By Paula Ebben, WBZ-TVBy Paula Ebben

BOSTON (CBS) – Paying for college is not only a problem for recent grads. Those big bills are staying with families for decades and it could wind up costing some their retirement.

“This is the most worried I’ve ever been, because of the college,” says Robin Curley of Milton. Robin and her husband, Ted, are looking at triple the trouble when it comes to paying off student loans. Their 19-year-old triplets all just started their freshman years at college. Derek is at UMass Amherst, Samantha is at the University of Tampa, and Justin is going to UNH.

When they graduate college in four years the Milton siblings each expect to have racked up at least $30,000 in debt. That’s on top of the $240,000 their parents plan to borrow.

“We don’t have a plan. How can I have a plan how to pay off $240,000? I still have a mortgage on this home,” says Robin. The Curleys are also unsure if they will ever be able to retire. And there’s reason to be concerned: of the $1 trillion in student loan debt here in the US, 40% is owed by people over 40.

At 62-years-old, Hazel Robinson, is also facing a mountain of debt: $109,000. Hazel found her calling later in life and earned her masters in social work only five years ago. She now counsels clients at the Pine Street Inn. It’s priceless work without a big paycheck. And while Hazel is happy to keep working well into her senior years, she is worried these student loans could cut into her Social Security. Thousands of checks are being garnished every year to help repay federal loans.

At American Student Assistance Mike Ryan works out repayment plans for struggling students at any age. “It’s not uncommon now for folks to still be managing that 25 or 30 years after the debt was incurred,” says Ryan. But, that time frame doesn’t work for anyone nearing retirement.

Financial planners are adamant that even if you want to help your college-bound children you should take care of yourself first. “We spend a lot of our lives thinking about our children. This is a time when you have to think about yourself because there isn’t any ‘plan b’ when it comes to retirement,” advises David Caruso of Coastal Capital.

As for Robin she plans to work harder and pay more, well into her golden years, “I’m 51. I picked up an extra day at work. I thought right now I’d be slowing down.”

If you need help figuring out repayment options on federal loans contact American Student Assistance at or call 866-493-5563.

ASA also suggests these websites for student loan help:

Don’t know servicer, or not clear on loans you have? (National Student Loan Data System)

Additional info on federal loan programs: (Department of Education’s web site)

Challenges with private (non-federal) loans:

Talk with lender / servicer first (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau)

Paula Ebben


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