Parents struggle to pay kids’ college debts

College loans are bankrupting parents, reports the New York Times. Colleges encourage parents to take out Parent PLUS loans, which have more than doubled since 2000, to pay their children’s tuition. Others co-sign private student loans. If parents are hit by health problems, layoffs or divorce, there’s no repayment flexibility.

“You don’t want your children, much less your neighbors and friends, knowing that even though you’re living in a nice house, and you’ve been able to hold onto your job, your retirement money’s gone, you can’t pay your debts,” said a woman in Connecticut who took out $57,000 in federal loans. Between tough times at work and a divorce, she is now teetering on default.

People over 60, the fastest growing group of debtors,owe $43 billion, up from $8 billion seven years ago. More are defaulting. The government garnishes Social Security benefits to collect on unpaid student debt.

“It makes you feel like a failure as a parent, to be unable to help your children and to have all your hard work end in a pile of debt,” said one New Jersey man, who took out a second mortgage of $280,000 to help cover his children’s college costs. “I sent my older kids to private colleges, and I was happy to do it because it’s how you help them get started off. But I can’t do it for the youngest, and I haven’t even been able to start the conversation with him.”

Start talking, Dad.

A 27-year man about to complete his second bachelor’s degree — this one’s in Russian literature — tells the Times he doesn’t know how much he and his mother owe for his years in college.

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  1. The problem is a system which loans money for people to study Russian literature.

  2. Stacy in NJ says:

    I wonder are these parents and kids stupid, naive, or do they just choose not to understand? The 27 year old with a degree in Russian literature compared knowledge of his coming debt bomb to an oncoming freight train. He knows and has known what he’s doing, but he chooses to do it regardless. Unforgivable. It must be so much more pleasant to live in a suspended state as a permanent student then actually grow up and take on adult responsibilities. It’s unfortunate that parent enable their kids.

    They can be forgiven for stupidity and naivety but denial has awful consequences.

    • GoogleMaster says:

      At 27, I had a BS in Electrical Engineering and six years of work experience.

      • But could you read “War and Peace” in the original Russian? And if you could, did you have a piece of paper saying that you could do this?

        • I’m willing to bet that the major is Russian Literature, translated into English. Otherwise, it would simply be a Russian major. The job market is probably much better for the latter.

          • Sigh.

            It looks like you are correct. From the Columbia page on the undergraduate “Russian Literature and Culture” page:

            he program consists of 15 courses, 6 of which meet language requirements. Of the remaining 9 courses, 3 are introductory surveys in Russian literature and culture (in translation), and the other 6 are electives, chosen in consultation with the director of undergraduate studies.