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Seniors Crushed by Student Loan Debt Push for Virginia 'Bill of Rights'

The number of Virginians aged 60 and older with student-loan debt shot up 47% between 2012 and 2017, according to AARP. (Adobe stock)
The number of Virginians aged 60 and older with student-loan debt shot up 47% between 2012 and 2017, according to AARP. (Adobe stock)
January 14, 2020

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginians age 50 and older are urging state lawmakers to pass a measure called the Borrower's Bill of Rights to help protect folks from potential predatory lending practices. Seniors are the fastest-growing population in the United States to become crippled by student-loan debt, according to a 2019 report by AARP.

Seventy-three year-old Virginian Norma Anderson is still paying for loans she took out to finish bachelor's and master's degrees 25 years ago. Because her lenders recommended that she defer payments while she was underemployed, she said an enormous amount of interest accrued on her loan and she now owes more than $200,000.

"I feel the student-loan rates, the way they are charging things, is predatory," Anderson said. "They just need to make a very simple rule that if you don't pay it off at a certain time, this is what's going to happen, and make them very, very clear rather than allowing you to continue to forbear and defer."

The report found that 15 years ago, adults age 50 and older accounted for about $50 billion of the nation's student-loan debt. By 2018 that number skyrocketed to around $290 billion.

Natalie Snider, associate state director of advocacy with AARP Virginia, said more and more older folks are gripped by student-loan debt because more of them are funding college for their children and grandchildren. The AARP report found almost 45% of folks over 65 default on their student loans.

Snider said not many people realize that if you're over 65 and default on a student loan, the federal government can garnish your Social Security payments to repay the money owed.

"Social Security payments already aren't a huge amount of money," Snider said. "And for folks living on a fixed income, particularly, to be able to garnish that money from them I felt was particularly difficult for them to face."

In 2018, Virginia passed a law creating an ombudsman to help consumers with their student loans. If the Commonwealth passes its new legislation, it will join a growing number of other states including California, Colorado and Washington that have enacted a "bill of rights" or created an ombudsman to deal with the student-loan crisis.

Disclosure: AARP Virginia contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Health Issues, Hunger/Food/Nutrition, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Diane Bernard, Public News Service - VA