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It's no secret that student loan debt is a huge problem in the U.S. In fact, recent Experian data indicates that student loan debt is at an all-time high: Collectively, Americans owe $1.4 trillion in student loans.
Being saddled with such debt can get in the way of pursuing your other financial goals, like buying a home or simply living the lifestyle you want. But recently, some people have gotten some relief from an unlikely place: their employers.
Some employers are starting to offer student loan payoff assistance as part of their benefits package to help attract talented workers. This is not a common benefit yet—only about 8% of employers offer it, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management—but it seems to be gaining traction.
Fidelity Investments, for example, pays eligible workers enrolled in its Step Ahead Student Loan Assistance Program up to $10,000 to cover student debt. As of December 2018, Fidelity says over 8,900 employees have benefited from the program, saving them a total of $22.5 million in student loan principal and interest. Health care company Aetna offers up to $2,000 in matching student loan payments, up to $10,000 total, for full-time employees. Part-time employees get half of that. However, at Aetna, employees must have earned a degree within three years of applying for the benefit. Accounting and consulting firm PwC offers its associates and senior associates up to $1,200 per year (with a $7,200 maximum) to pay off student loan debt.
These and other employers offering student loan payoff assistance hope the benefit will help them compete for the best talent in a tight employment market. However, experts agree that it could become an even more popular benefit if it came with tax breaks for the employer. In February, two senators introduced the Employer Participation in Repayment Act, which would allow employers to contribute up to $5,250 tax-free to pay off their employees' student loans. It has not passed yet, but it is gaining some traction.
What if My Employer Doesn't Offer This Benefit?
If you work at a company that doesn't offer student loan payoff assistance, you might consider talking to your boss or someone in human resources to see if they would consider it. Or, if you're negotiating your salary and benefits package for a new job, bring it up then. Some employers might be willing to include it as part of an individual benefits package.
If that's not an option, make sure that you are getting the best rates on your student loans. You can find the right student loan matched to your credit profile through Experian. When you sign up for free, you'll receive recommended offers. If you find an offer better than your current one, you may have the ability to consolidate or refinance.