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How to Deal With Student Debt as You Retire

By Maurie Backman – Updated Feb 6, 2020 at 6:30AM

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Student debt shouldn't kill your retirement, and if you act strategically, it won't.


Pensive elderly man on sofa.

Image source: Getty Images

It's no secret that Americans are struggling with student debt. Collectively, U.S. adults owe more than $1.5 trillion in loans, and it's not just younger folks who bear that burden. An estimated 2.8 million Americans over the age of 60 have some amount of student debt, and as such, they risk carrying those student loans with them into retirement. Retiring with debt could put you in a tough spot financially during your golden years. However, you can do the following things to make that debt more manageable. 

1. Budget for those monthly loan payments

Once you move over to a fixed income, which is often the case in retirement, you'll have to be very careful about tracking your expenses to ensure that you're not overspending. That's why you'll need a comprehensive budget that maps out your various bills, student loan payments included. In fact, you should put your student loan payments at the top of your budget so that they take priority, and adjust other expenses to accommodate them. For example, if you can no longer swing your $350 monthly student loan payment on your retirement income, you may need to cut back on other bills, like cable or leisure, to compensate. 

2. Refinance your debt to a better interest rate if yours is high

The lower the interest rate attached to your loan, the more affordable your monthly payments will be. If you're currently paying a ton of interest on your student debt, it pays to look into refinancing. This is an especially viable option if your credit rating is great, because that will make you more likely to snag the best rates out there. 

If you don't want to go through the motions of refinancing, reach out to your lender and ask for some leeway. Your lender may be willing to work with you if you have a solid history of making your loan payments on time. 

3. Ask for help

Chances are, if you're carrying student debt into retirement, it's not because you took out those loans to fund your own degree, but rather, to pay for your child's education. If that's the case, and that child is now a thriving adult with a steady job, then it doesn't hurt to let them know that you're struggling to keep up with those payments on your new income. He or she might jump in readily and take over that debt, or, at the very least, agree to contribute some money toward it. 

The last thing you want to do is retire without the means to keep up with your student loan payments. If you fall behind, you'll risk having your Social Security income garnished, among other unwanted consequences, and that's just a dangerous road to go down. You're better off budgeting for that debt, refinancing if the numbers make sense, or asking your children for help, especially if their degrees were the source of that debt in the first place.

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