When student loan debt comes to mind, someone like 65-year-old Myrtis Whalen Hooson might not be your first thought.
“I had to defer our car payment multiple times to make a student loan payment,” Hooson told NewsNation.
About 13 years ago, her late husband became disabled. Hooson’s $9-an-hour job couldn’t support the family. So at 54, she takes out loans and leaves back to school become a certified medical assistant.
“I was paying off all my student loans and I was paying off my student loans, and I was getting into more and more debt. It was stressful, not sleeping. Sometimes I wouldn’t even eat,” Hooson said.
She said she even reduced her grocery expenses just to make her monthly student loan payments.
But Hooson’s story isn’t unique, and she’s just one of 1.4 million Americans over the age of 62 who are still paying off their student loans. And for Americans 50 and older, that number jumps to over 6 million with student debt.
In fact, collectively, seniors owe approximately $296 billion in student loans.
“When you think of the word ‘student’ in debt, you immediately think of a younger person. People over 60 have become the fastest growing segment in the student loan market,” said Barry Coleman of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
He said that the elderly are well and truly forgotten, but he also said that skyrocketing college costs means more Americans are going into debt until the end of their lives. In some cases, paying off their own student debt while taking on more for their children.
“When a borrower defaults on federal student loans, the federal government can actually garnish up to 15% of Social Security payments,” Coleman explained.
He also said about 40% of senior borrowers have defaulted.
“I did it for my family, so I could make our lives better,” Hooson said.
She understands people who oppose loan forgiveness, but hopes Americans won’t rush to judge who has student loan debt and why they have it.
Whether President Joe Biden’s Student Loan Cancellation Plan advance, Hooson would benefit. However, there are plenty of other seniors who have taken out private loans who would not benefit from Biden’s plan.
Experts say most seniors qualify for income-driven benefits repayment planswhich could reduce monthly payments.