Student Loan Debt Haunts Retirees — Here’s How to Eliminate It

Miriam Doerr Martin Frommherz /

Student loan debt that is decades old continues to haunt thousands of retirees and other older borrowers, putting some of their Social Security income at risk.

The problem is so serious that it might push some of these older borrowers into poverty, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office.

The study found that older borrowers — defined as age 50 and beyond — who default on their federal student loans often have up to 15 percent of their Social Security benefit withheld.

Looking at data for the years 2001-2015, the GAO found that among older borrowers who were having part of their benefit withheld for the first time:

  • 43 percent had student loans for two decades or more.
  • 75 percent had taken loans only for their own education.
  • Most owed less than $10,000 at the time of the initial withholding of their benefit.

GAO said almost 114,000 older borrowers were subject to such withholding, technically known as an “offset.” More than half of these borrowers were receiving Social Security disability benefits rather than Social Security retirement income.

Among these borrowers, the typical amount of benefit lost to withholding was slightly more than $140 a month.

Help in paying off student loans

If you are struggling with student loan debt, the problem can feel overwhelming — particularly if it has gone on for years or decades. But there is hope, as Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson has written:

When you have a loan forgiven, canceled or discharged, it means you’re off the hook.

Stacy highlights a half-dozen such options in “Ask Stacy: Can I Have My Student Loans Forgiven?

Two more sources of student loan help are:

For more tips on dealing with — and eliminating — student loan debt, check out “How to Get Free Help With Your Student Loans.”

Do you have other tips for eliminating student loan debt? Share them in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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