Terry’s Columns Employers Help Pay Student Loans

Employers Help Pay Student Loans

By Terry Savage on February 06, 2019

The best new benefit that companies are offering employees is help in paying down their student loans. It’s a growing trend among employers seeking to attract and keep talented young workers. Many firms will pay $100 a month, or more, directly to the student loan servicing company if the employee is also making regular payments. That’s quite an incentive for employees.

With students graduating with an average of $37,000 in educational debt — all adding up to a $1.5 trillion student loan debt burden — a growing number of companies are using their employee-benefit plans to help workers attack that problem. Companies ranging from large financial services firms like Fidelity, Unum, Freddie Mac and Aetna to smaller tech companies like Carvana and Hulu, and even Estee Lauder and Live Nation have set up programs to help employees pay down their student debt.

It’s a growing trend — and Fidelity is not only offering the benefit to its own employees but is also advising companies for which it manages benefits plans. More than 55 companies have signed up. Fidelity set up its own employee student loan repayment plan in 2016, allowing employees to join after six months on the job. Partition quickly grew to more than 9,300 Fidelity employees, who have so far saved over $32 million in principal and interest on their loans.

The Fidelity plan pays $167 per month toward an employee’s loans ($2,000 per year) up to a maximum of $10,000 in debt over five years. Fidelity says half of its new hires cited the student loan repayment program as a significant reason for joining the firm, and it has reduced first-year employee turnover by 75 percent.

A tech company called Tuition.io was one of the leaders in this space. CEO Scott Thompson brags that the company has saved employees of client companies more than 30,000 years of debt payments. That’s over $42 million. Tuition.io sets up plans for employers, taking care of the details of structuring the plan and the transfer of money to pay down the student loans. An online calculator demonstrates how much money a tuition-match program can save over the years of your student loan. Tuition.io also offers a series of “wellness tools” to help people decide whether it pays to refinance their loans and alerts them to benefits they might lose by refinancing.

Best of all, the Tuition.io website allows employees to anonymously request that information on their plan be sent to their employer to get such a program started. You don’t have to beg the boss for this great deal. Tuition.io will show them the metrics of how similar companies have retained employees and demonstrate the worth of the program.

Most plans offer a direct contribution of at least $1,000 a year or $100 a month, up to a certain maximum. Some plans are more generous. Each company can set its own conditions around the dollar amount, the maximum payout, the employee tenure required, and whether the money is distributed directly to employee or to the loan servicing company. Many companies extend the matching program to parents paying off PLUS loans for their children.

The latest creative plan comes from Unum, which worked through Fidelity to craft a unique program that allows employees to contribute paid time off toward student loans. For employees who are afraid to take vacations, or who simply can’t afford to go anywhere, using the money to pay down debt is an attractive alternative.

In another version, Abbott Laboratories got a private letter ruling from the IRS allowing it to make matching contributions to its 401(k) plan for employees who didn’t have their own money to contribute because they were paying student loans.

Ashwini Srikantiah is vice president of the student debt program at Fidelity Investments. She’s excited about the growth of this new employee benefit, but she says it is a delicate balance for each company to structure the amount of the payout to create an incentive while remaining “budget neutral” for the employer because it saves on the cost of recruiting and training new employees.

If you and your fellow employees are struggling with student debt repayment, don’t just hope your company will set up a plan. Ask them to get going. You’ll save a lot of money. And that’s The Savage Truth.



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