ST. GEORGE — New federal data from the Department of Education confirmed that retirement-age borrowers are struggling to repay their federal student loans.

About 60% of borrowers over age 62 have been making federal student loan payments for more than 15 years.

Tia Caldwell, policy analyst for the Education, Opportunity and Mobility Initiative at the nonprofit New America, suspects many other borrowers have been paying even longer. She said until now, her team had been using 2016 data from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The updated numbers offer valuable insight into the realities many older borrowers are grappling with, in Utah and across the country.

“There is this huge growth of older borrowers,” Caldwell pointed out. “So many people are struggling with their student loans and are unable to repay their loans in the time frame that they probably imagined they would be able to when they took out those loans.”

Stock image | Photo by Andrii Dodonov/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

Caldwell added financially strapped borrowers often pause their loan payments or enroll in affordable, income-driven repayment plans, but these can extend the repayment terms by years. They may also spend time in default, which can have punitive consequences.

Sarah Sattelmeyer, project director of the initiative, said the new data paint a bleak picture. One in three federal borrowers is in default, and about 80% of seniors with loans hold debt from their own education. But she noted it is important to have the information.

“Until now, we really have been taking what I like to call a ‘beg, borrow and steal’ — although maybe not the ‘stealing’ part — approach to getting data,” Sattelmeyer stressed. “It is really hard to come up with the right policy solutions when you don’t understand which groups are most impacted.”

Sattelmeyer emphasized the latest figures make the issue harder to ignore. She added New America commends the Biden administration’s work on student debt relief but argued more work is needed.

Written by ALEX GONZALEZ, producer for Public News Service.

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