5 Smart Strategies For Dealing with Student Loans in Your 40s, 50s, and Beyond

student-loan-debt-40s-50s-older

Student loan debt is a burden at any age, but if you’re older and concerned about your debt’s impact on your retirement, the stress is definitely multiplied.

The Washington Post recently reported that the amount of debt that seniors in America hold is now $18.2 billion. Some senior citizens have had their wages or their social security benefits garnished due to difficulty paying down their balances.

Luckily, there are many options available to older borrowers, those who are repaying their loans into their 40s, 50s, and beyond. While each of these options aren’t necessarily easy, they can be effective in reducing student loan debt.

1. Consider Downsizing/Moving

CNN recently published a story about a woman named Rosemary Anderson who owes $152,000 in student loan debt at age 57. Anderson consolidated her loans, but because of federal borrower rules, she cannot refinance her loans with the government. She lives in California, makes $3,400 a month, and carries a $2,200 mortgage.

Although the article doesn’t say whether or not Anderson will change her living situation, she should consider this given her high mortgage payment and student loan debt. This might mean moving to a different city or state to lower her cost of living, allowing her to pay more towards her debt.

I realize this can be a difficult choice for some, especially for those who have been residents of their communities for quite some time or if they live close to family and don’t want to move.

However, moving can take different forms and can be temporary. Maybe it’s just moving to a smaller house or condo in the same city (which many “empty nesters” do). Or maybe it’s retiring outside the U.S., like these people who live on as little as $40/day have done. The goal is to reduce living costs without sacrifcing much or anything in quality of life.

2. Find Ways to Increase Your Income

It’s never too late to increase your income, which can help you pay your student loans faster, and there are many ways to do so.

For example, taking part in the sharing economy is a great way to make extra income. If you drive a reliable car and are accustomed to using a smartphone, you can make extra money driving for Uber or Lyft, which are ride-sharing companies.

This is a wonderful job for someone who is retired because you can choose the days and times you want to drive.

To give another example, maybe you love to read books. You can get a weekend job at a local bookstore or at Barnes and Noble. Larger chain stores typically have very flexible hours so you can continue to work your full-time job and side hustle if you are still working.

You can also rent out a room in your home on a Web site like Airbnb to travelers looking for hotel alternatives. The benefit of this type of side hustle is that it would require very little upfront work. Simply spruce up your guest room, take quality photos of it, list it on Airbnb, and offer a great experience to your guests so they leave you positive reviews and help grow your business.

Another way to make more money is to ask for a raise in your current job or change companies to a similar job that might pay you more. Any time you increase your income, put the extra money towards your student loans.

3. Consider Refinancing

Refinancing is definitely an option for borrowers who are older. When you refinance, you are essentially getting a whole new loan at a lower interest rate.

When you switch to a lower interest rate, you can save a significant amount of money on interest, even if the difference in rate is only a few percentage points. By refinancing, you can also shorten the term of your loan or lengthen it depending on the monthly payments you are able to make.

The main drawback in refinancing federal student loans with a private lender is that you will lose many of the benefits that are specific to federal student loan borrowing, like Income-Based Repayment or Pay As You Earn Programs.

However, some companies, like SoFi and Earnest, include some form of unemployment protection and will even help you find a new job if you lose yours.

4. Sell Off Possessions

Chances are, if you’re older, you’ve spent a lifetime acquiring possessions. Paying off your student loans is a great reason to reduce your possessions and make money through selling them.

Use a website like Craigslist or eBay to help sell your possessions. In order to be successful, be sure to be very descriptive about the quality of the items, take great pictures, and keep the price low. Also, if you sell on Craigslist, remember to always meet your buyer in a public place to ensure you own personal safety.

This entire process does take a significant amount of time and effort, but it is well worth it. When I sold nearly all of my belongings before moving out of the country a few years ago, I was able to make $2,000. Think about what that kind of money can do for your student loan balance!

5. Overcome Problems Making Payments

If you use all of the tactics above, including increasing your income, moving locations, and selling your possessions, and you are still having trouble making your repayments, know there are many ways to get help.

First, contact your student loan servicer to see if you can lower your payments. Income-based repayment plans are available to federal student loan borrowers.

If you still have trouble making payments, you’ll want to avoid defaulting on your student loans. If your payments become more than 270 days late, your loans will go into default.

When this happens, the government can take a portion of your social security benefits.Bloomberg reported that in the first part of 2014, the federal government garnished portions of 140,000 people’s social security checks.

If you’re undergoing a hardship, see if you’re eligible for student loan forbearance before you stop making payments.

With enough hard work, budgeting, and perhaps starting extra work on the side, you can focus your efforts for a few years on reducing your student debt burden completely so you can live out your retirement years in peace.

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