Graduates, co-signers find they can’t make payments

By Ken Serrano

Seventy-nine-year-old Richard Hessert’s golden years have turned to rust.

The Rumson man co-signed for one college loan for his 27-year-old daughter Whitney, who is struggling like many other recent college graduates to pay off student debt. It blossomed from $30,000 in Whitney’s first year of school to $59,000 because of accumulating interest. Food stamps are now an option he is exploring, he said.

“They take a good portion of the only retirement funds I have on a monthly basis,” Hessert said. “The only way I can ever pay back the student loan that I have is to die.”

The college debt crisis is spreading deeper into families. Hessert is part of a growing group of parents, grandparents and others over 60 that has taken on five times more college debt since 2005.

In the first quarter of 2005, college debt nationally for people 60 and older stood at $8 billion. In the fourth quarter of 2012, that group’s debt ballooned to $43 billion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The number of borrowers over 60 has grown during the same time frame, from 700,000 to 2.2 million.

That percentage increase in debt is far greater than college debt held by all age groups in the United States. It has about tripled since 2005, rising to nearly $1 trillion. It now exceeds every kind of debt except for mortgage balances and is the only kind of debt that has continued to grow throughout the Great Recession, according to the New York Fed.

Lately the burden on borrowers has gotten heavier.


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