You’ve probably heard about America’s $1.5 trillion student debt problem. It’s no secret the strain of student loan obligations has led some to put off buying homes, starting families and pursuing their dreams.

If a recent Price-Waterhouse financial wellness survey is any
indication, it’s also probably getting in the way of productivity at the

Half of the millennial workforce holds student debt. Generation X and Baby Boomers hold their share, too, some having gone back to school and others paying back loans they took out for their children.

Many are feeling the pressure, which makes it increasingly hard to check the worries at the office door.

Student loan repayment perks

Some workplaces are responding by offering a student loan repayment
perk. More have incorporated this benefit in the last year, in hopes of
attracting Millennial and Gen Z talent. There is a more proactive approach
companies can take, however, and it’s one that gets to the root of the problem.

Employers can help their employees prevent massive student debt in
the first place by equipping them to save. Forty-nine percent of employees are
planning to save for a child’s or grandchild’s education. But saving for
college is harder than expected for 79 percent of parents, according to a
recent Student Loan Hero survey.

Businesses can make it easier by including a 529 benefit.

A 529 plan is a higher
education savings tool that can help families of various means prevent or
minimize future student debt. With tax-free investment growth and state tax
incentives offered by many states, 529s offer what traditional investment
accounts do not – plus the benefit of compound interest.

It’s a tool that can work well
whether an employee has a modest or robust salary. In fact, just contributing
$10 a week to a 529 can add up over time – more than $15,000 in 18 years or
$6,700 in 10 years.

Looking at the results of a recent
California study conducted by ScholarShare 529, this is something employees
want. Eighty-three percent would like to know more about a workplace college
savings program. Seventy-nine percent say a workplace college savings program
“shows the firm cares about its employees.”

Incorporating 529s in the workplace can mean anything from allowing employees a direct deposit option to offering an employer contribution perk. Even just making employees aware that the plans exist can go a long way in minimizing financial stress.

I know, because that’s what we’ve been equipping employers to do in Virginia. We are finding that employers understand the importance of helping employees save for important life events and are looking for opportunities to offer value-add benefits that don’t require additional budget.

No extra costs or complications

That’s the beauty of this approach.
It doesn’t have to cost extra or be complicated to administer to be of value to
an employee. Just by allowing an employee to be learn about college savings
plans while at work has extreme value.

So, does an employer 529 plan sound like something worth exploring? Here’s how employers can add this benefit:

  • Find the right plan. The state where your
    employees reside is the best place to start. You aren’t restricted to offering
    a plan within state lines, but many states have tax incentives for residents.
  • Reach out to the 529 employer program
    contact. Many 529 websites have a page that is dedicated to employers.  Learn about the specifics of the programs
    they offer. Be sure to ask how they can help educate employees and also inquire
    about their direct deposit process. 
  • Weigh the options and decide. Is the primary
    goal awareness? Would a direct deposit option help your workers save? Do you
    have the ability to offer a contribution?
  • Let your employees (and potential employees)
    know. Offer a financial wellness session, host a webinar, include a segment in
    your newsletter or pass out pamphlets at a staff meeting. Do what you need to
    do to let workers know. Don’t be shy about talking it up on LinkedIn either. When
    you make it known that your company cares about financial wellness, it will be
    another reason for talented people to consider a future with you.

In a world where jobs outpace those
who can fill them, employer 529 plan offerings can up your benefits game and
help them stand out from the rest. It’s good for business. It’s good for the
people who power the business.

Most importantly, it’s good for
society. Less student debt could make a world of difference for the next
generation –and for the parents, grandparents and degree seekers who keep your
company running.

The post Employer 529 plans: A benefit that strikes at the heart of student debt appeared first on HR Morning.

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