Recently, Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Ron Wyden, raised concerns about the potential reduction in Social Security benefits for millions of older adults who are behind on their student loans. According to the lawmakers, when borrowers are in collections, their Social Security benefits could be reduced by an average of $2,500 annually. This reduction can have devastating consequences for those who rely on Social Security as their primary source of income.

The U.S. government has significant collection powers when it comes to federal debts, including seizing tax refunds, wages, and retirement benefits of borrowers. Social Security recipients can have up to 15% of their benefits withheld to pay off defaulted student loans, potentially pushing them closer to poverty. With the expiration of the pandemic-era pause on student loan payments last year, there are concerns that borrowers will face extreme consequences when protections expire in late 2024.

Lawmakers have called on the Biden administration to address this issue promptly and provide a briefing on their efforts by April 3. The U.S. Department of Education has not yet responded to these concerns, but sources suggest that the government’s collection practices with student loan borrowers are under review. The number of older Americans with student debt has been on the rise, with more than 3.5 million individuals aged 60 and older carrying student loan debt in 2023, a significant increase from 2004.

Consumer advocates have criticized the government’s collection actions as extreme, especially considering that many retirees rely on their Social Security benefits to survive. Social Security benefits make up nearly all income for one-third of recipients over the age of 65, with the average check for retired workers amounting to $1,907 this year. The garnishment of Social Security benefits often leaves older adults in a difficult position, having to choose between essentials like food and medicine.

The impact of student loan debt on Social Security benefits for older adults is a pressing issue that requires immediate attention. The potential reduction in benefits can have severe consequences for those already struggling to make ends meet in retirement. It is essential for policymakers to address this issue promptly and find solutions to protect the financial security of older Americans facing student loan debt.

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