Magazine

beyond (k) | PLANADVISER September/October 2017

Laden With Student Debt

New programs can lessen workers' load—and boost their financial wellness

By Javier Simon editors@assetinternational.com | September/October 2017
Page 1 of 3
Art by Alex Eben Meyer

At year-end 2016, Americans held a record $1.3 trillion in outstanding federal student loans, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. These loans now represent the biggest chunk of consumer debt in the country outside of mortgages, and they carry the highest delinquency rate.

Additionally, it seems that the skyrocketing cost of higher learning impacts anyone needing a loan to afford it—no matter what their age.

Student loan payments now prevent 62% of Millennials from saving for retirement and making other investments, according to a recent survey by American Student Assistance (ASA). The study also found that 48% in this group have no emergency savings, and 35% have difficulty paying for daily necessities because of their loans.

But Millennials are not the only ones struggling. The Federal Reserve Bank study also found that 17% of outstanding student loan debt is owed by borrowers over age 50. And a recent report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) reveals that 40% of borrowers 65 and older are in default—the highest rate for any age group.

A major contributor to this rising debt among elders is their taking or co-signing loans toward their adult children’s or grandchildren’s education. According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, approximately 706,000 households headed by someone 65 or older carry student loan debt.

Even if older borrowers took the loan for themselves, the outcome is the same. ASA notes, “A growing number of those early student loan borrowers are now heading for retirement and have found their financial situation precarious at best due to their outstanding student loans.”

Many workers, therefore, are turning to their employers for help, and companies are paying attention. This debt-related stress affects their bottom line in the form of increased absenteeism, decreased productivity and disengagement.

As a result, many providers are creating programs that address both needs, helping employers boost their workers’ financial wellness by contributing toward their student loans or making a match toward their 401(k), whichever best suits the individual’s payment method.