5 Myths About Student Loan Repayment Programs

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It's a fact that employees are buried under educational debt. It's also a fact that new hires are ridiculously hard for employers to find. Put the two together and you get the latest in employee benefits -- student loan repayment programs that take on the problem of debt by dangling the carrot of payments as incentive for new recruits.

Not surprisingly, this new kid in the benefits handbooks has gotten a lot of attention. Still, for all the employers who already offer it, there are still those sitting on the sidelines trying to assess the value. Why the hang-up? There may be the mistaken belief that tens of thousands in average debt means employers couldn't possibly contribute enough to be more than symbolic. But that's just one of the myths about the benefit. The top five myths of student loan repayment programs dispelled:

1. Per-capita debt is too high for employers to have an impact

True, many people are carrying five figures or more -- certainly too big for an employer to cover in full. But a little goes a long way. An employer who pays $2,000 annually toward the principal of an employee's $20,000 loan will cut the employee's payoff time from 10 years down to five. That's a significant impact, whichever way you look at it.

2. A salary bump is more valuable

401(k) matches have been around for years, and nobody ever complains that they'd rather just have the cash. That's because the double-duty of employer and employee money in an interest-bearing account adds up to more than the value of the cash. Student loans work on the same principal, but in reverse -- chopping off years of interest, and so multiplying the value of your investment. Over five years, that annual $2,000 payment toward the $20,000 loan will cut interest by $2,800, giving your $10,000 investment a 28% bump.

3. There's no way to know where the money is going

That's true if you deposit money in employees' pockets. But a smarter approach is to automate your program to pay directly to the loan -- another reason student loan payments are more valuable than a one-time salary bump. The fringe benefit is the monthly reminder of your investment in the employee.

4. I can't possibly afford to pay debt for everyone

You don't have to. You pay higher salaries for desirable skills. Debt repayment works the same way. Looking for tech staff? Make debt-repayment part of the recruitment carrot for those employees only. Research your talent needs and plan accordingly.

5. Employees' debt isn't really the company's problem

This might be the biggest myth of all. The collective $1.5 trillion is debt is everybody's problem, putting a giant dent in financial wellness, which research shows has a serious impact on work. There's one final note as to why employee debt should be on the company's radar -- employees like it. In addition to being named as one of the hottest benefits of the year, recent studies show it landing near flex time and health benefits at the top of most-wanted lists.

In single-digit unemployment, great hires are few and far between, and employers need every advantage they can get to attract and keep good people. And that's no myth.

Written by: Alan Robins

About the Author

Alan Robins at Bright Horizons

As Director of Product Marketing, Alan drives original research and thought leadership for Bright Horizons education benefits programs, drawing on his extensive experience helping companies optimize education programs to support their Talent and HR objectives. Prior to Bright Horizons, Alan was at Gartner, a global leader in providing advisory services to technology and business executives, where he led new product teams in Europe and the US.