Older Americans face a growing amount of student debt, often...

Older Americans face a growing amount of student debt, often on loans taken out for their children. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto / Darren415

The $1.34 trillion in student loan debt isn’t just a millennial problem. Increasingly, seniors are also struggling to pay off college expenses.

According to Fair Isaac Corp. (FICO), the percentage of those 65 and older with student loans increased 300 percent from 2006 to 2016. Worse, their average balance jumped 40 percent over the decade, to $28,268 in 2016.

“Most older Americans’ student loan debt is borrowed or cosigned to help a child or grandchild. Very little is from the borrower’s undergraduate education. Some is from graduate education,” says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of college financing site Cappex.com.

At this lifestage, you don’t need student loans stifling you. Here’s how to breathe easier.

Strategize. List all loans with details such as amounts, repayment status and interest rates. “Pay down the most expensive (highest interest rate) loans first. Put more money towards those if you can,” says Joe De Sena, an Ameriprise Financial private wealth advisor in Melville. Find out if you can consolidate loans. This often results in lower rates. If you’re having trouble making payments, contact your loan provider. They may offer repayment options.

Explore options. After consolidating, arrange for an income-dependent repayment (IDR) plan that can cap your monthly payment at 20 percent of your discretionary income, suggests Nick Clements, co-founder of MagnifyMoney.com.

An IDR isn’t offered automatically. “Request it. It’s free, easy to do, and can be done online in 10 minutes,” says Ian Atkins, a financial analyst with FitSmallBusiness.com.

Discharge? Usually filing bankruptcy does not get you out of student loans, but for those reaching or at retirement age, the loans may be dischargeable during bankruptcy proceedings. Says Atkins, “Make a special request by filing adversary proceedings” — a separate lawsuit filed with the bankruptcy court.

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