If you regret that working in the private sector has limited your access to government-funded student loan forgiveness, here’s a piece of good news: Regardless of where you work or what position you hold, you can still qualify for employer-offered student loan repayment assistance.
You just have to find an employer willing to offer it.
Where to Find Employers Offering Student Loan Repayment Assistance
Just 4 percent of companies provide student loan repayment aid, according to a 2018 survey by the Society of Human Resource Management. You might be more likely to find this benefit at larger corporations: A separate 2017 survey by WorldatWork found 8 percent of companies with 40,000+ employees offer this benefit.
If you have an in-demand skill set — we’re looking at you, web developers — you are also more likely to find companies competing for your services via robust benefits packages that include student loan repayment assistance.
According to Jonathan Burg, a director of accounting operations for PURE Group of Insurance Companies, his company aggressively pursues new graduates with finance degrees. As part of its recruiting and retention strategy, PURE offers employees $100 per month toward their loan payments.
“In the competitive environment that we’re in … I can see that if you don’t offer this [benefit], people are going to move right past your job link,” says Burg.
How to Ask for a Student Loan Matching Benefit
If your search for a company offering student loan repayment assistance comes up empty, it’s worth asking prospective new employers about their willingness to add the benefit.
You might approach the conversation the way you would when seeking a higher starting salary. In Burg’s words, your company should want to help you repay the tuition dollars that allowed you to build your expertise.
“You come out [of school] with debt — it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong,” Burg says. “You worked hard to do this. You’re working hard to pay your debt. … We’d love to help you pay that.”
If a company’s human resources representative is new to this idea, you might mention that in August 2018, the IRS gave the okay for employers to make “nonelective” 401(k)-style contributions to employees repaying student loan debt.
There’s also pending legislation — the Employer Participation in Student Loan Assistance Act — that could make loan matching as tax-advantaged for employers as retirement contributions have long been.
If you still haven’t gotten your potential new employer to bite, you might consider asking for a higher salary to make up for the lack of a loan repayment benefit. Ensure you ask for the right raise, as it’ll be taxed differently than loan aid would be.
Prioritize Student Loan Assistance Among Other Benefits
Student loan repayment assistance is just one piece of your ideal benefits package. You might still accept a position if the job description fits your passion and offers other meaningful financial rewards aside from repayment assistance.
All things being equal, however, it could be worthwhile to hold out for loan repayment aid. After all, making extra payments toward your debt can whittle it down much faster. Say you have $25,000 of education debt and are repaying it with an average interest rate of 7 percent. If you were able to increase your monthly payment from $300 to $400, you’d shave three years and more than $3,000 off your repayment.
Even though loan assistance wouldn’t directly end your debt on its own, it could be used together with other financial strategies to supercharge your repayment. For example, you might also turn to student loan refinancing. In addition to potentially scoring a lower interest rate through refinancing, you could raise your monthly payment, funding the increased amount with the extra money from your employer. That would allow you to pay off your debt faster, saving money for yourself and your employer.
Andrew Pentis covers personal finance for Student Loan Hero.