Over 50, with student debt
More than 7 million people over age 50 are still paying off student loans, according to the New York Fed.
Katie Hawn, 51
Fifteen years ago I graduated from a chiropractic college with what I thought was a solid career path. I had $89,000 in student loans, but was told that I could expect to pay them off within five years.
However, because of the loans, and with no other help, I was unable to get my practice off the ground.
I did my best over the next 15 years with a simple house-call practice. I made payments on my loan, never defaulted but the interest I couldn't pay just kept getting bigger.
My loan is now over $150,000. I work a clerical temp job to stay afloat. Meanwhile, I can't prepare for retirement.
I do what I can to keep my spirits up, which means putting the loan out of my mind most of the time. Maybe Congress will pass that student loan forgiveness bill and I can have a shot at a normal life after all, if it's not too late. Here's to hoping for miracles.
Arnold Gordon, 59
I attended NYU in the late 1980s, studying arts administration, but after three years, I didn't complete the degree.
Working in art isn't the most lucrative, and as I had to focus my resources on other priorities like my family, the debt caught up. Now, I still owe about $20,000.
Given this debt, the kinds of assurances I have given myself about retirement are not necessarily the conventional ones. I have no intention of not working.
I'm even considering shifting to teaching. I currently volunteer as a mentor to junior high and high school students, which qualifies me for a $5,000 education award from Americorps. I plan to put about half toward paying down my own debt and the other half I'll give to my granddaughter for her college.
If fortune's on my side, I'll eventually get it all paid off.
Gertrude Pfaffenbach, 64
My goal was always to combine law and science, so after earning my Ph.D in immunology and working a few years as a research scientist, I went to law school.
I took loans out for law school and then we had two children who were going to be entering college. We decided to let them go for their dreams. They both went to very prestigious colleges -- Stanford and University of Wisconsin.
We were very happy to help them pay for their education, but it did require us taking out some loans. Between three people, we took out about $120,000.
I'm working as an attorney and I like my job, but most people in this field have had to take salary cuts -- myself included. While we're not in bad shape financially, this means I can't pay down the student loans as fast as I would have liked. It may take us another 5 to 10 years.
Lisa Perry, 50
Mountain View, Calif.
I had loans from undergrad and law school, which I paid off in the late `90s. Then I went back to school to earn my Ph.D and took out another $108,000 in loans.
Now, I work as an attorney full-time and teach communications at a two-year college, part-time. I put about $3,000 a month, or roughly 48% of my after-tax income, toward paying off the debt.
Paying off my loans is my retirement plan, in a sense. Once these loans are paid off in the next 12 months, then I will be able to start putting money in the market again.
I don't have regrets about my degree, but I do have regrets about taking out as much debt as I did. If I could do it over again, I would live much more frugally and be smarter with my money.
As I teach, I find that students are still pretty wasteful with their student loan money. There's almost an expectation that people can study whatever they want and they should be paid what they think they're worth, rather than what the market determines.
There's a real disconnect there, and I do tell my students all the time, that they need to choose a career path that's going to allow them to pay back their student loans.
Sharon LoManaco, 65
At age 61, I decided to go back to school to get my bachelor's degree. I am a professional quilt maker and artist, and I wanted to improve my opportunity for employment when our economy recovered. My hope was after earning a Bachelor's, I could teach art classes.
I chose a for-profit online art school because I live in a very remote area a long way away from any college.
Four years later, I am six classes away from graduating with my bachelor's degree and a 4.0 GPA. But in November, my federal financial aid was exhausted and the school kicked me to the curb. I have no degree, no job and $75,000 in student loan debt ... and that is before any interest.
No reputable college will accept my credits for transfer so at this time I have to basically start my degree all over again. I've already lost four years of possible earnings and now I must proceed with no funds.
I am currently enrolled in classes at my local community college simply to keep the student loan hounds at bay until I can figure out what to do. I may just have to keep going to school for the foreseeable future as Social Security is my only income, and I don't see how I could make loan payments out of that and I don't want to go into default.