The Parent Trap is a 1961 comedy about teenage twins on a quest to reunite their divorced parents.

Add 52 years, and the new millennium’s version is substantially less humorous.   In the Wall Street Journal, Rachel Louise Ensign discusses how student  loan debt is hurting the parents of today’s scholars.

Diana Jackson had no student debt when she got her Bachelor’s degree from Miami University in Ohio in 1982. But when her daughter graduated from the school in 2011, Ms. Jackson was stuck with about $33,000 in parent loans.

The 51-year-old now faces a monthly payment of nearly $800.

“I’m now looking at being in my mid-70s before I get that paid off,” says Ms. Jackson, an adjunct professor at a community college in Columbus, Ohio. “I am at the point in my life where I would like to be doing some of the things I really want to do. When you’ve got what is essentially another house payment, you can’t do that.”

It’s a harsh math lesson that’s becoming all too common for parents of college kids as incomes stagnate, saving becomes more and more difficult and college costs soar.

This is the time of year when college financial-aid letters start rolling in. And taking out loans will be tempting for parents if Junior’s college savings, parental contributions and student loans fail to cover the tuition bill. But doing so without a plan to pay off the debt in a reasonable amount of time and not give short shrift to retirement savings can be financially devastating—especially since the terms of parent loans can be onerous.
Generally, parents shouldn’t borrow more than they can reasonably repay in 10 years, or before they retire, whichever is sooner, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of financial-aid website

Still, more parents are borrowing. Over 17% of graduates in the 2011-12 academic year had parent Plus loans borrowed for them, which are loans available directly from the federal government, each with an average $33,800, according to estimates based on U. S. Department of Education data. That’s up from 13% with about $23,300 on average in the 2007-08 academic year.