Anita Dante, in her late 60's, searches for a job in a local newspaper's classified section at her home in Margate, Florida.
Anita Dante, in her late 60's, searches for a job in a local newspaper's classified section at her home in Margate, Florida. - 
Listen To The Story
Marketplace

According to a new report from the Government Accountability Office, between 2004 and 2010 the number of seniors with student loan debt quadrupled to 706,000 households.

Betsy Mayotte is the director of regulatory compliance with American Student Assistance, a non-profit that helps families manage education debt. She says she's starting to see a fairly significant increase in older borrowers reaching out for help. 

Take one borrower she heard from recently: "He's 77, his wife 82," says Mayotte. "They both have age typical health concerns, they’re not going to work again and they owe a significant amount in student debt — both their own and debt they took on for their children — and they don’t know how they’re going to pay for it."

It's not what many expect, says Persis Yu, a staff attorney with the National Consumer Law Center's student loan borrower assistance project.

“Older Americans have a lot more student loan debt than people realize,” she says.

Federal student loans, notes Yu, never go away. They have no statute of limitations.

“So, if a borrower doesn’t finish paying off a loan, they could be on the hook for the rest of their life,” she says.

Yu says if a senior defaults on a loan, their social security benefits could be garnished. The GAO says when that happens, additional fees can be involved making it even harder to pay off the loan.

“I think the best compliment I can give is not to say how much your programs have taught me (a ton), but how much Marketplace has motivated me to go out and teach myself.” – Michael in Arlington, VA

As a nonprofit news organization, what matters to us is the same thing that matters to you: being a source for trustworthy, independent news that makes people smarter about business and the economy. So if Marketplace has helped you understand the economy better, make more informed financial decisions or just encouraged you to think differently, we’re asking you to give a little something back.

Become a Marketplace Investor today – in whatever amount is right for you – and keep public service journalism strong. We’re grateful for your support.