Feds Cut Social Security to Retirees Who Owe Student Debt

Social Security
By Mandi Woodruff

While most attention in the ongoing student debt crisis narrative has focused on new graduates, it turns out the federal government has been quietly targeting a different group of debtors: retirees.

The Treasury Department has been withholding as much as 15 percent of Social Security benefits from "a rapidly growing number of Social Security recipients who have fallen behind on federal student loans," Smart Money's Annamaria Andriotis reports:

"From January through August 6, the government reduced the size of roughly 115,000 retirees' Social Security checks on those grounds. That's nearly double the pace of the department's enforcement in 2011; it's up from around 60,000 cases in all of 2007 and just 6 cases in 2000...

The amount that the government withholds varies widely, though it runs up to 15%. Assuming the average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker of $1,234, that could mean a monthly haircut of almost $190."

Since 2001, the number of retirees who've seen benefits garnished has ballooned from about 20,000 to nearly 100,000. The worst part? Some of these retirees are simply among the growing number of older consumers who've taken on loans to help their kids or grandchildren through college.

A recent report by the New York Federal Reserve found more than 17 percent of student loan borrowers are over the age of 50.

And while slates for credit and other forms of debt can be wiped clean in bankruptcy, lawmakers have yet to add student loan debt to the list.

Still, simply owning study loans in old age doesn't automatically put retiree's benefits on the fed's chopping block.

"It's when people aren't making any attempt whatsoever [to pay] that they start heading down that road," Treasury Department spokesman Justin Hamilton said.

More from Business Insider:
Student Debt Is Keeping Young People Out of the Housing Market
This Woman's On The Hook For A $25,000 Private Student Loan She Never Knew Existed
Military Nurse Battles Sallie Mae Over $120,000 In Private Student Loans

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There are the high school seniors who are lucky enough to have wealthy parents who can pay for tuition, and board. Next comes the students who have either grades good enough to earn a four-year scholarship, or a specific talent in a sport which will pay for their schooling. The rest are the students with grades sufficient to be admitted to a college or university, but have little or no means of affording the staggering tuition that institions of higher learning are charging now. The only alternative is to take out student loans, which can now take a graduate the next twenty or thirty years to pay off. That is with the assumption that a job making enough money can be obtained upon graduation. In professions such as law, that does sometimes occur after a law school graduate passes the bar. Currently, engineering is a profession that is looking for graduates, depending on what type of engineer is being sought. Such a graduate as this will probably be able to rent an apartment, buy a car and eventually a home, afford to marry and have children while paying his or her student loans. Aside from specialty majors, such as pre-med or pre-law, this is only for a bachelor's degree. Many positions advertise the necessity of having a master's degree and a number of years of experience, which can only be obtained by having worked in the field already. Next comes the majority of Americans under the age of from their thirties to their fifties who were saddled with over $100,00 in student loans. Over the next twenty years, I see two eventualities. Graduates will be living with their parents for a lot longer than originally planned, which has already begun to happen. In time, they will probably be able to move into their own apartment. If they marry or take a partner, that person is probably bringing their own student debt along with them, doubling the amount owed as a couple. The second alternative will be not to go to college at all, which will severely limit their ability to obtain a job making more than $30 or $40,000 a year. There are community colleges, but I don't think they are tuition free. This situation is actually starting well before college enters the picture. Many children go to Catholic or private schools. I don't know how much my parents paid to send both my brother and me to Catholic grade schools, but they were both employed---we were a middle income family. Having worked the summer before my senior year in high school, I paid my tuition for that year which was $350. The Catholic grade school that my 15-year old niece went to charged over $3,000 per school year. If I was in Washington D.C., and headed the Bureau of Education, I would take a look at how other countries educate their young people. Otherwise at this rate, America is headed for disaster, both educational and financial.

February 01 2013 at 1:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am a patient at our local VA facility. I have been paying SSA $99.90 per month for 2 years, for Medicare premiums I DO NOT use. Last May, I sent in the proper paperwork to stop Medicare, as I do not need it, and can use the extra money. I got a call from SSA to confirm I wanted to stop it. Since then, the paperwork has all mysteriously been lost....3 times. I finally got it stoppen, after 6 months. That's about $600 the government officially screwed me out of. I wonder how often this happens, and where does this extra money go to. Oh, that's right. We are dealing with these bunch of former used car salesmen in Washington.

These people always figure a way to screw us over, whethr it be to a legitimate debt we owe, or a fabricated debt, or our government employees and their incompetance.

September 07 2012 at 8:30 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I'm always puzzled when people attack other individuals, groups, or the government when their personal issues or failings create problems in their lives. Yes, the government has issues, yes, the banks may (or may not) have pushed loans onto those who were most vulnerable. Yes, you may perceive that your degree is worthless (And, ultimately, whose fault is that?) Yes, maybe you became ill, lost your job or feel disenfranchised from society. Ultimately, however, the decision to take out those loans (and choose your field of study) rests solely with the individual. To not pay back what you borrowed is immoral, regardless of your feelings about the government. Kudos to the Feds for requiring delinquent accounts to be audited and for garnishing social security payments. It is the right thing to do, and I wholeheartedly support it.

August 28 2012 at 5:20 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jrbmpls's comment

The bad thing about it is that in most instances, the seniors that are getting the benefits garnished, will end up on assistance, in one way, shape, or form. I would be interested in knowing just how much one year of Medicaid would be worth, so we could compare it to what is actually owed in student loans. Either way, I agree, in principle, with your statement. What the article points out, though, is that a lot of this debt is for loans for the kids, grandkids, etc. Perhaps our government needs to go after the wage earner....ie.....the beneficiary of the student loan. Of course, that would mean some agency within our government would actually have to work, and that's not going to happen.

September 07 2012 at 8:20 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Good. There might be a few students still going to school in their 40's or 50's, but not many. If 90% of folks finish their education (or call it finished by 30)---and that is the case, this means they have had 30 plus years to pay back their student loans if they are on SS. Some may have not been able to pay it back, most just have tried to skate.

August 28 2012 at 11:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to donut999's comment

I hope this guy lives alone in a remote cave.

August 28 2012 at 11:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This country is doomed.

Some of these comments are sick.
Look at how the people think, their reasoning is, "If I had a good dinner, everyone else had a good dinner".

Newsflash, you selfish, ignorant asswipes, you are not Robocop, you are not Bloomberg or Gates, you can get sick, get in an accident and become disabled. You can get in a car accident and get sued for everything that you have. A tornado, earthquake, flood, storm can destroy your home, and your insurance can back out on paying you it's full value. When you lose everything, I'm sure many of you ignorant sociopaths will change your tone and resort to demanding the government helps you, or with that **** everyone else mindset you'll be the first ones who resort to violence and theft . WAKE UP, the Banks, and Politicians are ******* everyone over! Stop drinking the Koolaid and get your heads out of your asses!

I read nothing but brain dead, ignorant comments from inbred morons. I'm disgusted by these comments, this country is beyond ****** if this is how people are. Look at how the people are becoming, they're becoming beyond cold, selfish and beyond stupid. The government ***** them over for their SS money, and they defend the government ******* them over. They put down other people comments who are suffering from the government taking what little income they have. Do you old farts even know what the hell is going on with this economy, Do you know that the Eurozone is ******, and that there is civil unrest brewing worldwide? Do you stupid ***** know where the government gets their money? This money, which is printed from nothing from the Federal Reserve, and has no real value? Yet you want them to take your money? It's not 1965 anymore, tuition costs are extremely high and these loans are the most predatory and toxic of any other loan.

These loans were designed to target the most vulnerable people, kids in high school, young adults and the poor.

You bitter ideological coots can't blame people for trying to go to school, when the go to college mantra is shoved down their throats, when tons of fear mongering is shoved into their minds by the public school system.

They're told repeatedly that if they don't go to school they'll end up poor, and working in Mc Donalds.

You can't blame anyone for going to school, when tons of societal, familiar and peer pressure is on young people and students to take a student loan and go to school.

You cannot blame anyone for going to school, when there are women who will not even date a man who didn't go to College.

These loans are pure predatory, they're even told, to not worry about paying them back by the lenders. These loans are practically given freely, without credit checks or any other checks.

The Banks, and Politicians are ******* over the people and you guys cannot see that, you're either suffering from boiling frog syndrome or drank way too much fluoride!

August 26 2012 at 4:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to ParadoxicalReactions's comment

And I know all you inbred coots are going to reply, but nothing is for free, and you have to work, I worked all my life, for 37 years, etc, etc.

Well I have news for you, it's not the 50s, 60's and early 70's anymore, there are no jobs, and too many graduates and unemployed people competing for the little jobs that are left.

Tuition costs at graduation are 45k, 50k, 100k+, not the few thousands you paid back then.

Do you really expect someone to pay back 100k+ loans, with compounding interest, fees, penalties, that make a loan shark look like a better deal?

How are they going to find a job to pay off a large loan that compounds, when they're aren't any decent paying jobs anymore, when the cost of living is astronomical? Tell, how???

Oh I know what you're all going to say,
That they all need to get a job! Because they're all lazy socialist, liberal moochers, and you're a special, because you're a hardworking honest American, who votes! Who worked 40 years for everything that you have! Yes, you're special and the Government cares about you. (They don't at all, no one does)

Yes, that's all you'll say...

August 26 2012 at 4:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ParadoxicalReactions's comment

The problem is that we are loaning money to the wrong people for the wrong reasons. Not everyone should go to college on the government's dime. We do not need any more degrees in Syan Art History from 1627-1673. We should only loan money for degrees which we need and where there are decent paying jobs upon graduation, such as engineering.

January 31 2013 at 10:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

I guess no one needs to reply to you since you reply to yourself.

August 28 2012 at 11:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to donut999's comment

He's an idiot.

September 07 2012 at 8:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down

The SSA does not really pass it on to banks/creditors as they say they do. The SSA lines their own pockets with our SSI and SSD. Or B. Obama stuffs it up his nose again. SSD and SSI recipients beware. All Judges steal our SSD and SSI and line their own purses with it. Judges are in debt too and steal from SSD and SSI people.

August 25 2012 at 6:04 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to suetry8's comment

Steal? How?

January 31 2013 at 10:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mark of the Wildwest

Well, let the Federal Government payback the Social Security Fund the 2.5 trillion it robbed from the fund for the treasury if they want to get high and mighty about paying back debt...

...And since the governments been pro-active in shipping America jobs overseas they should pay every unemployed college grad back wages and future wages.... The outsourcing is all about investment profits for government pension funds... We got college grads flipping hamburgers and worse coast to coast, and those are the lucky ones!

August 24 2012 at 3:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The education shall be free. No more loans.........................

August 23 2012 at 10:52 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Hope people start to wake up... the money they "paid in" to social security is gone. The government spent all the money that was suppose to be saved and now that money is coming from current social security payments.
15%? Wow that's like nothing wait until it gets up to 50%-75% very soon... or worse when its still paying out 85% but the money is worthless because of inflation.
We are broke people there is no more money.

August 23 2012 at 11:47 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
jim s

Without legal proceeding the government can withhold percentages of retirement income from federal pensions, administratively. To do more requires judicial proceeding. ie 15% of SS 50% of military retirement.

August 23 2012 at 10:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply