Parents: Is Student Debt Affecting Your Retirement?

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Parents: Is Student Debt Affecting Your Retirement?

Across the United States, parents are struggling with the burden of student debt, not only for themselves, but their children attending college too. With more than 40% saying education costs impacted their retirement plan, it’s time to take action.

College is expensive. Tuition and fees for a four-year private college averaged $35,830 in 2018-19; at four-year in-state public colleges, it was $10,230, according to the College Board. And that doesn’t count room and board or other expenses.

Few families have the finances to cover it, and that’s where the trap of borrowing money often comes in. On average, loans cover 24% of the tab when savings, financial aid and scholarships fall short, according to Sallie Mae’s 11th annual “How America Pays for College” report.

Sacrificing Retirement

Yahoo Finance spoke with one parent in a particularly difficult student loan situation: a 60-year-old factory worker from Scranton, Pa., who had cosigned a loan for his son. Due to a bout of illness forcing his son to eventually drop out of college, the lenders were at the door: Frank owed over $100,000 in federal and private student loans.

Frank’s credit score suffered since he used his credit cards to pay for the son’s college expenses. And each loan he took out came with a higher interest rate — from 9% to 12% — worsening the situation further. Unfortunately, Frank had to take money from his 401k, sacrificing his own retirement fund to alleviate the student debt pressure. He described the burden as both financial and emotional. The son is “so depressed and [we] are heartbroken for him,” he said. But “I figure now I’m working until I’m 75. … It’s not nice for a hard-working middle class family.”

Combating Debt

Along with student debt for their children, older borrowers often have other financial burdens: younger children still at home, elderly parents needing support, or their own preexisting debt — credit cards, an auto loan or a mortgage. The result? “There is a lot of despair,” says Betsy Mayotte, the president and founder of the Institute of Student Loan Advisors, a nonprofit offering free counseling for people with ­education-related debt. “They feel the burden of knowing they could be 85 years old and still have a student loan payment.”

Despite parents’ perhaps-understandable instinct to help their children with debt and school, financial advisers suggest caution. They urge students to take on their fair share: They’re the ones who’ll reap the benefit of the investment, and they have longer working lives to pay off the loans. Parents, on the other hand, are closer to retirement and likely won’t get a financial boon from their kids’ degrees.

Balance is Key

Rising college costs and federal student loan limits that haven’t budged for years, however, have meant some families are turning to parent loans to finance college. When they do, experts say, they shouldn’t go in with the expectation that their children will pay off those loans, since the parents’ credit is on the line.

Before you dig into your retirement savings, look for ways your child can finance their education without taking on significant student loan debt or compromising your retirement. The following can help you get started:

  • Apply for scholarships and grants.
  • Work with your child to minimize the costs of college. (Skipping the dorm and getting a part-time job).
  • Claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit if you are eligible and complete your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application.
  • Find out if there are grants your child is eligible for at the college he or she hopes to attend, and then apply for them.
  • Encourage your child to work for an employer that offers tuition assistance and enroll in a work-study program.

Seek Professional Guidance

When it comes to your children’s debt, don’t bury your head in the sand: take action. The cost of education can be overwhelming. But there is no need to feel bad about not handing your child an education on a silver platter. There are plenty of ways you can help without stealing from your own future. Using your retirement nest egg, whether it’s the value of your home of years of savings, to pay for college is simply a big mistake. 

There is a retirement plan for everyone, by speaking with the right financial advisor for you, you can take the steps necessary to ensure a bright future for your children, and also for yourself.