68 and $79,000 in the hole: Here’s what life is like for 4 senior citizens who are still paying off college loans

Claire O'Berry with her husband, Terry

caption
Claire O’Berry with her husband, Terry
source
Claire O’Berry

  • Four Americans over the age of 60 spoke to INSIDER about still paying off student loans.
  • All four of them received degrees later in life and still owe thousands of dollars in college loans.
  • One woman owes more now than she did when she first took out the loan because of interest.
  • A man who received a degree business administration in 2010 paid $300 toward his $40,000 for seven years and hardly made a dent.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Four Americans over 60 years old spoke to INSIDER about still paying college debt after CBS News revealed that more than 3 million Americans aged 60 and older owe more than $86 billion in unpaid student loans.

Consumers aged 60 and older are the fastest growing age-segment of the student loan market, according to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) data from 2017

While the majority of older student loan borrowers have used the funds to finance their children’s educations, INSIDER spoke to four adults who used the loans for their own education later in life.

The four interviewed are aged between 62 and 68 years old and based in Texas, Indiana, New Hampshire, and California.

Read more: 3 million senior citizens in the US are still paying off their student loans

One woman said she sometimes regrets receiving her degree, while another feared she was the only woman over 60 still paying loans.

Though they all have lived vastly different lives – as a teacher, pastor, a business manager, and a contractor – they all are facing crushing student loan debt.

“I had no idea that I was not the only one,” one 68-year-old said.

Claire O’Berry, who lives in Texas, received a Master in Business Administration from Pepperdine University in the 1990s.

She took out a $92,974.56 loan to finish the degree, and still owes $79,091.29.

“I had no idea that I was not the only one,” she told INSIDER of her loans.

Between 2005 and 2018 she paid $540 a month toward the loans, and now pays about $400 a month.

“I am so frustrated and at a loss,” she told INSIDER. “If they go after my $1100 SS payment there is no way to meet my fixed cost.”

Now retired, O’Berry lives on a fixed income of Social Security ($1,200), a retirement account ($208), grassland leases ($1,200 a year) and rent from a cabin on my property ($600 a month). With a mortgage of $1,400, a $540-a-month car loan, and food and lifestyle expenses, she worries about her future.

“I’m luckier than most, but my next step is to sell land that has been in the family five generations just to keep from losing my home,” she told INSIDER.

She told INSIDER she’s particularly frustrated with the interest on loans, and how difficult it makes paying off loans.

“If education is valued by our society, the government should not accept interest payment from what it stands to benefit from,” she said.

One 67-year-old owes $40,000 in student loans.

Tom Hampton, of Indiana, told INSIDER that he went to school in 2008 to finish a degree in business administration and management information systems at Governors State University in University, Illinois.

He finished his degree in 2010, with $40,000 in college debt. Six months later he got a job working as a contractor for IBM.

Despite paying $300 a month for close to seven years, he still owes $40,000 in loans.

“The money that I paid for over six years went mostly for the interest on the student loans,” he said.

Hampton, who is retired, is now paying $90 month toward his loans, but thinks he will be paying it off for the rest of his life.

“At my age I am still struggling to survive on my social security and a small pension while trying to maintain a small nest egg that keeps getting smaller every day,” he said.

A 68-year-old pastor is finding herself “on the edge of poverty.”

Susan Strouse, a 68-year-old pastor based in San Francisco, has been paying off student loans on a doctorate degree since 2005 – on top of loans she took out for her undergraduate degree in the 1980s.

Strouse received a Doctor of Ministry in interfaith dialogue from Pacific School of Religion in 2005.

“I still had debt from my undergraduate work and took out a consolidation loan of $21,000 in 1987,” she told INSIDER. “Then in 2002, I loaded it up again for the doctorate for (I think) $34,000. I still owe $6,800.”

She said ministry is not a high-income profession, but knew that getting her doctorate would help her be able to do the work she wanted to do. She has been a Lutheran pastor for 30 years.

“Higher education should be affordable for everyone, without the specter of crushing debt hanging over them for years,” she told INSIDER. “Education should be a national priority and subsidized by our government. Student loans should not be a money-maker for the banking industry.”

One 62-year-old sometimes wishes she never finished her degree.

Debra Marcott, 62, graduated from Granite State College in Concord, New Hampshire, in 2007, with a degree in English Literature and Writing. She then received a Waldorf Teacher certification from Antioch University New England in Keene, New Hampshire, where she still lives.

She had her federal loans consolidated in 2011, and together they totaled $58,323.40. Now she owes $69,115.36, because of interest.

“I sometimes wish I had never returned to school,” she told INSIDER. “I gave most of my adult life to the care of my family and to helping my husband grow his business. I regret not a moment of that. I would do it again. I just want to retire at 67 without this hanging over my head.”

Marcott now pays $92 a month toward her loans, and is working to become eligible for public service loan forgiveness.

Teachers are eligible for loan forgiveness if they have been employed as a full-time, highly qualified teacher for five complete and consecutive years, according to The Federal Student Aid Office.

“If all goes well, I will have my loans forgiven in five years,” she told INSIDER. “By then my debt will have increased even more as the interest continues to build.”