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How Can You Still Have Student Loans at Age 40?

ID-10064237Since closing on the first part of my business sale, we now have enough money to pay off our student loans. Before you start congratulating me, remember that I am 39 years old, and my husband is 43. How on earth do you have student loans in your 40’s?

Start Late

My husband didn’t decide to become a teacher until he had one failed attempt at college and several different jobs. He was 27 before he started college for real. He graduated at age 31, and then went right into a master’s program. He did work while getting his master’s, but didn’t really finish school until age 33.

I finished my residency and started repaying my loans when I was 27. Most four year college graduates would already have 5-10 years on us. While I never think it’s too late to change careers, and I think our loans were worth it , it’s wise to think about how much debt you want to be paying off as you get older.

Take Deferments and Forbearances

When I was a resident, I put my loans into forbearance. The $600 a month payment seem like too much at the time, although I probably could have paid it. I should have at least paid the interest during that period, but I did not. It was all added into my loans.

My husband put his loans into deferment during his master’s program, mainly because he could. We could have made the payment because we were both working. Although interest doesn’t accrue on subsidized loans like in a forbearance, we still got the unsubsidized loan interest added in.

Even if you have to put your loans into deferment or forbearance, try to pay as much as possible. Just because you don’t have to pay them for a period of time doesn’t mean they have gone away.

Consolidate and Make the Minimum Payment

My husband and I both consolidated our loans as fast as possible. In my head, I told myself it was to keep variable interest rates from rising. I was determined to pay more than the minimum payments. Did we do that?

Nope, we decided to become the Joneses. We continued making our minimum payments so we could buy other things.I have no excuse. I don’t regret buying our house or my business, but most of the things we bought were just dumb. Don’t get tricked into basing your lifestyle on minimum payments. Before you know it, payments take over your life and limit your choices.

Enough is Enough

While I think it can make good financial sense to not pay off you student loans if you have a low interest rate, getting to forty years of age and still having student loans is too much. I haven’t been a student for a long time. I’m almost to bifocal age, and I am still paying off school loans! Sadly, I think I am not alone.

I was watching a financial show the other night, and there was a 31 year old lady who had racked up $192,000 in student loans to go to a private art school. Worse, her parents cosigned on a number of her private loans. She is currently working at Whole Foods and living in her parents’ travel trailer while they are paying $1000 a month on HER loans. Her Mom can’t retire, even though she really wants to. Student loans can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. Really think hard before you sign on the dotted line. If you have to get private loans, maybe your school choice is too expensive.

Student loans are a necessary evil in many peoples’ lives. I would certainly do the same thing again in regards to school and borrowing money to complete my degree. What I wouldn’t do is succumb to lifestyle inflation before paying the dang things off. I’m pleased to say that by the end of April, we should have no more students loans and no other debt aside from our home and rental property mortgages. My only regret is that I waited until almost 40 to finally pay off my student loans. Unlike Andrea at So Over This, I had no extenuating circumstances that caused inability to pay. Take my advice. Pay off those loans before buying stuff you don’t need. Hopefully, you won’t find yourself looking at middle age with debt from your fraternity days.

How would you feel about turning 40 with student loans?ย 

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. Congrats on finally getting to pay them off, and a good lesson for those who like to keep a freshly made bed in the spare room for their student loans. We’re hopefully killing our in the next 2 years, before I turn 30, even though I’ve blow through enough money to pay for them 3 times over! I would say you should celebrate. Better late than never, and you have many more successful, debt free years ahead of you ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Congratulations! I would feel weird to still have a ghost from my past looming there, but at least you are doing it on your own, unlike the trailer art girl. $200K to learn art?? You can go around the world for 4 years, visit all the best museums and exchange with art students all over the world for less than half that..

    • To her credit, I believe her degree was in some sort of graphic art, but obviously it was not a profession that was employable where she lives now or she wouldn’t be working at Whole Foods.

  3. We hear that education debt is a good debt but in reality it’s money we owe someone so it’s just a debt. There is no good and bad in my book, if you owe money it’s bad debt. Many people go back to school when they are older like I did for the second time in my life. Although I paid cash I may have well ended up getting a loan from the government if I didn’t have the money saved. The thing is when we are done school, life begins again for many. That means having to work and pay regular bills on top of student loans that kick in. Granted things happen in life but debt doesn’t go away. Probably even more incentive for students to start working part-time when they are younger to put cash away for school. ie: babysitting, paper route, fast-food, mall..etc.. spend half, bank half for education. Not all parents have the money to put away for kids for their education. It’s a big responsibility to put on the shoulders of a young child but for some that’s the way it goes. Congrats on paying off your loans.. well done and you both have come a long way in your journey but life is only just begun! Happy Friday mate.

    • I do feel like this is the beginning of a new chapter of life. I hope to savor and enjoy this one much more, since the last decade has been spent in the rat race. Like your post, you can’t Skype heaven, better enjoy the time you have.

  4. I can’t imagine having student loans at 40. The key though is that you learned a lot from this experience. I try to tell my readers to not focus on the low interest rates they provide and to just pay them off. You never know where life will lead you and you don’t want to be stuck in a bad situation because you have a $400 monthly student loan payment and cannot afford to move, travel or take a lower paying job that might make you happier.

    • If I was starting out again, I’d impose a ten year max limit. I think that’s reasonable and doable. If not, your school is too expensive.

  5. I can definitely see why you guys want to put those student loans to bed – they’ve been hanging around gathering interest for too long. But it sure will feel great when you get the $0 balance confirmation statement!

    • I honestly think we’ll pay off our house in a shorter amount of time than we did with the student loans. I’ve never carried a balance on anything for this long.

  6. Honestly, when it comes to student loans it depends on your career (i.e. doctor or lawyer require schooling at older ages) and when you finish your degree (like your husband switching careers). I don’t think it’s unheard of or unreasonable to have student loans at 40. With that being said, it would obviously be ideal to have them paid down before you hit 40.

    • 40 just seems like a time when you either have your stuff together or you might never get it together. I’m glad we finally have it together.

  7. First off, congrats Kim! That’s awesome! We just paid mine off last January so I was not that far ahead of you and it still felt great. I did some of the same things with forbearances and the like. That said, I hated having them being so close to 40, but the important thing is seeing that and having those suckers paid off. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. My wife has one loan on a 15-year term that would put her around 36 to be paid off, but since our finances are combined, I look at myself as part of the equation and I’ll be 43 when that’s paid off. We might pay it off sooner but it’s a locked rate around 2% so there’s honestly not been a hurry other than it’s just annoying.

    • Ours are at 6% and 4%. I guess you could argue not to pay off the 4% and invest in something else, but that’s kind of splitting hairs, so it’s going away. 2%, I would certainly not be in as big of a hurry.

  9. Congrats that is awesome! I want my student loans gone as soon as possible ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Wow! I have never liked debt, so that would be a no-go zone for me.

    If I were going to be a teacher like your husband, 2 years of community college would have come first, then 2 years at the cheapest decent public university. I would have worked the entire time (I did, anyway!) and would have ended up with less than $10k debt, at the worst. And I would have killed myself to pay it off as fast as possible, paying my way through grad school during the year and taking summer school positions to double down on the undergrad debt during the summer. I would have tutored in the evenings, too. You can’t really plan for retirement while you’re still under student loans!

    • While we certainly could have been paying on our loans instead of buying crap, I have to disagree a little bit about planning for retirement. We’ve always saved for retirement and I did buy my business, which will fund part of our retirement. My husband will also get a pension just for putting in his time. It probably won’t be enough to live on solely, but it’s not bad. Could we be further ahead in retirement if we’d paid off those loans already? Yes, but not buying my business would have been a huge mistake if I’d felt the need to be loan free before doing that. I think it’s great to pay off debt as fast as you can and avoid stupid debt, like credit cards, but I wouldn’t miss a great opportunity that arises just because you have student loans.

  11. I think the Obamas’ had loans into their forties. Law school carries a large number. A lot depends on the interest rate whether I would hurry to pay it off faster too.

    • You can love or hate the Obamas all you want, but you have to love their story. I know they add drama for the media, but I really admire Mrs. Obama’s family and how they made sure their children had opportunities, even if it took student loans to get there.

  12. Glad to hear you are taking care of these once and for all. “Donโ€™t get tricked into basing your lifestyle on minimum payments” – I loved this. It is so correct. You see the low minimum and think “yeah, I can do this”, but forget about all of the other minimum payments you already make. Great post Kim.

  13. Congrats on the student loan payoff!! That is an awesome accomplishment! ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. It has to be pretty common to still be in debt at 40 for people with professional degrees, especially those with residency/further necessary training programs that keep you at a low income for years after you finally stop racking up debt. But you are right that the choice to inflate your lifestyle is really what is keeping the payoff from happening earlier. So many life choices would probably be resolved for a better outcome by imagining what your life will be like 10/20/50 years down the line if you took each of the options before you!

    • I totally agree. Our opticians daughter just finished a five year residency to become an anesthesiologist.She’s in her early 30’s. With undergrad and medical school loans, she owes around $300K, I believe. There really wasn’t much chance to make a dent on the residency salary, so I’m not sure ho long it could take to pay that off. Even though she’s making a huge salary now, I certainly wouldn’t fault her if it takes until after 40 to pay off the loans.

  15. Nice job getting them paid off! I could not even comprehend student loans at age 40. My wife and I were 24 when we finished paying off our loans and we did it as fast as possible, so our methodologies about debt are way different. I hope to not have any debt (including mortgage) by 40 just so that I have freedom to do what I want with my money.

    • I was still in school at 24. I do wish we’d made bigger student loan payments, but buying my business was a very good investment that I would not have had the opportunity for if I’d been determined to pay off loans first. I think there is a happy balance somewhere between investing and paying off, but of course, I was not as young as you when I got started.

  16. Congrats on getting your loans paid off, student loans suck!

  17. When I consolidated my loans, it turned the 10 year term into a 20 year term. Making minimum payments, which most people are going to do anyway, would have put a pay-off date at age 43.

    Of course, then I had a forbearance and then a hardship program. If the hardship rate had been permanent, it would have taken over 100 years to pay off!

  18. Congrats on getting the loan paid off. My wife and I never went to college we were both lucky enough to land halfway decent jobs right out of high school. However I’ve considered getting a degree a few years ago but decide we just couldn’t afford it financially.

  19. Its interesting that you bought rental properties and a business instead of painful off a your loans. Im sure this put you in much better shape that most folks who borrow to buy a brand new car that will depreciate quickly

  20. A topic near and dear to my heart. I was terrified of still having student loans when my kids (hypothetical kids) were ready to go to college. It was that fear (among others) that got me motivated to pay them off as fast as possible.

  21. I don’t think in this day and age that being 40 and having student loans is that uncommon. A lot of my classmates are doing the 25 year payoff plan, which would have made me debt free at 52. I am not having any of that! Although I cannot pay my debt off as fast as I can, I am doing the best I can and hope to be debt free in less than 4 years.

  22. Well this stems from the false philosophy that every student starts right out of high school. This is not the path for many.

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