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How Parents’ Student Loan Debt Impacts Their Retirement Security

Aug 22, 2019

Key Takeaways

  • 57% of parents with student loan debt expect to delay their retirement date or never retire.
  • There are key differences in the behaviors of parents with debt versus those without debt.
  • Managing student loan debt can improve the long-term financial wellness of American families.


Most of the headlines about student loan debt focus on the burdens imposed on students themselves, but growing numbers of parents are accumulating debt on behalf of their children. Individuals aged 50 and older carry $290 billion in student loan debt – a five-fold increase since 2004.1 And, among federal student loan borrowers 50 to 64 years old, 29% are in default on their loans.2

Parents with student loan debt face unique challenges: They may not have many working years left to build savings, they may be taking out loans for multiple children, and their loans begin accruing interest immediately.3 Fortunately, long before children start college, parents can take steps to minimize student loan debt. As college approaches, the steps outlined in the paper may help parents who take out student loan debt manage its impact.


Parents with Debt: Very likely would have done differently
Parents analysis on debt Percentage
Saved more 53%
Planned for college education better 44%
Understood student loans better 36%
More research on actual costs 34%
More research on payment options 34%
Consulted with an advisor 25%

1 AARP Public Policy Institute, “The Student Loan Debt Threat: An Intergenerational Problem,” 2019.

2 In 2015. CFPB, Office for Older Americans and Office for Students and Young Consumers, “Snapshot of Older Consumers and Student Loan Debt,” 2017.

3 Brookings, “Parents are Borrowing More and More to Send Their Kids to College – And Many are Struggling to Repay,” 2018.


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