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Pay Down Your Debt Challenge

Tackling Student Loan Debt

Keep your credit and your children's intact by getting college loans under control

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Have a financial plan ready to pay off those student loans. — Photo by Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

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When many people think about student loans, they mistakenly assume that educational debt is restricted to recent college graduates, or those in their 20s and 30s.

In reality, many people carry student loans well into their 50s, 60s and beyond. Americans 60 and older still owe about $36 billion in student loans according to recent research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

According to the College Board, it takes the average college student about 15 years to pay off his or her educational loans. So if you returned to school in your 40s — say to complete a bachelor's degree you always wanted to earn, or perhaps to pursue a graduate degree — you could still be grappling with those loans.

And even if you haven't racked up college debt of your own, you might have co-signed for your children's student loans, making you just as legally responsible for repayment as your offspring.

Whether you have your own educational loans that remain outstanding, or you're on the hook for college debt as a result of having co-signed for your kids' student loans, you need a financial game plan.

You don't want to let any student loans go into default, as that can damage your credit rating, hurt your chances of getting certain jobs and make you ineligible to receive future educational loans. Also, if you default on a student loan, even one you received decades ago, a lender can legally seize part of your Social Security checks to repay that debt.
Jesse Ryan, managing director of Accounting Principals, suggests the following three-phased approach to help get student loans under control.

Next: Encourage your kids to pay their student loans. »

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