A couple (Photo: Thinkstock) (Photo: Thinkstock)

It’s tough enough trying to pay back student loans as a recent graduate, but lots of borrowers are on the hook for longer than they expected — and as people age, lingering student loan debt can make life even tougher than it might already be.

Such are the findings from Ameritech Financial, which says that the standard estimate of time to pay off student loans is 10 years. However, missed payments push out the repayment date, and making minimum payments barely touches the principal — if it does so at all.

Just one medical emergency with its attendant bills — or some other unexpected financial issue, such as a major repair or storm loss — can cause a delay in repayment that can linger for frighteningly long periods of time. So people can end up sending out those “easy monthly payments” for years beyond the date when they expected to have their finances under control.

Adding insult to injury is when the debt isn’t truly theirs to begin with. Parents and grandparents who take out loans for their kids’ or grandkids’ schooling can find themselves caught in an endless cycle of repayment.

“Regardless of who the loan was taken out for, paying off student loans later in life interferes with a lot of things,” Tom Knickerbocker, executive vice president of Ameritech Financial, said in a statement.

Knickerbocker adds, “Saving for retirement, potentially forcing someone to live in a less comfortable situation when they’ve worked so hard to afford some time to rest, and many other reasons make repaying student loans later in life trickier. Not that repayment is an easy situation in general.”