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Bulletin Today | Money & Savings Print Print

Spiraling college tuition, and the student loan debt that typically accompanies it, are busting the retirement plans of millions of near-retirees. People 60-plus now hold the dubious distinction of being in the fastest-growing age group for college debt, according to The New York Times.

In the first quarter of this year, some 2.2 million student loan borrowers were age 60 and older, a three-fold increase from 2005. Together, they owed $43 billion in student loans.

But the debt is so crushing that nearly one in 10 of the borrowers is at least 90 days delinquent on payments, up from 6 percent in the same boat in 2005.

Consequently, a growing number of older adults who can’t pay their federal student debt are getting less in their monthly Social Security check because the government is taking a portion of it. This was the case for some 119,000 beneficiaries as of September, the Times report said.

It isn’t clear how many retirees and near-retirees took out loans for their own education (perhaps returning to school for better job opportunities during the recession) or to pay for their children’s or grandchildren’s tuition. The government doesn’t track that information.

One man is working long past when he expected to because of his debt. California dentist Opanin Gyaami, 71, sees inmates at a state prison once a week to pay down the student loans he took out in the 1980s, according to The Los Angeles Times. But he knows he made a bad situation worse.

Because he didn’t pay back the loan on time and ignored payment notices, Gyaami now owes more than $500,000 with penalties and interest.

Denise Smith, 52, started a Facebook group, Aging With Student Debt, because most websites and blogs dealing with this kind of debt were about people who were mostly younger, she told The Chicago Tribune.

Smith, from Arizona, has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and owes $104,000 in student loans, the Tribune reported.

Lawmakers are pushing for reform so that people who take out private student loans (but not  federal loans) can discharge some of the debt in bankruptcy. As we know too well, overwhelming debt can make it difficult for older adults to retire comfortably because there is less time to rebuild savings.

It’s no picnic for recent graduates, either. College students graduate with an average of $26,600 in student loan debt. And mirroring the status of older adults, nearly one in 10 default within two years, the U.S. Department of Education reports.

Photo credit: 401k 2012 via flickr.com