Can federal student loan debt follow you into your golden years? It can and it is, per a report released Tuesday. The Department of Education last year garnished $171 million from Social Security checks going to Americans ages 50 and up, reports Consumerist. Since most of those affected are aging retirees on a fixed income, the GAO report found that the drain on these Americans' monthly checks has pushed many of them below the poverty line: 67,300 of them in 2015, versus 8,300 in 2004, notes Consumerist. If that weren't bad enough, the report found that each time a Social Security check is garnished, the recipient is charged a $15 fee (or $180 per year). Among those affected, 75% had defaulted on loans they took out for their own education, rather than their child's.
The GAO conducted the report for Sens. Claire McCaskill and Elizabeth Warren, who were biting in a statement, with Warren calling it "predatory and counterproductive" to tap into "the sole source of income for millions of seniors." Among the findings they highlight: More than 7 million Americans over age 50 have student loan debt, but there's been an explosion among the 65-and-up set, which has seen their federal student-loan debt leap from more than $2 billion in fiscal year 2005 to almost $22 billion 10 years later. That debt is held by 870,000 seniors, which works out to an average of about $25,000 each. The maximum possible reduction is 15% of their Social Security benefit payment, and the average monthly garnishment is about $140. (Canada is making it easier to repay student loans.)