Many parents spend more years paying off student debt for their kids than they do raising them, new report finds

Many parents spend more years paying off student debt for their kids than they do raising them, new report finds
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  • A report from The Century Foundation analyzed the restrictive nature of Parent PLUS student loans.
  • It found many parents will spend more years paying off those loans than they spend raising their kids.

There's a group of student-loan borrowers who are burdened with lifelong debt loads — but it's not for their own education.

On Tuesday, The Century Foundation — a left-leaning think tank — released a report analyzing Parent PLUS loans, the most expensive type of federal student loan that parents can take out to pay for their kids' higher educations. Held by over 3.7 million families in the US and totaling $104 billion in student debt, PLUS loans have the highest interest rates of any federal loan.

As the report found, the average PLUS loan borrower still has 55% of the initial balance remaining after ten years of repayment — and 38% after 20 years. Presuming those parents are only halfway through their debt payments, the report said that most parents spend more time paying off student loans than they did raising their kids.

"The rising cost of higher education, coupled with state and federal disinvestment, has left families with very few options to ensure their children can earn a degree," Peter Granville, the report's author, said in a statement. "That makes these risky but easy-to-obtain loans an attractive option, or at times, the only option for families. But while Parent PLUS loans can open doors for children, they close many doors for the parents who hold them."

"The administration's plans to cancel $10,000 per borrower would go a long way towards reducing the most severe outcomes that befall parents with Parent PLUS debt," he added. Currently, it's unclear if parents will be included in President Biden's pledge to forgive debt.


Insider has previously reported on the restrictive nature of parent PLUS loans. While most parents don't regret taking on debt to give their kids an education, they wish the process for accumulating so much debt wasn't so easy. According to the report, the average debt a parent takes out today is $29,600, but with a current interest rate of 6.28% — which is set to increase to 7.54% in July — the debt can easily spiral, making them "one of the riskiest federal student loan options."

Specifically, according to the report, there has been a 269% rise in the use of parent PLUS loans to attend public universities since 2000, and today, most students who rely on PLUS loans also have to receive Pell Grants, meaning these loans have grown increasingly popular among lower-income households. And PLUS debt has also exacerbated the racial wealth gap — ten years after starting repayment, parents whose kids attended HBCUs still owe an average of 96% of their original balance, compared to 47% of parents whose kids went to majority-white institutions.

This report comes as President Biden is getting closer to making a decision on broad student-loan forgiveness, and recent reports have suggested he is considering $10,000 in relief for borrowers making under $150,000. But it's currently unclear if parents will be included in that relief, especially since they do not fall into the "student" category. Robert Pemberton, a 64-year-old dad with $265,000 in student debt for his two kids, wishes that wasn't the case.

"This is an endless cycle where the loan can never be paid off unless I have a windfall and pay it all or I die and it goes away," Pemberton previously told Insider. "I don't know if I'll be able to work into my 80s."