15 Heartbreaking Facts About Baby Boomers and Student Loan Debt

The untold struggles of baby boomers haunted by student loans.

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Updated May 28, 2024
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Student loan debt is a hot-button topic for a reason. While it’s mostly a popular talking point for younger generations, everyone is affected by it, regardless of age.

Baby boomers are strongly impacted by student loan debt — both their own and their children’s. These loans raise concerns about the potential of retiring early or retiring at all.

The Education Data Initiative collected data from government and educational sources to highlight the impact of student loan debt on all generations. Their research provides eye-opening statistics that you’ll want to know.

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Average balance for those over 62 is $41,778

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Not all baby boomers have hit their 60s yet, but for those older than 62, the average loan debt is $41,778.

That's a staggeringly high number, especially compared to other age groups. The average debt for 25- to 34-year-olds is only $32,947, and a meager $14,563 for those under 24.

As boomers near retirement, they will need to find ways to earn passive income and somehow pay off those loans.

Average balance for baby boomers is $40,000 to $60,000

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For baby boomers specifically, though, this debt ranges anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000.

This number is directly comparable to the next youngest generation, Generation X, and the number keeps going up for both groups. However, older and younger generations all have much lower average amassed debts.

Federal student loan debt for those over 62 has increased by 36.8% since 2017

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Despite there not being many baby boomer students, the amount of owed debt keeps increasing. This is primarily attributed to parents taking out PLUS loans for their student children.

In fact, since 2017, debt has increased by 33.5% for borrowers aged 50 to 61 and 36.8% for those 62 and older.

Those over 60 account for less than 10% of the national student loan debt

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Despite their staggeringly high debts that are increasing each year, borrowers aged 60 and older only account for 8% of all national student debt.

In the lead in this regard are 30- to 39-year-old borrowers, who account for 32% of all student loan debt. Those aged 50 to 59 make up 15% of all loan debt.

Baby boomers account for 18% of federal student loan debt

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When talking about generations specifically, baby boomers account for 18% of all federal student loan debt.

This is relatively low compared with other generations. Generation X holds 38.8% of student loan debt, and Generation Z is the lowest, at 6.4%.

There are 700,000 baby boomer borrowers

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Translating that to actual numbers, there are roughly 700,000 indebted baby boomer borrowers.

Again, this is still a relatively small number despite their higher debts. For reference, there are 3.75 million millennial borrowers.

The Parent PLUS program had 800,000 baby boomer participants in 2017

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One of the reasons the number of boomer borrowers is so low but the debt amount is so high is because of the Parent PLUS loan program, which allows boomers to borrow money for their children or grandchildren.

This program is very popular among the baby boom generation, with nearly 800,000 baby boomers borrowing from 2017 to 2018. The baby boom generation numbers 69.6 million people.

77% of baby boomers who borrowed money for others did so for children

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Not all baby boomers have student loan debt on behalf of someone else, but of those who do, most of them are indebted because of their children.

Specifically, 77% of boomers surveyed who borrowed for someone else said they did so for their children.

7% of baby boomers borrowed for their grandchildren

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Parent PLUS loans also allow you to borrow for people other than your direct children. You can apply for loans for grandchildren.

When surveyed, 7% of baby boomers who took out loans for others did so for their grandchildren as opposed to their children, which could explain the stark difference in debt amounts between boomers and Generation Z or millennials.

California has the highest number of baby boomer borrowers

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Most of these baby boomer borrowers can be found in California regardless of whom they're borrowing for.

The Golden State has an estimated 527,000 boomers in student loan debt. Of course, California is also the most populous state in the nation.

California also has the most in-debt borrowers

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Californian baby boomers also carry the most debt out of all the other states. They’re reported to owe a collective $24.53 billion in student loan debt.

When broken down, this averages at around $46,500 per borrower.

Wyoming and North Dakota have the least number of indebted baby boomer borrowers

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As for the least number of borrowers and debt for baby boomers, Wyoming and North Dakota tie for last place. This shouldn’t be surprising since Wyoming has the nation’s smallest population, and North Dakota ranks No. 47.

Each state only has 7,200 boomer borrowers each, with average collected debts of around $300 million, or $41,670 per borrower.

Federal student loans account for 5% of all baby boomer debt

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Despite their debt being generally higher than other generations, student loans aren’t the main thing weighing down baby boomers’ wallets.

In fact, student loan debt accounts for just 5% of the generation’s overall debt, as opposed to 15% for millennials. Mortgages are the biggest portion of total debt.

37% of 65+ borrowers have defaulted on their loans

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In 2015, it was reported that 37% of borrowers 65 and older had defaulted on their loans, compared with only 17% of borrowers under 49.

No matter your generation, defaulting on student loans can have serious consequences. Your Social Security benefits can be reduced, your wages garnished, and your tax refunds lessened.

Some baby boomers are planning to delay retirement to pay off student loan debts

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Whether their Social Security benefits were reduced due to defaulting on their student loans or they simply can’t afford to live without a paycheck, some boomers are choosing not to retire at all.

Those who saved diligently throughout their lives and are looking forward to retirement may have to make extra money just to pay off their amassed student loan debt.

Bottom line

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Student loan debt is an issue that is often thought to be a problem only for younger generations, but it affects all ages. If anything, it more heavily impacts baby boomers and puts the next stage of life at risk. Retirement may have to be put on hold.

Learning how to pay off debt quickly can help control this, but the issue belongs to everyone, regardless of age.

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Author Details

Lucy Clark

Lucy Clark has considerable experience writing about real estate, as well as homes and gardens, home value, and more. She is savvy and resourceful, and she aims to ensure others can be, as well.