Nonprofit rolls out student loan benefit, adding to growing trend

Another employer has jumped on the burgeoning student loan benefit bandwagon.

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Northern Rivers Family of Services, a New York-based nonprofit, announced a new program to help its employees pay off student loan debt faster and better manage their finances. As of last month, the employer now contributes a minimum of $35 every month toward eligible employees’ student loans, and is budgeting $150,000 annually for the benefit. The program, which is in partnership with provider IonTuition, will aim to allow employees to repay their debt faster and save money on interest.

The number of employees with debt was the employer’s catalyst for launching the benefit, says Linda Daley, chief human resources officer for Northern Rivers. About 65% of its 1,400 employees hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, and many are saddled with student loan debt.

“We’re aware that our employees are not immune to the burden of this financial stress,” she says. “The goal for many of our employees is to chip away at as much of their student debt as possible, and every little bit from Northern Rivers helps. By partnering with IonTuition, we’ve been able to provide peace of mind to our employees.”

Overall, student loan debt collectively tops $1.6 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve, spurring a growing number of HR professionals to look at student loan benefits to help. Employers including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the Hartford and Sotheby’s added the benefit this year, offering contributions to workers’ principal debt amounts. Montefiore St. Luke’s Cornwall, a not-for-profit community hospital with campuses in Newburgh and Cornwall, N.Y., recently announced its own unique student loan benefit, with provider, that allows employees to transfer their unused paid time off to the repayment of their student debt.

Related: Kathryn Mayer: Top 5 benefit trends of 2019

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Now, about 8% of employers offer a student debt benefit, up from 4% last year, according to data from the Society for Human Resource Management. But insiders expect that number to grow.

Northern Rivers’ repayment program is available for all benefit-eligible employees, which is approximately 1,060 of its 1,400 employees, Daley says. Through the IonTuition platform, the employer also helps employees manage their monthly payments, refinance their student loans, connect with expert student loan counselors and access a plethora of resources to boost their financial literacy, she says.

Daley says the benefit also is a way to help retain and recruit talent, which is especially difficult in the nonprofit space.

“It’s challenging to attract and retain quality talent in the current job market,” she says. “Offering this benefit has given our employees security in knowing their student loan payments are more manageable, as well as an additional incentive to continue working for Northern Rivers.”

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Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver.