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Seniors saddled with student debt

April 2, 2012: 2:54 PM ET
student loan debt

Older borrowers owe $36 billion in student loans.

Student loans aren't only an issue the young have to deal with.

Nearly 2 million people age 60 and older are still paying back student loans, according to recent research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. And they owe more than $36 billion.

Their average debt? $18,000.

Now, not all this debt is their own. New York Fed researchers don't have a specific breakdown, but believe many seniors incurred this burden by helping their children and grandchildren go to college. Parents can get ensnared in student debt by co-signing loans or taking out PLUS loans.

Some seniors, however, may be repaying their own student loans, especially those who went to college later in life to learn new job skills. During this economic downturn, it's been harder for older Americans who've been laid off to find new jobs, forcing many of them to seek retraining.

Student loan debt has been growing rapidly, as tuition and enrollment soars, raising fears of a pending crisis.Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Illinois Senator Richard Durbin recently voiced their concerns.

However, some experts say talk of a crisis is overblown. There are ways to make your student loan payments more affordable.

Like their younger peers, not everyone age 60-plus is able to keep up with their payments, though they only represent 4.8% of past-due loans balances, or about $4.1 billion.

The Washington Post reported earlier on this story.

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