EBRI Issue Brief

How Employers Are Tackling Student Loan Debt: Evidence From the EBRI Employer Financial Wellbeing Survey

Apr 18, 2019 16  pages


Student loan debt is increasingly a hot button in the workplace. In this Issue Brief, we examine employers who are offering or plan to offer financial wellness initiatives that assist with student loan debt consolidation, refinancing, and employer-subsidized repayments. Using findings from EBRI’s 2018 Employer Financial Wellbeing Survey, we consider the characteristics, driving factors, and financial wellness success measures of employers engaging with employees on student loan debt. We also compare this subset of employers to the typical employer survey respondent focused on financial wellness initiatives in general.

Key findings are:

  • Nearly a third (32.4 percent) of the employers responding to EBRI’s 2018 Financial Wellbeing Survey reported offering or planning to offer some student loan debt program, such as a student loan debt consolidation or refinancing service or a student loan repayment subsidy that is employer paid.
  • These “Student Loan Debt Focused Employers” were more likely than the typical survey respondent (the full sample of all 250 that responded) to have taken steps to measure the financial wellness needs of employees, including examining existing employee benefit data (68 percent), surveying employees (56 percent), holding focus groups (46 percent), and analyzing other quantitative employee data (45 percent).
  • When asked to provide a quantitative assessment of the company’s level of concern about employees’ financial wellbeing, 4 in 10 Student Loan Debt Focused Employers rated their concern as high, compared with a quarter of overall employers in the survey.
  • Student Loan Debt Focused Employers cited improved employee retention as the most common top reason for offering financial wellbeing initiatives (56 percent), followed by reduced employee financial stress (49 percent).
  • Student Loan Debt Focused Employers were slightly more likely to offer their programs as one-time initiatives than the overall employers in the survey (16 percent and 12 percent respectively) but about equally likely to offer their financial wellness initiatives as holistic programs (15 percent and 16 percent respectively).
  • Nearly half (48 percent) of Student Loan Debt Focused Employers reported spending less than $50 annually per employee on their wellness initiatives; but 1 in 5 were unsure of the cost of their financial wellness initiatives.
  • Student Loan Debt Focused Employers were somewhat more likely than the typical survey respondent either to be the source or provider of the financial wellness initiatives (33 percent), or to have a contracted financial wellness vendor (30 percent). However, as with the typical survey respondent, the likeliest provider or source was a mix of methods (41 percent).
  • Human resources was the most likely primary champion of financial wellness initiatives for Student Loan Debt Focused Employers (60 percent).
  • When it comes to considerations in determining whether to offer financial wellbeing initiatives, Student Loan Debt Focused Employers were less focused on cost to the employer than the typical survey respondent (39 percent vs. 50 percent, respectively).
  • Student Loan Debt Focused Employers cited complexity of the programs as their number one challenge in offering financial wellness benefits in the workplace — nearly half gave this reason.
  • Student Loan Debt Focused Employers measured the success of their financial wellness initiatives in a variety of ways: reduced employee financial stress (38 percent) and improved overall worker satisfaction (36 percent) were top measures, as was increased employee productivity (30 percent).