Financial Wellness: Are College Costs Impacting Your Retirement?

Recent statistics on student loan debt have found some rather alarming trends. Not only are many parents prioritizing the financing of college for their children over their own retirement, but some are still paying off their own student debt—even into their 60s. Franklin Templeton’s Mike O’Brien, Roger Michaud and Drew Carrington recently sat down to discuss the intersection of college and retirement savings goals, and how employers are actually offering some solutions to help manage both.

Mike O’Brien: The 2019 Franklin Templeton Retirement Income Strategies and Expectations (RISE)1 survey recently came out, and an interesting statistic jumped out at me. When individuals were asked about their current financial preparedness for retirement, three-fourths of those with children between the ages of 13 and 17 said that they were behind on their savings. And four out of 10 said their goals were at risk. Both of those numbers were much higher than the response from those without children, which got me thinking about the intersection of retirement and college.

Roger Michaud: Clearly, families have multiple goals. It’s not just about retirement or just about college savings. It’s both. Individuals should have a plan in place to address both.

In another recent survey, one-third of parents said their number one savings goal was for their children’s college—even over their own retirement.2 As college costs continue to rise, we have a situation where some pretty serious planning needs to take place as early as possible.

Mike O’Brien: We know financing education is a retirement issue, and they’re both intertwined. That survey emphasized the impact college costs have on retirement. And in it, we asked parents how they had planned to finance a college education; 23% said they would withdraw money from a retirement account to help pay for college.3 So we have a situation where many parents are delaying their retirement or reducing the quality of their lifestyle in retirement because of college costs.

In the survey we also saw the impact of outstanding student loans, the main source of financing college for many individuals. Student loans can have an impact for many years and even can span generations from parents to children.

Roger Michaud: Looking at student loans overall, roughly 45 million Americans have student loan debt today, which equates to more than $1.5 trillion in debt.4 It’s a serious problem. And of course, it’s even worse for those who don’t actually finish college—they have the debt but not the degree. It’s shocking to see student loan debt statistics on people aged 60 and up—the number of people with student loan debt in that demographic has grown from 700,000 in 2005 to 2.8 million in 2015.5