- National student debt is at an all-time high of nearly $1.6 billion.
- While many companies provide student-loan assistance, some businesses have found more creative ways of keeping their employees out of debt.
- Some of these policies include trading vacation days for student-loan relief and offering special signing bonuses.
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With student debt higher than ever in America, companies are finding unique ways to help their employees out of the student-loan hole.
As of June 2019, the national student debt is at an all-time high of nearly $1.6 billion, second only to national mortgage debt.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), around 4% of US businesses offer student loan assistance as a company benefit. That amounts to dozens of majors companies, including IBM, Staples, Peloton, Penguin Random House, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
But some companies are finding more interesting ways of helping employees with their debt: They’re letting employees trade vacation days for student loan benefits, while others offer signing bonuses, company stock, or 401(k) contributions.
Here are six companies that are taking a unique approach to alleviating their workers’ student debt.
SEE ALSO: People are fleeing the US to keep from paying off their student loans
Unum, a Tennessee-based insurance company, lets its US employees trade unused vacation-day wages for student-loan payments.
It’s hard to enjoy a vacation if you have the dark cloud of student debt hanging over you.
That’s what insurance company Unum figured when they made their benefits policy, which lets employees exchange unused vacation days for student-loan payment money.
Employees are given 28 vacation days a year (compared with the national average of 15), and they can use up to five of those days for their loans. The average Unum employee has $32,000 in student debt and makes $350 monthly payments. Vacation money is based on their hourly salaries, so an employee making $60,000 a year would make $230 in a workday.
Trading five of those workdays would mean $1,150 in student-loan assistance a year. And since 30% of Unum employees are plagued by student debt, that’s no small sum.
Connelly Partners, a marketing services company, gives new employees a $1,000 signing bonus to be used toward their student loans.
Aside from a standard student loan assistance program, Connelly Partners gives new employees a $1,000 signing bonus to pay their student loans.
The company partnered up with Gradifi, a business designed specifically for employers to make student-loan assistance a benefit. In addition to the signing bonus, employees get $100 a month put toward their loans.
Employees even get a second $1,000 student loan bonus after five years with the company.
Healthcare company Abbott Laboratories has a 401(k) match program tied to student-loan payments.
Typically, when a company has a 401(k) program, it matches whatever an employee contributes to their retirement accounts. Abbott Laboratories, however, has a slightly different policy.
According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, Abbott contributes 5% of an employee’s pay into a 401(k) as long as that employee is contributing 2% of their paycheck to their student loans. Abbott even got special approval from the IRS for their policy.
The policy is growing in popularity, with 1,000 Abbott employees (out of nearly 79,000) opting for it.
The trend might continue on to other businesses. According to the same report, one company, California-based CSAA Insurance Group, offers a 6% match, and employees can redirect as much as 4% to student loans.
Private bank First Republic lets its employees reap student loan benefits for their children.
First Republic deals in wealth management, so it’s no surprise they want their employees to manage their student debt.
The bank is also partnered with Gradifi, but their unique take on student-loan assistance is that employees can get benefits not only for themselves, but for their college-graduate children.
As long as the loan is taken out in their name, employees can alleviate their kids’ student debt without spending a penny.
In their first year, employees receive $1,200; in the following year, they get $1,800. They then receive $2,400 a year until the loans are paid off, making the policy one of the most generous on the market.
Education tech company Chegg allows workers to get company stock to pay off their student loans.
Instead of trading vacation days or 401(k) contributions, Chegg offers shares in company stock to pay off student loans.
Most employees are eligible for up to $5,000 annually; senior employees, such as directors or vice presidents, receive up to $3,000 annually. Chegg didn’t go the more common route of 401(k) matching because they thought it would put a financial strain on their employees.
“A match is a nice idea, but we felt that that’s more complex and it would require employees to put up a certain amount,” Jenny Brandemuehl, chief people officer at Chegg, told CBS.
Financial services company Credit Suisse gives an interest rate reduction to employees refinancing their student loans with SoFi.
It may not be a lump sum, but discounts add up.
Credit Suisse is giving its employees a 0.25% interest rate reduction if they refinance their student loans, according to a 2015 report by Quartz. To make the benefit a reality, Credit Suisse partnered with SoFi, a personal finance lender.
According to Quartz, it’s “the most important employee benefit coming to American workplaces since 401(k)s.”
The change came about when Credit Suisse realized that many employees were diverting their retirement savings to pay off their student loans.