Hennepin County leaders rushed this month to hire a consultant to help employees take advantage of generous student loan forgiveness rules before they expire at the end of the year.

The County Board agreed Tuesday to pay Savi, a student loan consultant, $500,000 to help workers apply to have student loans forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

Under the federal program, employees of government agencies and nonprofit organizations with 10 years — or 120 months — of on-time loan payments can have the rest of their loans forgiven. Temporary rules enacted by the Biden administration allow borrowers to count the time loan repayments were paused during the coronavirus pandemic toward the necessary qualifying payments.

Only government-subsidized direct loans are eligible for the forgiveness program. Borrowers can consolidate their loans to become eligible, but they must do so before the end of the year for the pandemic payment pause to count.

That's where Savi comes in.

Under the agreement, the consultant will set up a dedicated website for county workers and help them navigate more than 50 different income-driven repayment plans, including various loan forgiveness programs.

County Administrator David Hough said the agreement will cost the county $150 per employee who uses it, with the total cost not to exceed $500,000 by the end of 2024.

Hough noted that nationwide, more than 43 million people have student loan debt and roughly $1.7 trillion is owed nationwide. Another 3.7 million parents have loans that could also be eligible.

"We know there are a significant number of county employees who have student loans and need help and assistance navigating very complex rules," Hough said during a Dec. 7 County Board committee meeting, noting the quickly approaching deadline.

The County Board approved the contract with Savi at its Dec. 12 meeting. Hough expects information to go out to county workers on Thursday about the program.

Hennepin County already provides up to $5,250 for tuition reimbursement, the IRS maximum, Hough said. The new agreement with Savi is another way the county can attract and retain workers, he said.

County officials plan to hire nearly 400 people next year, bringing the county's total headcount to almost 10,000 full-time equivalents. Hough estimates about a third of those employees have student loans and could benefit from the deal with Savi.

The County Board agreed and thanked staff for moving quickly to finalize the agreement. "I'm super excited about this. It is a great benefit to our employees," Commissioner Marion Greene said.