Ylan Q. Mui, a financial journalist for the Washington Times, has written a fine article on college debt that brings surprising information to the debate. It turns out that some senior citizens have not escaped the burdens of this type of debt:

New research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows that Americans 60 and older still owe about $36 billion in student loans, providing a rare window into the dynamics of student debt. More than 10 percent of those loans are delinquent. As a result, consumer advocates say, it is not uncommon for Social Security checks to be garnished or for debt collectors to harass borrowers in their 80s over student loans that are decades old.

Some of the elderly incurred loan themselves when they returned to school for a career change or more training. Others were hurt after they co-signed college loans for family members, and the family member was unable to make the loan payments. (In one case described on a CNBC documentary, the child-student died in an auto accident and the co-signing parents had to assume responsibility for massive loans. This leads to two conclusions: 1) do not co-sign loans for family members; and, 2) if you do, take out life and disability policies to cover contingencies.)