Student debt is at an all-time high; about 44 million Americans hold almost $1.4 trillion in outstanding debts. The issue was hotly debated during the presidential elections, and higher education institutions have been soul-searching for innovative ways to help students deal with rising costs of education.
While the topic has gotten a lot of attention, though, the perception of those affected usually fits a certain stereotype: young millennials just starting down the road to a long-term career, with many years ahead of them to pay down their debt. The reality is more complicated. Currently, 6.4% of student loan borrowers are age 60 or older. That number is expected to grow as young Americans carry their debt further into their futures. Borrowers would do well to understand the resulting implications and the best ways to approach student debt as they get older.
Setting favorable terms for loan repayment
Some borrowers mistakenly think that their student debts will automatically be forgiven after a certain age. There is indeed precedent for this line of thinking; in the U.K., for example, federal student loans are forgiven when the borrower reaches age 65. This is not the case in the U.S., and federal loans are only cancelled upon the borrower’s death.
While this fact may be grim, it can still be used to the borrower’s advantage. Because older Americans are usually living on a set fixed income and federal loans are nullified upon death, it often makes sense to reduce monthly payments by arranging to stretch out the loan term. While this increases the total amount of interest paid, it serves to keep monthly payments to a minimum which can assist with budgeting purposes. Also, if the borrower passes away before the loan is completely paid off, the resulting loan forgiveness would end up reducing the total lifetime costs.
Additionally, borrowers should be aware that some loan servicer providers automatically enter borrowers into a repayment plan where costs start low and increase gradually, in anticipation of a recent graduate starting with a lower salary and slowly increasing their income. This arrangement clearly does not make sense for older borrowers on a fixed income, who should work with their servicer to arrange an alternate agreement that is a better fit for their predicted future income.
Forgiveness programs do exist
Although an automatic, one-size-fits-all forgiveness program does not exist, borrowers should be aware that there are still other avenues to help lessen their debt. Some older borrowers may be eligible for programs that help limit total payments.
While three-fourths of older borrowers with student loan balances are only holding balances on their own education, the remainder are holding balances on a child or other relative’s education. The latter may be eligible for an Obama-era repayment program called the Pay as You Earn PAYE program, which limits required payments based on earnings. Borrowers can check on the Federal Student Aid website to determine eligibility.
Another federal program of interest is the Income-Based Repayment (IBR) program, which caps maximum monthly payments at 15% of discretionary income. One of the most appealing aspects of this program is that after 25 years of continuous repayments, borrowers may be eligible for loan forgiveness for the remaining balance.
Be prepared to pay a Social Security offset
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the principle of “administrative offsets” that allow the government to collect on unpaid student loan debts by withholding Social Security benefits. The amount of the offset can range up to 15% of the borrower’s disability and retirement benefits, which may come as a surprise to elderly Americans who are depending on the income.
Many people are caught off guard is that Social Security used to be off limits for student loan offsets. Until 1991, there was a 10-year time limit on the government’s ability to collect student loan debt through administrative offsets. And until 1996, those offsets could not include Social Security. Now, though, 173,000 Americans received reduced Social Security checks because of unpaid student loan debts.
These factors are important to consider early so that Americans with student loan debt can be aware of the costs that may lie ahead.
Communicate with your loan servicer
The best repayment arrangement always depends on the specific circumstances of each individual borrower. To avoid getting lumped into terms that may not be the best for you, make sure to communicate with your loan service provider frequently and update them on any major changes. Open and frequent communication is the best way to help them help you.
Providing for children when they are young is a common expectation. However, the situation gets more complex as children grow into adults but continue to need financial support. Known as “boomerang kids,” these children, aged 21 years or older, either live with their parents or continue to receive financial support even when living on their own. Parents want to help their children through the weak post-Great Recession entry level job market, but such assistance comes with the added cost of decreased savings and later retirements.
According to new data from the Pew Research Center, for the first time in 130 years, more young adults aged 18 to 34 live in their parents’ homes—32.1 percent of them—than on their own or with romantic partners. In such situations, parents often need to divert funds from retirement investing and saving to bear the added cost of providing for their adult child. A 2015 study conducted by Time Magazine revealed that, regardless of whether adult children live with their parents or not, 70 percent of parents polled spent up to $5,000 per year supporting an adult child, with 38 percent reporting having spent at least $1,000. Two-thirds of respondents aged 50 and older also indicated that they had provided financial support for a boomerang child within five years prior to taking the survey.
Such amounts may seem small, but they add up quickly, especially at a time when parents should be actively working on accumulating wealth and diversifying their income streams as part of their retirement strategy. Although parents and adult children both feel that assistance should not go on for long, the reality is that it stretches over longer periods of time than anyone is comfortable with. Even if parents spend just $1,000 on their adult child per year, the sum they lose from their retirement savings is even greater when they account for the loss in market-tracking index growth should that sum have been invested instead.
In addition to decreasing the amount of investments and savings, spending money to help adult children also results in people putting off their retirement. A study by Hearts and Wallets revealed that parents aged 65 and older who have financially independent adult children are twice more likely to be retired than their counterparts who are supporting adult children.
To help offset the financial burden of supporting a boomerang child, parents can set expectations and boundaries. Parents can ask boomerang children who live with them to pay rent or contribute to household spending in other ways. Regardless of whether their children live with them or not, parents can also help themselves and their children by assisting their kids with networking so that they can find a well-paying job and become financially independent. Setting boundaries and creating a plan for when a child will move out or assume increased financial responsibility can also be helpful in keeping parents’ spending in check. Finally, assigning household maintenance responsibilities or other chores may free up parents’ time to turn to turn their attention to financial matters.
Of course, each situation is unique, so there is no one size fits all strategy. Some boomerang children may be unable to secure a well-paying job while others are crushed by crippling student loan debt. Nevertheless, parents should strive to keep their retirement strategy in focus so they don’t run the risk of outliving their assets or having to ask their adult children to care for them later in life because parents spent their retirement savings providing for their adult children today.
photo credit: Wikidpedia
When planning for retirement, it’s essential to consider multiple sources of income. Social Security may not be as beneficial as expected, particularly after taxes. Outside of pouring money into savings, pre-retirees should look into options for non-taxable income well before the time comes to call it quits.
Here are four ways to start building towards a tax-free future in retirement.
One of the best options for retirees looking for tax-free income is the Roth IRA. Unlike most other retirement plans, a Roth IRA grants a tax break on withdrawals rather than contributions. Direct contributions can be withdrawn at any time, without worry of tax or penalty. Earnings can be withdrawn tax-free as well, after a five-year period, and for individuals 59 and a half years of age or older.
The Roth IRA has advantages over alternative tax-free options such as municipal bonds. Though munis have no income limit, the interest they pay is generally less than taxable bonds, and they may be subject to state income taxes. Also, municipal bonds may be counted as a source of income for early recipients of Social Security, potentially hurting their pay if they make $15,000 or more.
Unfortunately, the Roth IRA has income limits that disqualify some people from making contributions. Many people hold off until after retirement when they enter a lower income bracket, though financial experts advise making contributions as early as possible for greater benefits down the line.
Roth 401(k), 403 (b):
Plans such as the 401(k) can accumulate huge savings as the employer will match whatever the employee contributes. The IRS also allows for Roth contributions to 401(k) and 403(b) accounts. While the Roth IRA has an annual contribution limit of $5,000 or $6,000 (depending on age), the limits on Roth 401(k) contributions are much higher and are not restricted by income eligibility.
Regardless, pre-retirees should look to max out their contributions to company-sponsored plans each year. It will pay off in the future.
Health savings account:
Some employers offer an HSA-qualified health plan, allowing employees to contribute tax-deductible funds that roll over and accumulate each year. These funds can be withdrawn at a later date to pay for various medical procedures, some of which may not be covered by health insurance.
A health savings account can eventually become a useful source of tax-free retirement income as the funds can be used as reimbursements for past medical expenses, or to pay for current Medicare premiums and health costs. Withdrawals are not subject to income taxation if made for qualified medical expenses.
Though most people look at life insurance as something that will only be of benefit after they pass on, it can also become a potential source of retirement income.
A life insurance retirement plan (LIRP) allows owners to contribute funds beyond that required by the plan’s premiums and later withdraw the excess cash tax-free.
According to expert Kevin Kimbrough of Saybrus Partners, these funds accumulate similar to an annuity but come with an added benefit.
“Unlike the annuity, you’re able to take your basis out first and that comes out tax free,” said Kimbrough to ThinkAdvisor. “When you get into the gains, you’re able to switch over and start taking policy loans against the income-tax-free death benefit.”
This method is usually better suited for higher earners, due to the fees associated with such an investment. It’s highly advisable that pre-retirees examine their portfolio, research and adopt a plan best suited for their particular circumstances.
“There are only two options in retirement: You can be working for your money or your money can be working for you. You have to be realistic and ask yourself if you really can retire when you’d like,” said finance advisor Christopher Kimball to Turbotax. “During retirement, it is critical to monitor your investments and current tax law. You should be positioned to take money from whatever ‘bucket’ is most beneficial at the time.”