Student Debt Weighs Down Parents

debt ball and chain weighted down
The news is rife with stories of young borrowers struggling with their student debt. However, another group is equally, and increasingly, burdened by student debt: parents.

In New York, Michele Fitzgerald was no doubt ecstatic when her daughter, Jenni, went off to college. Then the inevitable—and possibly even bizarre—happened. Michele became the one crushed under debt.

She defaulted on loans she borrowed for her daughter’s college education. Unemployment and a lack of savings soon took their toll, forcing her to move in with her daughter. Now living with her daughter—who pays the rent, groceries, and even outings together—she struggles to make sense of the terrible situation.

“It’s not easy. Jenni feels the guilt and I feel the burden,” said Michele in an interview with the NY Times.

Of some small comfort is Jenni’s employment in public relations, which has allowed her to pay down the student debt her mother owes.

“I don’t really feel guilt, but I do know that this is all because of a loan taken out on my behalf. I asked my mother to move in with me, because I couldn’t stand it that she was living in a place with no heat and a basement that kept flooding,” said Jenni.

Since 2005, the number of borrowers with student debt over the age of 60 has tripled to 6.6 million people. This subset of borrowers owes $43 billion, an $8 billion increase from seven years ago, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Many young borrowers are paralyzed with fear when it comes to discussing the debt they have unknowingly placed upon the shoulders of their parents. This burden can sometimes be too much to bear.

In one instance, the stepfather of a borrower committed suicide due to the incessant calls from student debt collectors. His stepson, Jacob, owes $200,000 in student debt but his mother and stepfather co-signed $100,000 in private student loans.

Despite Jacob’s best efforts, the collection calls were nearly endless. His stepfather accused him of lying and deceiving his mother into ruining her credit. He subsequently shot himself in 2010.

"Jake has destroyed us. You can’t tell me that Sally Mae is getting paid when they keep calling all day, every day. I can’t even answer the phone in my own home no more. I can’t live like this no more,” said the stepfather’s suicide note, according to the NY Times.

While Jacob now works and barely manages his monthly payments, the issue of his mother’s debt remains a difficult issue in their relationship, just as it no doubt does in the relationships of many families around the country.