Q&A: Facing retirement with parent student loans? Transfer them to the kids

Dear Liz: I’m 60. Should I take a $50,000 distribution from my 401(k) to pay down my $146,000 parent Plus college loan and then try to refinance the balance with a private lender at a lower interest rate? I have $364,000 in my 401(k). I’m paying 8% interest on the parent Plus loan and planning to retire at age 66 years and 10 months, my full retirement age for Social Security.

Answer: Are you sure you can afford to retire?

You would still have a massive amount of education debt even after paying it down, plus a smaller nest egg. Unless you have a substantial amount of savings outside your 401(k) or another source of income besides Social Security, you could run a substantial risk of running short of money even if you can persuade a private lender to refinance your debt.

That may not be the best option, in any case. Federal loans have more consumer protections, including deferral and forbearance options and income-contingent repayment plans that could lower your payments.

Refinancing with a private lender might make the most sense if you can transfer this debt to the child or children who benefited from the education. Several private lenders offer this option if the kids have good credit and decent incomes.

In any case, you’d be smart to consult a fee-only financial planner who can review the specifics of your finances and offer advice.

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