Life for many older Americans is not the golden retirement they envisioned, or that the commercials peddling retirement communities paint. Many elderly are worried about how to make ends meet with the shrinking Social Security benefits and little or no savings. And for some, one burden that they thought they would’ve paid off by now is eating away at their limited incomes: student loan debt.

Americans carry $1 trillion in student loan debt, but for older Americans (those over 65), their student debt has increased six-fold since 2005 climbing to $18.2 billion last year. That’s just a small slice of total student loan debt, but the effects of this debt is not negligible. Eighty percent of percent of indebted elderly Americans still have to pay off the loans that they took out for the education.

The Washington Post reports sad stories of people who borrowed a few thousand dollars back in their college days. They have seen that small amount balloon to five times the principal amount because the borrowers didn’t make loan payments.

This is such an issue that Congress recently held a hearing on “Indebted for Life: Older Americans and Student Loan Debt” to as what can be done.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports:

Some 31 percent of the student loans held by Americans aged 65 and older were in default last year. That makes the elderly about twice as likely to hold defaulted loans as Americans under the age of 50. Defaulting on student loans is bad for anyone: It can harm your credit and multiply your debt by adding fees. For older Americans, the consequences can be especially dire.

More elderly Americans are seeing retirement benefits cut to order to repay education debt, as Bloomberg Businessweek reported last month. The government reduced the Social Security payments or other retirement benefits of 155,000 people last year to pay off student loans, according to the new GAO report, up from just 31,000 in 2002.

A 1998 law specified that the government could not seize more than 15 percent of people’s retirement benefits or leave them with a check of less than $750. At the time that limit was above the poverty line. The limit hasn’t since increased and is now about $181 under the poverty threshold for a person over the age of 65.

Some in Congress will lead us to believe this is a crisis. It’s certainly an issue to consider, but not a crisis.

In crisis situations, fear leads people to suspend good judgment and accept extreme measures that may be short-term solutions to our long-term detriment.

For example, the National Consumer Law Center suggests that we should just give blanket forgiveness or a bailout to the most vulnerable borrowers (i.e. elderly borrowers). While that is helpful to some, what example does it set to all current and future borrowers about responsibility? There’s a huge level of irresponsibility on the part of the borrowers who did not repay their loans in a timely manner. It’s unfortunate that they are still carrying that debt as they enter what should be a time to reap the rewards of a lifetime of hard work, but should the taxpayers now cover those costs?

If this sounds familiar, it is the same scenario that led to the housing boom and bust.