While educational debt is generally thought to be the problem of younger people, new data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reveals a startling fact: Americans ages 60 and over collectively owe $36 billion in student loans.

Experts say while some of that debt was probably incurred while senior citizens were in school in their 20s, the rest was likely accrued by getting degrees later in life or co-signing loans for children or grandchildren who’ve now defaulted.

Whether the defaults are their own or someone else’s for which they’re now responsible, roughly five percent of the $85 billion in delinquent student loans in the US is owed by borrowers over the age of 60 — and getting out from under it is almost impossible.

Current laws allow people to walk away from home mortgage and credit card debt, but educational loans are rarely forgotten. In fact, Social Security checks are sometimes garnished to pay them off.

William E. Brewer, president of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, said, “A student loan can be a debt that’s kind of like a ball and chain that you can drag to the grave. You can unhook it when they lay you in the coffin.”

[The Washington Post]