Senior citizens saddled with student loan debt

SAN FRANCISCO -- Decades after leaving college, millions of senior citizens are still paying off their student loans.

Some of these seniors got into debt by co-signing the student loans of their children and grandchildren. Others are still saddled with their own student loans, KGO reported.

A $30-a-month gym membership is about the only luxury Martin Ross allows himself. He beamed when we invited him to use our exercise equipment at ABC7.

Every month, bill collectors take eight-percent of his Social Security benefits to pay off student loans he took out in the 70s. That leaves him with just $750, that's barely enough for a studio with a shared bath and kitchen on San Francisco's Sixth Street.

"That's all I can afford. There's nothing else I can do," Ross said.

The credit reporting firm TransUnion reports people 60 or over owe $86 billion in student loan debt. In 2015, the Federal Reserve Bank estimated 2.8 million seniors were still paying off their student loans. That's four times more than in the previous 10 years.

Juliana Fredman is an attorney with Bay Area Legal Aid specializing in student loan debt.

"There's no time limit on how long the government can collect on student loans," Fredman said.

The issue has made its way into the presidential race. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has proposed writing off hundreds of billions of dollars of student loan debt. She's also co-sponsoring with rival presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand to provide federal matching funds to states to keep students out of debt to attend public college.

"That $50 or $150 of Social Security that gets offset from that low-income senior citizen is not a lot to the federal government," Fredman said.

Martin estimates he's paying $11,000 in interest on what started out as a $1,500 loan. He can't believe that 50 years later, the government is still coming after him.

"I feel like one of those Nazis, like I committed a crime. I am a criminal that they are hunting down," Ross said.

Average student loan borrowers in their 60s owed $33,800 in 2017.
Copyright © 2020 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.