Workers Who Earn More Get More Student Loan Debt Relief From Employers

  • A report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found 4% of employers offer student loan repayment.
  • Workers who earn more were more likely to have access to the student loan relief benefit.
  • Meanwhile, the Biden administration is reportedly considering canceling $10,000 in debt for borrowers.

Americans are sitting on $1.7 trillion in student debt, and just a small fraction are getting help from their employers.

As of March 2021, just 4% of all civilian workers were able to access student loan repayment benefits from their employers, according to a new analysis from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. People working in management, professional, and related fields were the most likely to have their employers help chip in on their loans — 7% of workers in that category had access to the student-loan repayment benefit.

Perhaps most stark, though, is which income brackets had the most access to student loan repayment benefits. Among the lowest 10% of workers, only 2% had access to student loan repayment benefits. Meanwhile, 9% of the top 10% of earners had access to a student loan repayment benefit — over four times as much as the lowest earners.

Indeed, the percentage of workers with access to a student loan repayment benefit ticks up as you move across the income spectrum. In simpler terms, the more money you make, the more likely you are to have access to a student loan repayment benefit.

For instance, among the lowest 25% of earners, just 2% had access. Meanwhile, 8% of the highest 25% of earners had access to a repayment benefit. 

Employers offering student loan repayment isn’t a new phenomenon, albeit not very common. A survey from SHRM found that 8% of firms offered student loan repayments in 2020, and 1% of respondents said that their employers had actually reduced that benefit.

As Insider’s Leo Aquino reports, the CARES Act expanded how much relief employers can give their workers. Under the early-pandemic legislation, employers can put $5,250 in tax-free payments towards their workers’ student loans every year. 

While lower-earning workers tend to hold less in average student debt — and hold a lower percentage of debt — those making below $40,000 represent three-quarters of student loan borrowers. Black borrowers also have a disproportionately higher average balance of student loan debt. The left-leaning Roosevelt Institute found that cancelling $50,000 in debt per borrower would help lower-income borrowers more, contradictory to messaging that that amount of relief would mostly benefit high-earners with a large loan burden.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is reportedly gearing up to cancel $10,000 in student for borrowers who make under $150,000. Some Democrats and advocates have said that’s not enough.

“$10k relieves most the people who owe the least,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. “What relief is there for the most desperate? For them, interest will undo that 10k fast. We can do better.”

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