The Millennial Savings Challenge


Some time ago, after I graduated with my undergraduate degree, I was lucky enough to get a job working for the governor of Nevada (see, internships can pay off!). I was also fortunate to have a great boss (the governor himself) who impressed upon me how important it is to start saving for retirement, even at the tender age of 22. I started saving early because I was able to make a small contribution with my modest salary. Had I been saddled with huge amounts of student loan debt, that wouldn’t have been possible.

So it’s no surprise to hear that many Millennials are having difficulty saving for retirement. Student loan debt is causing this delay in savings, with 40 percent of Millennials saying they’re not saving anything. Considering that Millennials graduate with an average of $37,172 in student loan debt, the thought of saving even pennies can be challenging.

As we embark on America Saves Week, a time to re-evaluate our current savings options and work to increase our personal savings, I can only imagine the conundrum that many Millennials face: knowing they should be saving, but dealing with some harsh realities—often low starting salaries, a competitive job market and large amounts of student loan debt.

Enter a creative concept being implemented by some big name employers: paying for a portion of student loan debt as an employment benefit. While only 4 percent of employers currently offer student loan repayment as a component of their benefits package, this number seems to be on the rise. 

What could this mean for Millennials? By alleviating the pressure of their monthly student loan payment, Millennials would be better able to make contributions to a retirement plan and, if they’re lucky, utilize an employer match in the process! Employers aren’t the only ones that see a benefit in this arrangement. In recent years, Congress has introduced a number of bills that would allow employers to make payments on their employees’ student loan balances without tax consequences.

Earlier this month, Representatives Rodney Davis (R-IL), Jared Polis (D-CO), Scott Peters (D-CA) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) introduced H.R. 795, a bipartisan bill that would expand Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code to include student loan repayment. Section 127 covers employer-provided tuition assistance, which is a popular employer-provided benefit that allows an employee to exclude from their taxable income up to $5,250 per year for any type of educational course at the certificate, undergraduate or graduate levels.

Employers alone won’t be able to stifle the huge amounts of debt Millennials frequently incur when obtaining an education, but certainly leave it to HR to come up with an innovative, creative solution to recruit and retain this segment of the workforce! To learn more about this benefit and SHRM’s advocacy efforts in this area, visit  

SHRM Government Relations Senior Advisor Kathleen Coulombe and Governor Kenny C. Guinn, 2002


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