Student debt: The burden on seniors

Senior citizens work on their laptop computers during a class in Des Plaines, Ill.

When we talk about student debt, I bet you're picturing 20 or maybe 30-something types laboring under this burden. But consider this: According to the Federal Reserve, Americans 60 years old and up owe more than $43 billion in student loans. In fact, the number of 60 year old-plus borrowers is at an all-time high: 2.2 million. Some of them, of course, took that money out to help their kids get through college. But many borrowed late in life, for their own reasons.

Take Steven Manriquez, a 65-year-old Marine veteran and retired police officer (full disclosure: he's the father-in-law of Marketplace freelance producer Candace). A few years ago, Steven decided to go back to college to earn a bachelor's degree in psychology and he's now in a master's program. He hopes to help veterans diagnosed with PTSD. Currently, his loans add up to more than $55,000.

Manriquez retired in 2002, sat around for eight years, and just decided one day to pursue a Master's degree. He has a son in college and a daughter heading to college a year for now.

"My son is in the Marine Corps Reserve, so he may be getting some help through the government that way. As for my daughter, I will probably end up footing that bill. I'm putting a little aside every month for my retirement and at least it will get her through the first year," says Manriquez.

When he has to start paying back student loans, he says his payment will be about $150-200 a month for about 10-20 years. Pursuing a Master's degree has been a dream of his.

"Me watching [my kids] and I said, you know what, if they can do it, I can do it," he says.

He offers this advice to seniors going back to school: "Upon graduation, make sure that you go back to work because the bill is there and I mean, like me, I'm going to spend a good six years getting my degree. And it would be a shame for me to all of a sudden not use that education or that degree for something."

About the author

In more than 20 years in public radio, Barbara Bogaev has served as the longtime guest host of NPR’s flagship program Fresh Air with Terry Gross, as well as host of APM’s news and culture magazine, Weekend America and the weekly national documentary series, Soundprint.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...