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Resources to Help Older North Dakotans Manage Student Loan Debt

April 4, 2022 by Mike Moen, Public News Service -- Find PNS and audio version here.

Student Loan Application
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North Dakota has some of the lowest student-loan debt rates in the U.S., but like all states, payments are a growing burden for older adults, not just younger populations.

Borrowers are urged to monitor an upcoming date: May 1 is when the federal government might lift the moratorium on student-loan payments. It is still uncertain whether the two-year freeze will be extended. (Update: The moratorium now will be extended through Aug. 31, 2022)

Stacie Iken, a Bismarck resident, is among borrowers calling attention to the loans they are repaying after age 50. In the past, she did not envision her own college costs would intersect with retirement planning.

"It was interesting for me to go, 'Well, that would be, you know, X number of dollars I would not put toward a smaller home or to put away back into some sort of retirement fund,' but to take care of the existing bills," Iken explained.

Iken is still paying off grad-school loans after a midcareer change and is a co-signer for college loans for her two children.

No matter when the moratorium is lifted, groups such as AARP urge those in similar situations to explore repayment and forgiveness options.

Borrowers 50 and older now account for roughly 20% of the nation's student-loan debt. Iken pointed out the thought of taking out expensive loans well past early adulthood should not prevent peers from considering their options.

"I would not deter anyone from considering graduate education," Iken emphasized. "I would consider encouraging them to look at what alternatives might they have. Is it working for a grant program? Anything that might help offset the cost ahead of time."

Marnie Piehl, associate state director of communications for AARP North Dakota, said while student loan payments often are locked in at certain amounts, the trend coincides with other forms of financial stress, such as rising prescription-drug costs.

She noted planning for multiple payments is something her family is sorting out, and likely will be a complex maze for many other households in the years to come.

"You know, people want to make sure that their children have all the opportunities they deserve from an educational standpoint," Piehl observed. "And figure out the debt they have from their own education."

Learn more about AARP's student loan repayment tool here.

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