"If I just make the regular loan payments, I'll be paying until well into my 70s," said Julia Nock, 59, a library assistant from Closter, N.J. Nock, who was 52 when her youngest child started college, borrowed more than $100,000 to supplement her daughter's loans and now devotes her entire salary to repaying it.
"When I finish, I'll have zero dollars available for retirement," she said. "I was incredibly naïve. I didn't think it would be this much of a life wrecker."
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The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates that outstanding student loan debt is approaching $1.2 trillion: $999 billion in federal student loans, plus $165 billion in private student loans, which are used disproportionately by high-debt borrowers.
A 2013 Bloomberg report found that tuition costs have increased 538 percent since 1985, compared with a 286 percent rise in medical expenses and a 121 percent gain in the Consumer Price Index.
Individual debt loads may be worse than we realize.
"It's frustrating to me to see the statistics," said Garry Allen, chief college consultant at College Funding & Consulting. "They are usually grossly underreported. They only report the federal student loan balances and don't reflect that 70 percent of students have private student loans in addition to federal loans." He noted also that private loans are typically not reported by the schools.