Education Debt Held by Older Americans

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Recently released federal data show that 17 percent of federal student debt holders are over the age of 50. This group of older borrowers collectively hold $247 billion in student debt, an amount that has roughly tripled since 2003. Likewise, a 2016 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office…

Recently released federal data show that 17 percent of federal student debt holders are over the age of 50. This group of older borrowers collectively hold $247 billion in student debt, an amount that has roughly tripled since 2003.

Likewise, a 2016 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office provoked alarm for showing that the federal government is withholding a portion of Social Security benefits from a growing number of older Americans to cover defaulted student loan debt.

Amid this context, the Urban Institute on Thursday released an analysis of federal survey data on older student debt holders. The group found that 3.5 percent of Americans over 50 hold student debt for their own education, compared to roughly 8 percent with debt for their children or grandchildren.

Older borrowers with debt from their education tend to have more precarious finances, the report found. For example, 55 percent of this group reported struggles with money compared to 33 percent of those with student debt for their children. In addition, black adults over age 50 are roughly three times as likely to hold education debt for themselves as are their white peers.

Education Debt Among Americans Aged 50 and Older. Bar chart shows percentage of group holding education debt, broken down by whether debt is for self or for a child or grandchild. For white adults, just over 2 percent hold debt for self and just over 8 percent hold debt for a child or grandchild. For black adults, over 9 percent hold debt for self and just over 5 percent hold debt for a child or grandchild. For Hispanic adults, about 5 percent hold debt for self and about 7 percent hold debt for a child or grandchild. For adults who selected “other” for race, just over 4 percent hold debt for self and just over 8 percent hold debt for a child or grandchild. For adults who are of multiple races, just over 6 percent hold debt for self and just under 7 percent hold debt for a child or grandchild. For adults with a household income under $20,000, just over 6 percent hold debt for self and just under 2 percent hold debt for a child or grandchild. For adults with a household income of $20,000 to $40,000, about 3.5 percent hold debt for self and just under 4 percent hold debt for a child or grandchild. For adults with a household income of $40,000 to $60,000, just under 3 percent hold debt for self and about 6 percent hold debt for a child or grandchild. For adults with a household income of $60,000 to $100,000, about 3.5 percent hold debt for self and over 10 percent hold debt for a child or grandchild. For adults with a household income of over $100,000, about 2.5 percent hold debt for self and about 13 percent hold debt for a child or grandchild. Source: Urban Institute analysis of SHED data from 2013 to 2016. Note: Holding debt for a child or grandchild is reported for all respondents, regardless of if they report having children. Full table with additional results and sample sizes available in appendix.

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