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Student Debt Threatens the Safety Net for Elderly Americans According to Bloomberg

As reported by Natalie Kitroeff from Bloomberg Businessweek, student debt is growing faster for seniors than for any other age group, according to the latest data gathered by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Lingering student loan debt is part of a broader and, many elder-care lawyers say, devastating accumulation of debt among older Americans.

While people aged 50 and older hold only 17 percent of all U.S. student debt, this group has nearly three times as much debt as it did in 2005, according to the New York Fed data. By comparison, student debt for people under 40 is about one and a half times as high it was then.

The numbers don’t distinguish between older Americans who took out loans to finance their education and those who did so to put their children through college. A Gallup report released this month showed that people who took out loans decades ago are more likely to report low levels of health and financial well-being than their debt-free peers are.

For older Americans, owing for government-backed student loans can be particularly tough. Unlike other kinds of debt, including private student loans, collectors of federal student loan debt have the power to garnish income, block benefits, and withhold tax rebates. As a result, some older borrowers are seeing part of their Social Security payments seized and their wages cut off just when they are especially vulnerable.
Garnishing social security checks is just one tactic the government can use to recoup money it is owed. Lawmakers gave federal officials far-reaching powers of debt collection two decades ago, after the largest federal loan guarantor collapsed and a congressional investigation revealed that schools were fraudulently receiving millions in federal grants.