Stacks of coins with miniature mortar board on top and miniature rolled diploma in front

Older borrowers struggle to repay federal student loans 

© iStock - William_Potter
Alex Gonzalez

Click play to listen to this article.

Audio file

(Nevada News Service) New federal data from the Department of Education confirms retirement-age borrowers are struggling to repay their federal student loans. 

About 60 percent of borrowers over age 62 have been making federal student-loan payments for more than 15 years

Tia Caldwell is a policy analyst with the Education, Opportunity and Mobility Initiative at the nonprofit New America - who said she suspects many other borrowers have been paying even longer. 

She said until now, her team had been using 2016 data from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. 

PROMO Education - Graduation Cap Diploma Books - iStock - leolintang

© - leolintang

But the updated numbers offer valuable insight into the realities many older borrowers are grappling with, in Nevada and across the country. 

"There is this huge growth of older borrowers," said Caldwell, "because so many people are struggling with their student loans, and are unable to repay their loans in the time frame that they probably imagined they would be able to when they took out those loans."

Caldwell added that financially-strapped borrowers often pause their loan payments or enroll in affordable, income-driven repayment plans - but these can extend the repayment terms by years. 

Or, they spend time in default, which can have punitive consequences. 

Sarah Sattelmeyer - a project director, also with New America - said the new data paint a bleak picture. 

One in three federal borrowers is in default, and about 80 percent of seniors with loans hold debt from their own education

She noted that it's important to have the information.

"Until now, we really have been taking what I like to call a 'beg, borrow and steal' - although maybe not the 'stealing' part - approach to getting data," said Sattelmeyer. "It is really hard to come up with the right policy solutions when you don't understand which groups are most impacted."

Sattelmeyer said the latest figures make this issue harder to ignore. She added that New America commends the Biden administration's work on student-debt relief, but more work is needed.