The pharmaceutical and health care products company Abbott Laboratories rolled out a new benefit last week that is designed to encourage employees to pay down their student debt by helping them save for retirement at the same time. The New York Times’ Ann Carrns noted Abbott’s new benefit in an item discussing the broader trend of student loan assistance benefits:
Under the new Freedom 2 Save program, employees who contribute at least 2 percent of their pay toward their student loans — as verified periodically by an outside contractor — will receive a 5 percent match in their 401(k) retirement savings plan. Abbott offers the same match to employees who contribute at least 2 percent of their pay to their 401(k). So, for instance, if an employee is making $70,000 and uses at least $1,400 to pay down student debt, Abbott will contribute $3,500 to the employee’s 401(k) plan, a spokeswoman said.
That benefit can add up over time. Abbott offered this illustration of the program’s impact: [An employee] who joins Abbott with a salary of $70,000 could accumulate $54,000 in their 401(k) account over 10 years, assuming a 6 percent average annual return and yearly merit increases of 3 percent, without any retirement contribution of their own.
Assistance with student loan repayment remains an uncommon benefit among US employers: Our research at CEB, now Gartner, shows that among organizations that offer education benefits, 90 percent provide tuition assistance, but only 7 percent provide student loan reimbursement. SHRM’s 2018 Employee Benefits Survey found that just 4 percent of all organizations offer student debt benefits, compared to 51 percent who offered assistance with undergraduate education. Eleven percent offer a payroll deduction for contributions to tax-advantaged 529 college savings plans, but fewer than 2 percent offer matching contributions to those plans.