Rosemary Anderson has a master's degree, a good job at the University of California (Santa Cruz), and student loans that she could be paying off until she's 81.
Anderson, who is 57, told her complicated story at a recent Senate Aging Committee hearing (she's previously appeared on the CBS Evening News). She first enrolled in college in her thirties. Over the past two decades, her personal finances have been eroded by illness, divorce, the cost of raising two children, the housing bust, and the economic downturn. She hasn't been able to afford payments on her loans for nearly eight years.
Some 3 percent of U.S. households that are headed by a senior citizen now hold federal student debt, mostly debt they took on to finance their own educations, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office, an independent agency. "As the baby boomers continue to move into retirement, the number of older Americans with defaulted loans will only continue to increase," the report warned.
Student debt has risen across every age group over the past decade, according to a Federal Reserve Bank of New York analysis of credit report data, charted below. "There are more people attending college, more people taking out loans, and more people taking out a higher dollar amount of loans," says Matthew Ward, associate director of media relations at the New York Fed.