Defaults on student loans skyrocket among senior citizens

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 7 2012 12:01 p.m. MDT

The federal government seizes money from Social Security checks when elderly Americans default on their student loans.

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Student loans never just “go away” — not even for senior citizens collecting Social Security. In this struggling economy, that means more seniors than ever before are seeing portions of their Social Security checks seized by the U.S. government due to defaulted student loans.

After poring over Treasury Department data, the financial website SmartMoney concluded Monday, “The federal government is withholding money from a rapidly growing number of Social Security recipients who have fallen behind on federal student loans. From January through August 6, the government reduced the size of roughly 115,000 retirees' Social Security checks on those grounds.

“That's nearly double the pace of the department's enforcement in 2011; it's up from around 60,000 cases in all of 2007 and just six cases in 2000.”

In an article titled "Student Loans Can Be Worse Than Credit Cards," FinAid.org publisher Mark Kantrowitz told North Carolina TV station WFMY last week, “If you default on your federal loans, the government can garnish up to 15 percent of your Social Security disability benefits.”

Although more senior citizens are defaulting on their federal student loans than ever before, they’re still not the demographic with the highest rate of defaults. “That would be people aged 40 to 49, nearly 12 percent of which have fallen more than 90 days behind on their student loan payments,” the Huffington Post’s Harry Bradford wrote last month. “(They’re) the only age bracket with default rates in the double digits, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.”

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York's website offers an info-graphic that shows the differences among various age groups on average loan balances, overall number of borrowers and aggregate student loan debts.

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