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Major debt shift for millennials and seniors

College student
Alejandro Rivera | E+ | Getty Images

Millenials, with all their college bills, aren't the only age group carrying a heavy debt burden. Now, seniors are getting in on the act as well.

There's been much talk about the growth of the student loan burden. Along those lines, an analysis released last week by TransUnion shows college debt among 20-somethings is indeed affecting their ability, or desire, to take on additional loans—most notably mortgages.

A decade ago, student loans accounted for only 12.9 percent of the total debt load carried by people ages 20 to 29. As of 2014, it's now 36.8 percent. In 2005, mortgage debt among that age group made up 63.2 percent of their total debt load. That's now dropped to 42.9 percent.

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In raw numbers, the average student loan balance for those with loans jumped to $29,575 from only $17,442 in 2005, according to TransUnion. A separate study released Tuesday by Pew Research shows those balances aren't merely ballooning, but that the profile of the borrowers is changing as the rich are borrowing more for college. Fully half of high-income families now borrow for college, according to Pew, more than double those who did in the 1992-93 year.

There's also a big shift in debt for those over age 60, as they co-sign student loans for their children and grandchildren, or go back to school themselves.

"The 60-plus consumers are increasing their debt levels across the board," said Charlie Wise, co-author of the study and vice president in TransUnion's Innovative Solutions Group. In addition to student loans, they're taking on more debt in mortgages, auto loans, credit cards and through home equity loans, he said.

Of the seniors with student loan obligations, about 42 percent co-signed a loan. The remaining borrowers may have taken out debt to cover the costs of their own education or that of a family member. While the rate has tripled in the past decade, it's still a small percentage of the overall puzzle, Wise said.

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That shift over the past decade in the type of debt people carry—the so-called consumer loan wallet—is most pronounced for the 20-somethings and those over 60, according to TransUnion.

Those in their 20s are also increasing their overall debt, including bigger average auto loans, which edged up to $14,637 from $13,721 in 2005. And while more of the millennials are getting credit cards, their average balances are not growing; they actually dropped to $2,315 in 2014 from $3,261 in 2009.

The TransUnion study used a representative sample of approximately 10 million consumers from its consumer credit database, and examined data from March of each year from 2005-2014.

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