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Question: “I’m 65 years old and I have $80K in student loans that are preventing me from being able to retire. I just found out that my student loan provider is Navient, which is getting out of servicing. And I keep hearing about forgiveness programs. Please let me know if there is anything I can do.”
Answer: Many of us think of the student loan crisis as a young person’s issue, but in fact roughly 9 million Americans ages 50 and older have student loan debt. What’s more, the amount of debt owed by this group is growing faster than other age groups, data from the Department of Education shows. And experts say that putting off retirement due to debt is a common issue. In short, your issue is one impacting a lot of people. Here’s what experts say you should do, from considering refinancing — some student loan refi rates now start at below 2% for some borrowers — to loan forgiveness.
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First, note that servicing transfers can happen at any time, but right now there’s a lot of flux in the system, explains Anna Helhoski, NerdWallet’s student loan expert. “Navient is getting out of loan servicing but all of the loans in its portfolio are being transferred to a servicer called Maximus. As per the education department, you won’t lose access to your log-in, account data or payment history when this happens,” says Helhoski. Adds Andrew Pentis, education finance expert and certified student loan counselor at Student Loan Hero: “Make sure Navient has your most updated contact information.” Just because the servicer is changing doesn’t mean you don’t suddenly owe all the debt back — nothing changes about what you owe.
If borrowers want to get their federal loans forgiven, it’s possible but might not be that easy. Improvements are being made to existing forgiveness programs such as discharge for public service or if a student is defrauded by their school, but Helhoski says: “Don’t count on widespread forgiveness happening.” Adds Pentis: “Forgiveness or relief has not yet been targeted for senior citizens or parents with debt on behalf of their children — though these would seem to be among the cohorts next in line for aid.” If you’re employed by the government or a non-profit organization, a Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program can forgive the remaining balance on Direct Loans after you’ve made 120 qualifying monthly payments. Similarly, teachers who have taught full-time for five consecutive academic years in certain schools can qualify for Teacher Loan Forgiveness up to $17,500. StudentAid.gov provides an even more in depth look at these and various other loan forgiveness and discharge programs that can relieve you of your obligation to repay student loans.
If you don’t qualify for forgiveness, you’ll need to figure out how to pay down this debt. Is there a way to slash your expenses, or boost your income, so you could repay the loans faster? If the debt feels like a big burden each month, “work with your new servicer as soon as possible to confirm you’re in the right repayment plan for your finances,” says Pentis. Helhoski recommends looking into whether you might qualify for an income-based repayment plan that ties your payments to what you’re earning. “Keeping current could mean enrolling in income contingent repayment which will set your payments at 20% of your discretionary income and extend repayment for 25 years, after which the rest of the balance is forgiven,” says Helhoski. That might mean delaying retirement, but defaulting on student loan payments can result in garnishment of your Social Security payments, credit damage and fees.
Another option could be refinancing. With some student loan rates now hitting near record lows , refinancing is an option that can save big bucks, though it’s important to note that there are risks, as you can see from our guide here . And unlike mortgage refinances, student loan refis don’t typically have origination or application fees attached. To get the lowest possible rates on a refinance, experts advise improving your credit, getting your finances in order, applying with a cosigner, getting quotes from multiple lenders, shortening your loan term and asking how to get more of a discount on your rate.