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Should Companies Offer An Employer Match For Student Loans?

I had an epiphany while paying bills this month: I can finally see the light at the end of my student loans.

I'm close, but not quite, in terms of paying them off. Our society awards piddly few benefits to being a Gen Xer these days, but making that last student loan payment will definitely be one of them.

Before you hate me for being dutiful, please realize that my opening boastful statement is possible only after years of small, monthly installments that have been a staple of our monthly budget for nearly two decades. I say "our," because my husband also married my student loan debt when he married me. And now, the end finally feels within reach. I don't know what we're going to do after we make that last payment, either. It will feel very strange, like losing a fair-weather friend. But I'm ready. So, so ready.

Seriously, the Gen Xer in me feels very lucky to see more and more daylight at the end of this very long tunnel, because U.S. college graduates owe a record-breaking $1 trillion in unpaid student loan debt. This figure is more than the credit card debt we owe as a nation. Think about that for a second: We Americans owe more in student loans than we do on our collective credit cards. WOW. Just, wow. And now the experts are calling student loans the next debt bomb. Oh, goodie, goodie gumdrop. You Gen Yers may be younger and faster, but I'm older and have lower monthly student loan payments. Towanda!

From a workplace perspective, it's interesting to ponder how student debt loads could be affecting workers' career choices. And I'm not talking about the I-need-to-find-a-job-ASAP meme or I-need-to-major-in-engineering meme. No, I'm wondering about career specialization -- e.g., specializing in a field specifically with one's student loan debt in mind. It's happening in medicine, for example. To say that medical residents walk away from medical school with some student debt is an understatement. To make their hefty student loans payments, what are they doing? They're specializing to earn a higher salary. Goodbye, family medicine and hello, Endocrinology! Or they're going an entirely different route, but let's not go there.

For the younger generation staring down $30,000 to $100,000 (or more) in student loan debt, there will be added pressure to find jobs that will cover their student loan payments, that, after this recession, could include the interest payments that accumulated while they were unemployed. I'd like to take the job, but I need to earn X amount to cover my student loans. Or they'll need to take a second job, the "student loan payment" job. Ugh.

And depending on what happens economically over the next five to 10 years, the younger generation of savvy career specialists could be paying off their student loans well into their 50s or 60s, which in turn means delaying big-ticket purchases from cars to homes. From the employers' perspective, providing an employer match to help employees pay off their student loans faster could become a very trendy, 21st Century perk. Forget bring your dog to work day and catered dry cleaning; just help me get this debt albatross off my back, please. To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised to see student loan employer match programs percolate to the surface as the hiring picture improves.

From my Gen X vantage point, I don't envy the younger generation. It will have a long road ahead, and a possible debt bomb with which to contend. The Gen Yers and Millennials will have to be much more calculated and much more smart than Gen Xers in their career decisions. Better hurry kids, your loan servicer is waiting.


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