Gradifi CEO Tim DeMello

What If Your Boss Helped Pay Off Your Student Loans?

November 24, 2015

Wherever you go, look around: There’s a good chance a lot of the people you see have student loan debt. In fact, the average graduate now leaves campus owing $35,000.

Millennials are putting off marriage and starting families because of it, and young entrepreneurs are holding back on starting businesses.

A Boston startup called Gradifi wants to help by having your boss foot the bill. That’s right — your boss. Gradifi founder and CEO Tim DeMello sees the $1.3 trillion national student loan debt as everyone’s problem.

"I set out to create a model to help solve this problem, whereas you have people contribute and pay off student loans on behalf of the individual,” DeMello said.

It’s called the Student Loan Paydown plan, or SLP. Under the plan, your employer pays up to $250 every month toward your student loan.

“So the benefit is if you take a $35,000 loan — with interest — that’s $42,000 over 10 years. This takes 2.5 years or 25 percent off the loans. So someone who is 22, who was originally in debt till they’re 32, will have it paid off when they’re 29,” DeMello said.

That sounds pretty great — and kind of crazy, because, you know, what’s in it for the employer?

"People are looking at, 'How do we retain and attract millennials?'" DeMello said. "This is the number one issue they are dealing with."

While many employers try to lure workers with attractive retirement benefits like 401ks, DeMello says that companies are finding that most recent graduates are more concerned with immediate needs — like recent graduate Meaghan Connors, a Boston resident, who owes $34,000 in student loans. When asked if she'd be more interested in working for a company that offers a student paydown plan, she gave me a resounding yes.

"Absolutely," Connors said. "That would entice me to work there."

Sanjay Rai will owe a jaw-dropping $100,000 when he graduates in two months. He said Gradifi’s program is a no-brainer. He'll have to pay $800 per month on his student loan.

“I’m already working full-time and I don’t think I’m going to be able to pay off even my first loan payment with the money that I’m getting from my job right now,” Rai said.

This program isn’t just pie in the sky. Price Waterhouse Coopers — the huge consulting firm — partnered up with Gradifi a year ago to test out the whole idea. Vice Chairman Rob Gittings says providing this kind of benefit to employees gives them a competitive edge.

"Our ability to attract the best talent and the benefits is one of the things that folks look at," Gittings said. "Let us to look at this as something we need to take care of and consider."

Some people I spoke with were pretty skeptical. Sure, they said, the benefit sounds great, but employers would probably just reduce their salary by $250 and then give it back for student loans. That may or may not be true, but there is a very real setback. Current tax codes see the student debt payment plan as taxable income — unlike a 401k, which is tax-deferred until retirement. Gradifi is hoping Congress will fix this in the near future. Right now, there’s a waiting list of more than 100 companies wanting to sign up for the Student Loan Paydown plan.

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