Student loans: A family burden?

There’s no doubt many parents are helping shoulder the financial burdens of their young adult children in the recession. We posted in 2009 and 2010 about recent college grads moving home because they couldn’t afford to live on their own.

But what happens when parents must take on the debts of their young adult children? We started thinking about that after hearing from Vicki Brady.


She and her husband took over the student loan payments of their 24 year old son as he struggled to stay current on more than $100,000 in school debt.

He landed a job after college but it doesn’t pay enough for basic living expenses and the loans.

Brady and her husband stepped in to help. To afford it, however, they’ve had to stop contributing to their retirement accounts.

The Cloquet woman says the new obligation may also make it nearly impossible for them to cosign college loans for their daughter in a couple years.

Brady, part of MPR’s Public Insight Network, says her son worked all through college to pay his bills, “so he’s not a slacker, just overwhelmed.” He’s moving up in his company but “there is no way he will make enough money any time soon to take over the payment on his student loan.”


Student loan debt has risen dramatically here and across the country.

Last week, the New York Times reported, “Student loan debt outpaced credit card debt for the first time last year and is likely to top a trillion dollars this year as more students go to college and a growing share borrow money to do so.”

In Minnesota, student borrowing grew faster than tuition or inflation over the past decade, state Office of Higher Education data show.

Among students graduating from Minnesota public universities, 77 percent had student loans, the average amount borrowed was $22,000, and the monthly payment on a 10-year payment schedule was $253, the OHE says.

Defaults are low on student loans, probably because the consequences are so scary. It can kill your credit rating You also become ineligible for more federal student aid if you ever want to go back to school, the U.S. Department of Education notes.

While most of the focus has been the burden on the student, Brady’s story reminds us the cascading effects of this kind of debt.

According to the Times, it’s become a kind of anti-dowry, forcing young people to wait longer to buy a house, get married and have children.

But it’s also reaching into family finances, triggering longer term problems.


Help Us Cover This Story

Are you a family helping to pay student loans or a student who’s had to seek family help to make the payments? Share your expertise directly with Minnesota Public Radio News.

  • I’m about to finish graduate school with tens of thousands of dollars in loans, and many of my friends will have closer to $200,000 in loans. Having so much student loan debt will affect our lives for years and impact major life decisions, such as buying a house and having kids. I am worried about the impact that student loans are going to have on my generation as a whole.

    I created a forum at to provide a supportive community for people dealing with the stresses of having student loan debt. Please feel free to join the discussion.

  • JL

    “Brady and her husband stepped in to help. To afford it, however, they’ve had to stop contributing to their retirement accounts. ” This statement above hit a nerve with me.

    It’s not just the parents of students who have to do put retirement payments on hold. This is going to significantly impact those in my generation who are unable to rely on social security being there when we will need it but are so tied down by debt that we can’t save and live at the same time.

    I am not ignoring the need to save. I am definitely feeling the pressure in my mid-30s to contribute to a retirement account, yet I can’t afford basic living expenses, student loan repayments, AND retirement savings.

    I was not irresponsible, I took out just enough student debt to pay for tuition. I worked three jobs while attending college more than full time (I finished in three years). I was hired directly out of college and promoted several times.

    Even though I worked really hard, I still have a great amount of debt left and I don’t anticipate having the ability to start paying into retirement until well into my 40s. Buying a home or paying for a wedding to my long-time partner are both out of the question financially.

    My parents are in the situation that Ms. Brady and her husband are in. They have had to help all three of their children financially over the past 10-15 years and have also had to put off retirement savings.

    Now put those dots together. When I am in my 40s, finally finished with student loan payments, my parents will be in their 70s and my now pre-teen son will be in college at that time. All three will likely need help financially.

    I could hope my wages will increase, but they haven’t in ten years and so I am skeptical they will rise to the level that will allow me to save for my own retirement, assist my aging parents, and at the same time assist my son while he is in college.

    I can’t imagine I am the only one in this situation. I believe many in my generation are going to have similar financial woes as we age and deal with the reality of the enormous student loans, skyrocketing tuition, and flat wages of the past 10+ years.

    I think the Republican politicians having discussions right now about ending or significantly reducing medicare and social security are in the dark about how it will affect those of my generation. But then again what do they care, by the time I’m retirement age, they will be dead.