Parent Student Loans Survey: How Do They Affect Parents and Their Debt?

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Three in 5 parents with children heading to college said they expect to help their kids repay student loans, according to a Discover Student Loans survey.

In fact, many parents of adult children are already doing so. Some are making payments on student loans for parents, such as Parent PLUS Loans, which they borrowed to help pay for their children’s education. Others are repaying student loans they cosigned.

But how do these student loan payments impact parents’ financial situations? Student Loan Hero recently surveyed parents who took out or cosigned loans for their children’s education to find out.

55 percent of parents have more than $40,000 in student debt

The survey collected responses from parents who are repaying student loans they borrowed to pay for a child’s education and for which they are legally responsible. These loans include both student loans for parents and student loans parents cosigned with a child.

Among the parents surveyed, total student debt is high. Here’s a breakdown of their student loan balances, including both debt they took on for their own education and student loans they used to pay for their children’s education:

  • 23 percent have more than $50,000 in student loan debt.
  • 32 percent have more than $40,000 in student loan debt.
  • 43 percent have more than $30,000 in student loan debt.

Over half (55 percent) of parents surveyed reported a combined balance of more than $40,000 between parent student loans and other student loans. This significant financial burden can hold parents back as they working toward other financial goals, such as saving for retirement.

Almost 2 in 5 parents repay student debt alone

The survey also asked parents how often their children contribute payments toward the student loans borrowed to fund their education. Here’s how they responded:

  • 39 percent — almost 2 in 5 parents — said their children never contribute to student loan repayment.
  • 20 percent said their children sometimes contribute to student loan repayment.
  • 41 percent said their children always contribute to student loan repayment.

Altogether, 59 percent of parents who cosigned student loans or borrowed parent student loans to finance a child’s college degree said they pay some or all of the student loan debt they incurred.

While parents are legally responsible for student loans they take out or cosign, many families have informal agreements about who is responsible for repaying student loans.

It’s not uncommon for parents to take out student loans for parents or cosign student loans a child agrees to repay. However, many parents ultimately are stuck repaying those student loans on their own.

Parents: Discuss a plan for your child to take over student loans

When it comes to shared student debt, parents should keep an open dialogue with the child about who is responsible for repaying it.

Perhaps a child has difficulty repaying their student loans because of low income or high costs of living. Parents can help their child find strategies to create more room in their budget to help with repayment.

Once a child can afford to take over payments, even partially, parents can work with them to make a plan for a complete takeover in the future. Perhaps the adult child can cover 25 percent of monthly payments to start and then bump up contributions until they are paying the full monthly payment amount.

Parents and their adult children also should discuss refinancing. If the child is repaying the student loans, refinancing with the right lender can change who holds the loans to reflect that fact. Some lenders, such as CommonBond, allow a child to refinance Parent PLUS Loans or private parent student loans into their own name.

A child also can refinance cosigned private student loans to remove a parent as a cosigner. Some lenders offer cosigner release, which can remove the cosigner so the primary borrower becomes the sole owner of the debt.

27 percent of parents used retirement savings to cover student loans

Among the parents surveyed, nearly 3 in 10 (27 percent) said they’d withdrawn from retirement savings to help cover student loan payments.

student loans for parents

A similar percentage of parents — 24 percent — said they’d considered using retirement savings to pay student debt.

That means student loans for parents do, in fact, harm retirement planning for parents. Plus, early withdrawals often incur costly penalties that can waste some of a parent’s retirement savings.

Even if a parent manages to replace those funds, they lose out on the time those savings could have earned gains and compounding interest.

How to boost a retirement fund’s recovery from parent student loans

Borrowers who have withdrawn from their retirement accounts to repay student loans for parents need to play catch-up to get back on track.

First and foremost, get your parent student loans under control so you can avoid any need to tap into your retirement funds in the future:

  • If you’re struggling with Parent PLUS Loans, consider applying for an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan to lower your monthly payments.
  • Try refinancing student debt that’s in your name. Whether you have Parent PLUS Loans or private student loans for parents, refinancing could help you secure a lower interest rate. Refinancing also will give you control over the length and monthly amount of your repayment.
  • Step up your retirement contributions, especially in the last 10 years before you retire. Refinancing parent student loans can produce savings, which you can then contribute to retirement.

Taking out student loans for parents can set back retirement — but parents don’t regret it

parent student loansMost experts advise adults to pay down debt as they transition to retirement. Those nearing retirement age and carrying high balances on student loans for parents will have to work a lot harder to follow this advice. Plus, debt diverts money away from retirements savings.

Despite the potentially negative effects of this student debt, most parents (66 percent) don’t regret it. In fact, just 18 percent said they regret cosigning or taking out student loans for a child’s college costs.

Majority of parents don’t know their student loan repayment options

Many parents struggle with their student debt burden. But this survey also reveals that a majority of parents are unaware of options that can help.

student loans for parents

For instance, 19 percent of parents surveyed said they were unaware they could put their Parent PLUS Loans on an IDR plan — called Income-Contingent Repayment. And 12 percent didn’t know they could refinance parent student loans into their child’s name.

What’s more, almost 2 in 5 parents (19 percent) surveyed said they were unaware of Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), which can help eliminate debt for parents and students who hold government jobs or work for certain nonprofits.

Even when parents said they knew about options, they weren’t always valid. For example, 17 percent of parents said they knew about “Obama student loan forgiveness” — even though no such program exists.

Parents could be missing out on student loan refinancing

Refinancing student loans can solve a few problems at once. Borrowers can get lower student loan rates and lower monthly payments. Refinancing also can be a way to move student loans from a parent to a child (or vice versa) or remove a cosigner.

Twelve percent of parents surveyed had already refinanced student loans used for a child’s college to be solely in the parent’s name. A parent might want to refinance to take over a student loan they cosigned and are repaying because a child can’t afford to, for example. Eleven percent didn’t even know it was an option.

Parents also can refinance student debt into the child’s name. Doing so can make the child the legal owner of the loans or remove the parent as a cosigner. Here’s a breakdown of responses from parents regarding refinancing student loans into a child’s name:

  • 64 percent hadn’t considered this option.
  • 16 percent didn’t know refinancing student loans into a child’s name was an option.
  • 20 percent had considered it.

Parents who are interested in making such a move should do so soon. Interest rates are expected to increase in the coming years. Borrowers likely will get the best deals if they don’t wait to refinance student loans for parents.

Putting refinancing and interest rates into perspective, a third (36 percent) of parents said they’re either somewhat or very likely to refinance student loans. Another third said it’s unlikely to affect their decision (32 percent). The remaining third (32 percent) said they’re unsure.

Look for solutions together to repay parent student loans

Most parents who helped their children borrow for college are glad they did. But that doesn’t mitigate the potentially negative effects of student loans for parents.

When the arrangement isn’t working, parents and children need to proactively seek solutions.

The good news is parents likely have more student loan repayment options than they realize. Parents should take the time to research these options so they can create the best repayment plan for themselves and their children.

Methodology: This survey was conducted via Google Consumer Surveys on behalf of Student Loan Hero on April 5-9, 2017, with a nationally representative sample of 1,001 adults living in the United States. “Are you currently making payments on student loans you cosigned for or took out for your child(ren)’s education?” was used as a screening question (with a target answer of “yes”). The survey margin of error ranged from 4.5 to 4.8 percent.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 6 lenders of 2021!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
1.89% – 5.99%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

1.99% – 5.64%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

1.99% – 6.84%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit CommonBond

1.91% – 5.25%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Lendkey

2.25% – 6.53%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

2.17% – 4.47%6Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit PenFed

Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.

Splash Financial Disclosures

Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. If approved, your actual rate will be within a range of rates and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, income and other factors. Refinancing or consolidating private and federal student loans may not be the right decision for everyone. Federal loans carry special benefits not available for loans made through Splash Financial, for example, public service loan forgiveness and economic hardship programs, fee waivers and rebates on the principal, which may not be accessible to you after you refinance. The rates displayed may include a 0.25% autopay discount.

The information you provide to us is an inquiry to determine whether we or our lenders can make a loan offer that meets your needs. If we or any of our lending partners has an available loan offer for you, you will be invited to submit a loan application to the lender for its review. We do not guarantee that you will receive any loan offers or that your loan application will be approved. Offers are subject to credit approval and are available only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rates, which are available to the most qualified borrowers. Participating lenders, rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice.

To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Splash Financial conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, the lender will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. This information is current as of Feburary 1, 2021.

2 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.

Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 2.98% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.49% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.99% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.34% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of October 26, 2020, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.

Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.

The information provided on this page is updated as of 10/26/2020. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit, email us at [email protected], or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.

© 2020 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.

3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. ‍All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.

4 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

Refinancing via is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it  endorse,  any educational institution.

Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments. The lowest advertised variable APR is only available for loan terms of  5 years and is reserved for applicants with FICO scores of at least 810.

As of 02/17/2021 student loan refinancing rates range from 1.91% APR – 5.25% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.95% APR – 7.63% Fixed APR with AutoPay.

5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance: 1. Fixed rates from 2.99% APR to 6.99% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.25% APR to 6.53% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.25% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 0.12% plus 2.38% margin minus 0.25% ACH discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. See eligibility details. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. The discount will not reduce the monthly payment; instead, the interest savings are applied to the principal loan balance, which may help pay the loan down faster. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score.Terms and Conditions Apply. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.

6 Important Disclosures for PenFed.

PenFed Disclosures

Annual Percentage Rate (APR) is the cost of credit calculating the interest rate, loan amount, repayment term and the timing of payments. Fixed Rates range from 2.99%-5.15% APR and Variable Rates range from 2.17%-4.47% APR. Both Fixed and Variable Rates will vary based on application terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. These rates are subject to additional terms and conditions and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. For Variable Rate student loans, the rate will never exceed 9.00% for 5 year and 8 year loans and 10.00% for 12 and 15 years loans (the maximum allowable for this loan). Minimum variable rate will be 2.00%. These rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.