How Employers Can Help Employees Manage Student Loan Debt

Student loan borrowers hold a collective $1.6 trillion in debt. While the debt, at one point, was a tool used to afford a college degree, many borrowers find it harder than previously expected to pay back the money. Student loan debt has become such an issue that the Biden Administration has been attempting to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt per eligible borrower and has continually extended the student loan repayment pause.

While borrowers may not see federal relief just yet, they might still be able to get some sort of help managing the burden of their loans through their employers. Employees spend so much of their time in the workplace, which has already taken steps to assist employees with other aspects of their financial health — like saving for retirement through a 401(k) account.

And according to Barrett Scruggs, the VP of Workplace Financial Well-Being at SoFi at Work, many people believe that their employer should be on the hook for giving them the help they need with navigating their student loans.

“A study we conducted at SoFi at Work found that 84% of employees believe their company should be responsible for employees’ financial well-being,” Scruggs says. “Employees say it impacts their mental health, physical health, reduces productivity and limits their ability to focus. In fact, most employees are spending an average of 9.2 hours a week on their personal finances while at work — that adds up to more than a full work week each month!”

The positive ripple effect of employer action can help with an employees emotional and financial well-being, but also potentially make employees more engaged and productive over the long-term, since workers aren’t constantly stressed about their personal finances.

Ways employers are currently assisting with student debt management

“Employers are increasingly offering student loan contribution plans as a direct way to help borrowers pay down student loan debt,” Scruggs says. “Like retirement contributions, these programs allow employees to dedicate a percentage of their paycheck toward student loan repayment with a match from their employer.”

Besides offering a matching amount from employers, these kinds of programs allow employees to automate the decision to put money aside to make student loan payments. Having to manually save money increases the likelihood that you may put away less than you would like or even spend the money on something else. These programs, which follow a similar methodology to 401(k) contribution plans, essentially remove any opportunity to spend the money elsewhere.

According to Scruggs, such contribution plans have seen an increase in adoption since the CARES Act, which allows businesses to contribute up to $5,250 tax-free each year through 2025 to help employees manage student debt.

Scruggs also says that employers can also offer tuition reimbursement programs to help employees seeking additional education pay for the cost of that degree.

“Offering this support helps employees avoid taking out large student loans in the first place — and it’s a win-win for the employer as employees are gaining new skills and knowledge to apply at work,” he explains.

Of course, these kinds of interventions are quite robust in their offerings and likely won’t happen overnight. Employers would need to spend significant time planning the logistics of these program implementations before offering them to employees.

How other employers can help employees manage student loan debt

One of the simplest and most affordable ways employers can help employees is to share information on what employees need to know about their student loans. This can mean sharing online resources like loan payoff calculators, or providing leads on student loan planning services, debt counseling and webinars that can help. And, it can be done just by sending emails with these links and information.

“There are many ways to help employees manage and pay down student loan debt. The first is through financial education resources and empowering employees with knowledge,” Scruggs says. “This is one of the most cost-friendly ways for an organization to help and includes sharing financial education resources, updates and guidance on student loan policy, budgeting tools like a student loan calculator, and access to financial planners.”

It’s important to keep in mind that not everyone is in the same place in their student loan payoff journey, so some individuals may benefit greatly from simply leaning into the basics and growing their knowledge. Scruggs also asserts that even if an employer thinks they’re over-communicating about any student loan news, they’re still likely not communicating enough.

“They should also direct employees to studentaid.gov to keep up to date on student loan forgiveness, forgiveness programs like PSLF and more,” Scruggs says.

If you’re unsure of what resources your company offers in terms of student loans (or any other financial area), you can double check your employee handbook, since that’s where most information around such offerings is likely to be. Or, you can speak with your HR department, or the company’s People Team. If your company has a direct line to their benefits center, you can also reach out directly.

What else can employees do in the meantime?

Whether or not your employer is able to offer any form of student loan debt assistance, borrowers should still take important steps to get a little more comfortable with their loan management. If you don’t already know how much of a balance you owe, you should log into your loan servicer account to find out. This should also tell you what your minimum monthly payment is.

You should then figure out what type of repayment plan you’d like to enroll in. The Federal Student Aid website outlines all the options. Some borrowers opt for refinancing their student loans.

When you refinance your student loan, you essentially replace it with a different loan with a lower interest rate and better repayment terms. This move should save you money over the long-run and make it easier to pay off your balance sooner. However, note that if you refinance federal student loans you’ll lose federal protections, like the current student loan payment freeze and potential student loan forgiveness.

Select ranked SoFi as the best overall student loan refinancing service and ranked Citizens Bank as the best option if you need a co-signer.

SoFi Student Loan Refinancing

  • Cost

    No origination fees to refinance

  • Eligible loans

    Federal, private, graduate and undergraduate loans, Parent PLUS loans, medical and dental residency loans

  • Loan types

  • Variable rates (APR)

    From 4.49% (rates include a 0.25% autopay discount)

  • Fixed rates (APR)

    From 4.99% (rates include a 0.25% autopay discount)

  • Loan terms

  • Loan amounts

    From $5,000; over $10,000 for medical/dental residency loans

  • Minimum credit score

  • Minimum income

  • Allow for a co-signer

Citizens Bank Student Loan Refinancing

  • Cost

    No origination fees to refinance

  • Eligible loans

    Federal, private, graduate and undergraduate loans, Parent PLUS loans, medical and dental residency loans.

  • Loan types

  • Variable rates (APR)

  • Fixed rates (APR)

  • Loan terms

  • Loan amounts

    A minimum of $10,000, up to $300,000 (bachelor’s degree or below) or $500,000 (graduate degree)

  • Minimum credit score

  • Minimum income

  • Allow for a co-signer

Pros

  • No origination fees to refinance
  • Up to 0.50% rate discount available for existing Citizen customers and enrolling in autopay
  • Soft credit pull when you prequalify
  • No prepayment penalties
  • Has co-signer release option after 36 consecutive, on-time monthly payments of the loan’s principal and interest
  • Doesn’t require borrowers to have graduated

Cons

  • Late payment fee of 5% of the unpaid amount of the payment due
  • Must be an existing Citizen Bank customer to get the full rate discount

Bottom line

Millions of Americans are still struggling to pay back their student loans. This can cause them stress that can even seep into their performance in the workplace. However, it’s not too late for employers to begin taking steps to empower their employees with student loan debt management resources — or even with more robust programs that offer more direct forms of aid.

“By easing the burden of student loan debt, employees will experience less financial strain and be able to focus on other important aspects of their finances, such as adding to retirement or savings for big life events like marriage, significant purchases, or homeownership,” Scruggs says. “Access to financial well-being benefits and resources can be truly empowering for anyone on the path to financial prosperity.”  

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.