If you only envision a student when you hear about student loan debt, you're only seeing part of the picture.
“$36 billion of the outstanding student loans are owned by people 60 and over, and that's huge,” said Ann-Magaret Carrozza, an Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney.
While a small portion of them have loans left over from their own education, Carrozza says a majority are footing the bill on behalf of a younger generation, primarily due to co-signing.
“People don't realize that when you co-sign, for any loan, whether it's an auto loan or a student loan, it's not just sort of in the background unless and until the primary borrower defaults,” she said. “That is immediately on the co-signer's credit, credit score, credit application and those numbers are very, very important today.”
While $36 billion is already a surprising number, it still does not tell the whole story. Not included are those who took out parent loans or other private loans, parents like Miriam Babel who still owes $19,000 years after helping her son through college. As a result, this semi-retired school teacher must continue to work.
“Every morning I get up and I wait for the sub-central phone calls, that means I can substitute teach that day, and I hope I have a job,” said Babel. “And after that, I usually work some more, I tutor. So I'm kind of like always in motion trying to earn extra money to pay back this debt.”
As a parent, she says, you want to help your children fulfill their dreams, but she warns, that could come at the expense of your own.
“It's going to require you to you know work hard,” said Babel. “Even in the moments when you think you should be relaxing and being retired, it may not happen for you for a long while.”
Speaking of retirement, Carrozza says borrowing against your 401K to put their kids through college is financial suicide. Her advice: put saving for retirement first, and you'll be teaching your children a lesson equally important to any they'll learn at a university.
“I think that really sends a message to our children about what we're supposed to do financially,” said Carrozza. “The children are going to have plenty of time to pay back their obligations, the parents who are 60 and over, don't have the luxury of that much time to reinvest in the retirement.”