More Wisconsin Families Burdened With Two Generations of Student Loans

Feb 23, 2016

It’s no secret that student loan debt is a huge and mounting expense. In Wisconsin alone, the White House estimates residents owe more than $18 billion. And now, some of that debt has become multi-generational. 

Libbey Brennan and Erin Umhoefer of Cedarburg know what it's like to live in this type of household. They are mother and daughter, and they live together to save money. Each is paying off federal student loans -- they won’t say how much, but they’ll be paying for 10 years.

Plenty of families are like this one with multi-generational college debt. The Pew Charitable Trusts found that, of all the money Americans owe in student debt, adults ages 35 to 50 owe roughly half the total.

Erin Umhoefer, the daughter, is today’s typical college student. Even before she entered college, she expected to come out with some debt.

"I don't know, I kind of just think of it as like a rite of passage of going to college," Erin says. 

That expectation meant Erin chose her school and her major carefully. She ended up in a marketing program at UW-Madison.

"I chose Madison because it’s a good school, it’s in-state, far less expensive than going to a private or out-of-state school," she recalls.

Erin's mom, Libbey, says she doesn't remember thinking about those things when she first went to school.

"No, not at all. It just wasn’t in the realm of something that somebody thought about in the 70's and the 80's."

Libbey never finished college the first go-around. It became increasingly expensive, and she knew she could find work without a degree. Plus, she had kids to raise.

Libbey helped put those three daughters through college. So when she decided to go back to school almost 30 years later, student loans were her most logical move.

"That kind of helped me make that decision to leave my career and take advantage of student loans," Libbey explains. "I kind of figured that I’m not going to be saving for a house or something like that."

Today, both mother and daughter pinch pennies to lessen the effects of their debt. Each helps around the house and pitches in for groceries. And mom Libbey says they help one another navigate the process.

"Did you go on FAFSA? Did you get that statement? Are you taking that tax deduction for the interest you paid? Because I know all of those things, I’m reminding her about them," Libbey says. 

Both mom and daughter say they hope to find jobs that make them happy and help pay the bills.