“I am 41 years old. I feel like the majority of school loan debt stories and advice columns are targeted for recent graduates who are younger in their 20s. Don’t get me wrong, I feel for them. But I owe almost $200,000 (yes, you read that right) in school debt. I never admit this out loud to anyone. I read that you should admit it and tell people out loud to stand in your truth. This is not easy. I read that the average school loan debt is something like $30,000. I honestly laughed at this. I don’t say that to minimize how much that is to another, but just how embarrassed I am to have 6 times the amount that the average person has. How did this happen to me? How will I ever resolve this? I have impeccable credit (above 800), I pay all of my bills, I work multiple jobs, I own a house with a hefty mortgage (always paid) -- my life looks normal, even perfect. But I cannot and probably won’t ever get ahead of my school debt. I am at a loss...”
– S. Butler, age 41, Boston MA

Researchers have long categorized people into generations and assigned each age group certain characteristics. In recent years, perhaps no group has been more talked about than millennials. They’ve been labeled confident, ambitious, socially aware, and, of course, crippled by student loan debt.

But when we only talk about millennials when discussing student loan debt, we’re isolating a large group of borrowers. Millennials are far from the only generation dealing with debt. Read on to find out how student loan debt affects every generation from kids to grandparents.

What You Need To Know

  • Student loan debt is multi-generational:
    • Americans under 45 owe an average of $32,900 in student loan debt
    • Americans 45- to 54-years old owe an average of $37,000
    • Americans 65- to 75-years old owe an average of $35,400
    • Gen X (those born between 1965-1976 has the most overall debt of any generation, holding an average of 4.5 credit cards and larger mortgages than other generations.
    • In 2016, 23.7% of households run by people 45-54 years old (part of Gen X) had education debt — almost double the amount (12.6%) of that age group with student loan debt in 2004.
    • Though much of their debt is due to cosigning on others’ loans, Americans over 60 (the Baby Boomer generation) are the fastest growing consumers of student loan debt.
    • Nearly 40% of federal student loan borrowers over 60 are in default on their loans.
    • Generation Z (the group coming after millennials) is more wary of student loan debt than other generations. Researchers predict that the millennial generation will be the last group with crippling student loan debt

    What You Need To Do

    • Understand that student loan debt affects people of every generation and no matter your age or state in life, there is no shame in having student loan debt.
    • Older Americans who have already co-signed on a family member’s loans should consider asking for a co-signer release well before retirement.
    • Older Americans who are considering co-signing on loans should proceed with caution, some alternate ideas include:
      • Ensuring the student maxes out federal loan options before stepping in
      • Withdrawing from a Roth IRA instead of taking on a loan
      • Talk to your younger siblings, friends, kids, or others about finances and student loan debt before they make college decisions.
      • If you have student loan debt, you’re more likely to have other kinds of debt — credit cards, auto loans, and so on. Consider refinancing your student loan debt to consolidate multiple loans and create a payment plan that pays down your debt with the highest interest, first.


      Go Deeper

      Being in debt is nothing new. Generations of Americans have accepted debt to move up in the world — mortgages, car payments — but what’s changed in recent years is the makeup of our debt portfolio. Student loan debt is taking up an increasingly large share of borrowers’ overall debt. In 2003, student loan debt made up 3.1 percent of America's debt portfolio (the smallest category), but by 2015 it had moved to the number two spot, overtaking auto and credit card debt.

      Read how this shift in the makeup of our debt will have long-term effects on our nation’s consumer-driven economy.