At 26, Rariety Monford worries far less about saving for retirement than paying down $60,000 in student loan debt. So her employer has decided to do the saving for her.
Abbott Laboratories recently announced a perk designed to ease the financial squeeze for employees like Monford with heavy student debt that causes them to forgo critical years of saving.
The medical-device maker said that U.S. employees who contribute at least 2 percent of their salaries to paying off student loans will get a 5 percent 401(k) match from Abbott. That’s the same percentage given to employees who contribute 2 percent to their 401(k)s. The new benefit will allow employees to accumulate savings in their retirement accounts without committing any of their own money.
Helping employees pay student debt has become an increasingly popular, though still rare, benefit employers are using to attract and retain young talent.
Most employers offering student loan repayment assistance make monthly cash payments against an employee’s debt to the loan holder. But those payments are taxed, and they don’t necessarily result in employees putting more money into retirement savings, said Steve Fussell, executive vice president of human resources at Abbott.
To more directly help young people build a nest egg, “we set about doing this in a way that others weren’t doing it,” Fussell said.
The north suburban Chicago company, which employs 29,000 workers in the U.S., hires 1,000 people under 35 each year. Many of them have master’s degrees or doctorates and therefore more than typical debt. Younger employees with student debt contribute less to their 401(k)s than those without.
Fussell estimated that 2,500 to 3,000 of Abbott’s employees will use the benefit, which has no time or contribution limits. Employees who join the company with starting annual pay of $70,000 and take advantage of the program could have $54,000 accumulate in their 401(k) accounts over 10 years without any contributions of their own, the company said. That’s assuming a 6 percent average annual return and yearly merit pay increases of 3 percent.
Helping employees build future financial security fits into Abbott’s other investments to build a sustainable talent pipeline, Fussell said.
For Monford, an engineer in Abbott’s professional development program, the new benefit will give her much-needed breathing room.
“I have to think about the here and now, and what’s most important is paying off my loans,” said Monford, who graduated two years ago with a degree in biomedical engineering from North Carolina A&T State University. “But I know that if I don’t save, I’m missing out on that time, and time is the most important thing to accumulate savings.”
Monford commits 14 percent of her salary — about $800 per month — toward her student loans, plus 2 percent to her 401(k). With the new perk, she plans to redirect the 2 percent to more aggressively pay off her loans or help her get through graduate school — or maybe she’ll take a vacation.
The mounting student debt crisis — with outstanding loans nearing $1.5 trillion nationally — has made student-loan assistance a sought-after employer benefit. Meanwhile, two-thirds of Americans ages 21 to 32 have nothing saved for retirement, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security.