The total student loan debt in the U.S. is now $1.6 trillion, with over 44 million Americans holding student loans. Over the past 20 years, younger working professionals (and their parents) have been forced to borrow more for a college degree. As a result, many employers are now offering an enticing new perk: student loan reimbursement programs.
These programs are growing, but are not yet widespread. According to data from the Society for Human Resource Management, only 4% of organizations in 2018 offered student loan reimbursement programs, with a 4% increase in 2019.
These programs can and will make a difference in borrowers’ lives, just as the many wellness programs offered in our organizations have for decades. Educating our workforce on financial wellness is just as important as offering any other wellness perk. This is the new dental insurance for my generation.
The Case for Student Loan Reimbursement Programs
Student loan debt is a personal issue for me, as I currently owe roughly $50,000 for my Syracuse University MBA and I have already paid off almost $74,000 in less than two years.
The case for student loan reimbursement programs is simple. The benefits for employers and employees are clear. Creative financial wellness programs such as this can be a true value add for organizations and generate opportunities for recruitment and retention of talented employees. These programs can help brand organizations as an employer of choice.
For professionals, student loan reimbursement programs offer a way out of seemingly insurmountable financial struggle. According to Student Loan Hero, 69% of the class of 2018 graduated with student loan debt. Debt holders owed an average of $29,800. That’s an astronomical figure for many 21- or 22-year-olds, and climbing out of this level of debt can seem impossible.
Financial stability in the workforce is essential both for organizations and the workers they employ. Regardless of the size of the loan, debt is stress and a distraction. These reimbursement programs assist in setting employees up for financial success throughout their lives and careers.
“Historically most employer’s tuition-based incentives only help those currently pursing formal education. These new programs reward employees for hard work already done to prepare them for their current roles.” – Jeanne Stewart, HR Consultant, HR on the Move
Learn more about popular employee perks in PayScale’s Compensation Best Practices Report.
10 Employers Who Offer Student Loan Reimbursement Programs:
1. PricewaterhouseCoopers: The professional services firm employs over 250,000 people around the world. Currently, PwC offers a student loan reimbursement program that provides $1,200 per year for six years to any employee with student loan debt.
2. Fidelity Investments: Similar to PwC, Fidelity offers eligible employees $2,000 per year with a cap of $10,000. The financial services firm also offers its workers financial counseling and educational tools to utilize throughout their career.
3. Abbott Laboratories: Abbott gives employees who are contributing 2% of their eligible pay toward student loans the equivalent of 5% of their qualifying pay deposited into their 401(k)s — without workers having to contribute to the retirement account. Since the medical devices manufacturer rolled out the program in August 2018, 1,000 employees have signed up.
4. New York Life Insurance Company: The company offers a student-loan repayment program providing up to $10,200 over five years for eligible employees, or $170 per month.
5. Rise Interactive: The digital marketing firm’s program offers a repayment contribution of $50 per month.
6. CommonBond and 7. LendEdu: Both financial services organizations, which offer student loan products, have pledged to pay off any employee’s entire student loan balance — CommonBond pays $100 per month and LendEDU pays $200 per month until the debt is at $0.
8. American Bankers Association: The ABA offers employees up to $1,200 per year toward student loans.
9. Unum: Starting in 2020, workers at the employee benefits provider will be able to trade five days of vacation time for student loan repayment. (Better than it sounds, given that Unum employees average 28 days per year.)
10. Schuyler Hospital. A small critical access and skilled nursing facility in Montour Falls, NY, Schuyler Hospital offers registered nurses up to $10,400 in student loan reimbursement. “There is no contract to sign,” says Kim Nagle, Executive Director of Human Resources. “We believe we have a great place to work. We want our nurses (and all staff) to work at Schuyler because they WANT to, not because they are contractually obligated to do so.”
Alternative Options for Student Loan Debt:
While student loan reimbursement programs are an attractive benefit, solving the larger crisis will require systemic change. A few potential options include:
- Reducing the student loan interest rates to 1% or below. Charging 5%, 6%, 10% or 15% interest rates on student loan debt is completely unnecessary and exorbitant.
- Offering additional opportunities for percentage reductions in interest: direct debit, consistent repayment history reduction, social media and financial wellness competitions, etc.
- Expanding the six-month repayment window to a 12-month program, with a balloon style system for payments in the first year. Start the borrower off with a reduced amount of payment owed and slowly build increased amounts throughout the first twelve months.
- Allowing company credit unions buy the debt. Organizations (if the government allows it) could offer to refinance the student loans, while offering lower interest rates to the borrower. This is another option that can set organizations apart from competitors.
- Expanding forgiveness options and bankruptcy programs. Currently, the rule in place provides very little opportunity for any person with student loan debt to file for bankruptcy. The courts need to reevaluate opportunities for debt holders to discharge student loan debt, if the likelihood of repayment is nonexistent. I am not a proponent of mass student loan forgiveness, but in extenuating situations, we need to review.
Tell Us What You Think
Does your employer offer a student loan reimbursement program? We want to hear from you. Share your story in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.
Matthew W. Burr, SHRM-SCP, owner of Burr Consulting, LLC, is an HR consultant, an assistant professor at Elmira College, and an on-call mediator and fact-finder for the New York State Public Employment Relations Board. He holds master’s degrees in business administration and in human resources & industrial relations, and a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt.