other age group -- almost 12 percent, compared to just under 9 percent overall.

Deanne Loonin with the National Consumer Law Center says many who fall behind were non-traditional students.

Deanne Loonin: In general, they were older when they started school in the first place. A lot of them actually had their own dependents when they went to school. They have a very low completion rate as well. And all of those are also, unfortunately, risk factors for delinquency and default.

The economy, of course, has made things worse. Tamara Draut is with the nonprofit think tank Demos. She says in many ways the recession has hit middle aged people hardest.

Tamara Draut: People in their 40s lost a lot of coping mechanisms that enabled them to pay the bills. They lost equity in their homes, they lost value in their 401(k), and they’re also a little bit more likely to be among the ranks of the long-term unemployed.

Even for those who pay on time, student loans are a drain. Draut, who’s 41, is still paying off the $68,000 she borrowed for grad school.

Draut: The money that is going to paying off my student loan debt certainly isn’t going into a college savings fund for my daughter. Could I be putting more away for retirement security? Absolutely.

Most economists still agree going to college pays off in better jobs and higher pay, but as older borrowers are finding out, it can be a very long-term investment.

I’m Amy Scott for Marketplace.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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