All eyes are on the youngest millennials who are entering the workforce. Overall, the generation is now the largest group of workers in America and it is also poised to be the most educated in US history.
But they are also the most indebted when it comes to their education — carrying the lion’s share of nearly $1.3 trillion in student loan debt the United States.
For many new many workers entering the job force, that means worrying about paying off debt first — often before saving for retirement.
Now employers are starting to take notice, and a growing number of companies enticing prospective staffers with student loan refinancing and assistance as an employee benefit, right alongside 401(k)s and health insurance.
Why is student loan assistance revolutionizing the workplace?
First, consider the scope of the student loan debt and how it affects the job market.
Most new graduates have debt: Nearly 71% of new graduates from undergraduate are carrying student loan debt. While all other types of consumer debt have decreased since the 2008 recession, the total amount of student loan debt has jumped by 84%.
Graduate students carry even more: According to an analysis from the Federal Education Budget Project at the New America Foundation, 40% of the total student loan debt is carried by graduate students. Undergraduates carry an average of $46,000, according to Earnest data, while graduate students range from $52,000 to $199,000 on average.
They are burdened with monthly payments: Interest rates on federal loans can range from 4.29 to 6.84%, and private loans can be higher, ranging from 5.75 to 11.75%. The result is monthly payments from square one. Refinancing can help lower APR.
What does student loan debt mean for employers?
Their newest employees entering the workforce need financial planning and debt advice, especially as their student loans could mean deferring other priorities such as retirement savings and starting a family.
Many workers worry about money: More than 70% of employees said they were stressed about money and one in three said they expected employers’ help in repaying student loans.
New benefits to match new needs: Currently, 3% of employers report offering student debt assistance. Other new benefits slowly gaining traction include egg freezing (2%) and employer-provided fitness activity trackers (13%.)
Employers want to expand financial programs: Financial wellness programs are a relatively new phenomenon, but nearly three-quarters of employers surveyed said they were likely to introduce or expand their focus on the financial well-being for employees.
Several companies have already set precedents for helping employees deal with student debt.
In return, they aim for talented recruits and less employee turnover.
Companies are starting to offer loan assistance: PricewaterhouseCoopers launched its Student Loan Paydown program in September 2015. The company will contribute up to $1,200 per year toward paying down an employee’s student loan, lessening their loan period and interest payments in the process. The company has called student loan debt “a major societal issue.” PwC, which actively recruits graduating college students, also attracts young employees by offering benefits such as tuition reimbursement, bonuses, and flex days.
ChowNow, an online food ordering company, will help indebted employees with up to $1,000 per year toward student loans. Christopher Webb, ChowNow’s chief executive officer told the press: “Like everything, you have to stand out to attract talent.”
The government could incentivize employers to help. Congress is considering H.R. 1713, a bill that encourages employers to offer student loan assistance by ensuring that any loan payments made as a part of that benefit would not be subject to income or payroll taxes.