First-time login tip: If you're a REBA Member, you'll need to reset your password the first time you login.
17 May 2024

Understanding the impact of student loan repayments and how employers can help

HR experts at opposite ends of the generational spectrum give their opinions on the affect of student loads on the workplace. Innecto Reward Consultant Spencer Hughes, 27, graduated from Swansea University in 2018, and PG Business Development Director Andrew Walker, 59, studied at Aston University before student loans were introduced

How businesses can help ease the impact of student loan repayments.jpg 1


What are the practical and psychological impacts of a student loan?

SH: My student debt felt more of a burden when I started out in work. I was having to pay it while also taking care of lots of other considerations: such as paying my rent and council tax, running a car and basically being out in the big wide world on my own.

It was certainly a higher proportion of my earnings when I first started paying it off and I remember feeling quite concerned about that. As my career has progressed, the amount I pay back each month has increased and generally I think less about my debt than I used to.

Looking at it objectively, you could say that career and pay progression have eased the impact for me practically and mentally.

How much can the company help you with managing the debt?

SH: Being employed has its benefits. When Personal Group pays my wage, I just see the loan repayment like a tax, something deducted from what I take home at the end of each month.

To be honest I rarely think about it. Because it is handled as part of Pay As You Earn (PAYE) I probably feel less of an impact and financial burden. I know that if I were ever out of work the payments would stop unless I’d earned a lot in that year, so I feel less exposure to the debt.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that 83% of people with English student loans will not clear the debt, including the interest, within the 30 years. Does that surprise you?

SH: If I still owe anything after 30 years it gets wiped, and I guess for some people that could act as a disincentive to get on and earn more and instead take a less pressurised job that pays less.

I’m not sure many young people are out there making that conscious decision though – the statistic is more likely down to the fact that the interest rate is over 7%, higher than most mortgages, and the interest that is added is not the interest you pay, so people tend to take a less aggressive stance to paying it off.

How do companies show young workers they are taking this issue seriously?

AW: I feel for our young workers hitting a competitive employment market with this added pressure, on top of a housing market out of reach for many.

But these things are also relative - each generation has its own challenges.

When I left university, I may not have come out with a student debt but there were other factors that put us on the back foot.

My first mortgage was 12% and rose to 15%. We sold the house for less than we paid for it, so were immediately in negative equity and that was my entry into the workplace and housing market.

That made me look for roles that would simply pay me more and reward my effort and my results. It made me more transactional.

Now there are more things employers can offer to help. If some young people are happy to earn a bit less – and debt repayment might be only one reason for that – companies need to adjust the way they structure their employee value proposition.

With a bigger toolkit now we can place more of an emphasis on flexible benefits like buying and selling holidays and the ability to work from home; on ESG (environmental, social and governance) incentives that young people might be more interested in; on health and wellbeing products; on offers or discount vouchers; on tech platforms to make things easy.

For graduates struggling with the added stress of the loan, how can companies help?

AW: If a company creates a culture and environment where people of all ages feel comfortable sharing their issues and burdens, either with a direct peer, manager or mentor, that can have a stabilising effect on the workforce, and particularly younger workers.

If they can feel comfortable asking someone for practical advice, and a colleague can give them a steer or point them towards an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), that can only be a good thing.

Companies need to look inwardly and ask how they can create that kind of culture.

Beyond that, there are financial wellbeing tools that companies can make available as practical measures such as discount vouchers on shopping and advice or workshops on debt and saving.

There is also much to be gained from signposting to all the help and guidance in a good EAP. Related to that, there’s a great deal more companies could do simply to educate young workers in personal financial management. Some companies are also making targeted offers for student loan repayment.

Thinking more radically, if enough people thought student loans were a bad idea and an inconvenience to business, companies could get together through federations and other groups to lobby government for their abolition.

In partnership with Personal Group

Personal Group provides the latest employee benefits and wellbeing products.

Contact us today