Is student loan repayment the new 401(k)?


Student loan debt is a huge problem in the U.S. — possibly one of the biggest financial obstacles we’ve ever faced as a nation. A recent report from the White House found that total student loan debt surpassed $1 trillion in 2014, while the average borrower now owing more than $35,000.

But the good news is that although only 3% of companies offer student loan repayment right now, there are a growing number of employers who want to help. 

Read more: These programs can help erase your student loan debt

Young workers today are not as concerned about their retirement as they are about something else that is giving them grief — the crippling burden of their student loan debt. In lieu of this, many companies are now offering student loan repayment as a means of attracting and keeping the best new talent. 

Tony Aguilar, the founder of Student Loan Genius told the Los Angeles Times, ‘Millennials’ ‘eyes are not on retirement, it’s ‘how do we get rid of our student loans, control our debt?” He mentioned this is a different generation with different needs than generations past. 

Additionally, Gradifi, a company that helps employers offer the benefit, says it has 100 companies on track to offer student loan repayment soon — including 19 Fortune 500 companies.

Tax incentives are a growing possibility

According to Bloomberg, there are new tax bills proposed in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives that would incentivize company payments on student loans with relation to tax treatment, much like a 401(k) contribution is tax-deductible. These policies would allow up to $5,250 per year in employer contributions to be counted toward non-taxable income. 

Rob Lavet, general counsel for SoFi, a non-bank lender, says that right now taxes are a big hurdle keeping more companies from offering a student loan repayment benefit. 

‘I think the tax treatment now is a detriment to more companies adopting this,’ he said.

Will student loan repayment become the new 401(k)?

But, we have to remember before the year 1980, the 401(k) didn’t even exist. It took a man named Ted Benna to start the first 401(k) program. Now 90% of companies offer a 401(k) plan, and 75% match employee contributions.


Benna told Workforce magazine in 2012, ‘I was certainly not anticipating that it would be the primary way people would be accumulating money for retirement 30-plus years later.’ It’s possible the same thing could happen with student loan repayment benefits — with the tax incentives to go along with them.

Though tax incentive plans are still in their infancy, some companies are offering student loan repayment to try to attract the best talent, regardless.  

Read more: Man pays down $32,000 in student loans in 2 years

5 companies that will help you repay your student loans!


The online tutor and book rental company Chegg offers $1,000 post-tax money toward student loan balances, and also offers an online tool to help employees manage payments. 


CommonBond, a student loan refinance and consolidation company offers $100 a month toward student loan repayment. 

Though it might sound like a small amount, this benefit can actually add up to $12,000 over 10 years. 

‘…based on our research across the industry, this is the richest student loan benefit that exists, in terms of benefit to the employee,’ said CommonBond’s CEO David Klein to Fast Company

Fidelity Investments 

Just last week, Fidelity Investments announced that its full-time employees will be able to receive $2,000 a year toward their student loan balance, up to $10,000. This would be for employees management-level and below, according to the Boston Globe. Employees will still need to make their own payments, however. Fidelity pays the loan company directly to reduce the principal amount of the loan. 

The great thing is, the program does not have an age limit, and even those who are in their 40s and 50s can receive the benefit.

Jennifer Hanson, who leads Fidelity’s ‘associate experience’ says that employees who don’t even receive the benefit think it’s great. ‘They love it,’ she says. ‘It sets Fidelity apart.’


Read more: How much a one-time 1% increase in savings will pay off in retirement

Natixis Global Asset Management

Boston branch of French investment firm Natixis offers $5,000 toward employees’ student loan balance after the employee’s 5th work anniversary. In addition, the company offers $1,000 a year after that for five years, adding up to a total benefit of $10,000. 

Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC)

A global consulting and accounting firm, Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) announced a student loan benefit for its employees, starting in July 2016.

Michael Fenlon, PwC’s global talent leader told Fast Company, ‘We targeted the program toward recent college graduates, because they’ve told us they are feeling the weight of student debt.’

Fenlon also commented that it was an opportunity for them to take the lead in this area. ‘With $1.3 trillion worth of outstanding student loan debt in the U.S., PwC wanted to be a pioneer in this area, and other companies are already beginning to follow us.’ 

What they offer? As many as 45% of Pricewaterhouse Coopers staff could receive $1,200 per year for up to six years, or a total benefit of $7,200.

Read more: Pay off student loan debt or save for retirement? You can do both!

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