How to talk to your boss about your student loans

Over the past several years, we’ve seen companies offering increasingly unique employee perks, including extreme sports adventures, pets in the office and time off to volunteer. Some of these are just plain fun (and certainly meant to boost morale); while others can make a measurable impact on employees’ lives and even ease financial woes. A relatively recent benefit, student loan repayment assistance, falls in the latter camp. It’s still pretty rare — according to Debt.org, only 4 percent of U.S. companies (or 8 percent of companies with 40,000 or more employees) offer the benefit — but if you’re one of the 44 million people with student loan debt, it’s certainly worth inquiring about. Even if it’s not something your company proactively offers, that doesn’t mean it’s completely off the table. After all, you rarely get things you don’t ask for. So, then, how do you go about doing that? Take these steps to make your request.

Arrange an official meeting

First, “if you want to ask about student loan repayment assistance at your current company, consider the appropriate point person at your organization,” said Stefanie O’Connell, author of The Broke and Beautiful Life. “Unless you’re in the process of a salary renegotiation, your boss might not be the right point of contact. It might be your HR department. The idea is to find someone you can speak to proactively about this potential perk, rather than crossing your fingers and hoping that someday your workplace might offer it.”

This is an important conversation, so don’t approach it by just “popping in” to your boss’s office for a chat. “You don’t want to blindside your boss, so let them know you’d like to set up a time to discuss your compensation,” O’Connell said. “And don’t worry if it doesn’t coincide with your annual review. You can ask for an early salary review or a chance to discuss your performance after completing a major project, for example.”

Do your research

Prepare in advance by researching existing loan repayment programs and options, and solidifying your ask. If you work in a field, like public service, that may make you eligible for federal loan repayment assistance, O’Connell said to “be sure to understand all the eligibility requirements and ask all the questions you need to know exactly how much repayment assistance you can expect from your employer, and how that will affect your current repayment plan.”

Research the latest in student loan repayment benefits so you can come armed with facts, including examples of what other companies offer. (For example, according to Student Loan Hero, the health care company Aetna offers $2,000 per year in student loan repayment, with the funds going directly to the lender). “Keep in mind, this is a relatively recent workplace perk, so you may actually be the one introducing your employer to it,” O’Connell said.

You may also be able to use your current compensation as leverage in the conversation (treating the loan request similarly to a request for a pay raise), so prepare for that, too. “Start by establishing where you currently fall on the pay scale,” O’Connell said. “Do your research to figure out what the current pay range is for your position by talking to recruiters or by speaking to friends and colleagues in similar positions; or by using a website with salary information, like Glassdoor or Payscale.”

Justify your ask

Just as in a salary negotiation, it’s important to sell yourself and justify why it’s a good idea for your company to support you with this assistance. “Keep track of your professional achievements and how specifically your work positively contributes to your organization,” O’Connell said. “If you can ground these achievements in metrics relevant to your position, even better. If you can tangibly show how they contribute to the bottom line, even better.”

Explain how loan repayment assistance will help you contribute even more positively to the company, once again using facts to support your case. For example, according to the Society For Human Resource Management, a 2016 survey by IonTuition found that most managers believe student loan repayment benefits would help improve employee morale, productivity and well-being. And a 2017 survey conducted by American Student Assistance revealed that 86 percent of workers between the ages of 22 and 33 would commit to staying with their employers for five years if they received loan repayment assistance. If you’re willing to commit to that, tell your boss: The potential to retain a strong employee and not have to worry about spending time, energy and money replacing you in the next five years could be a huge selling point.

“When approaching this conversation, remember to always frame it from the position of your employer,” O’Connell said. “Show them how offering loan repayment assistance is ultimately something that will increase their employee satisfaction and retention, as opposed to talking about what it does for you.”

Consider alternative asks

Your company may not be prepared to offer you loan repayment assistance, but that doesn’t mean they can’t work with you in another way, such as with a pay raise. “If you’re able to negotiate a raise, you can use the extra funds for loan repayment assistance,” O’Connell pointed out.

She later noted, “This is also an opportunity to consider other potential asks, either in lieu of or in addition to a pay increase. For example, you could ask for a more flexible schedule, paid time off [or] access to educational programs.” As suggested in Forbes, you can ask if your company has a financial wellness program or advice services that can help you figure out the best way to manage your loan debt and overall finances.

Prepare for a “no”

Even if you justify your ask, it’s possible your employer won’t be willing or able to offer you any financial assistance. Before you completely give up on the possibility, though, O’Connell recommended you ask a few more questions. She suggested asking things like, “‘Can you help me understand what the roadblock is?’, ‘Is it my performance?’, ‘Is it budget concerns?’, ‘If it is my performance, how can I improve?’ [and] ‘If it’s a budget issue or something else, would it be helpful if we revisited this conversation next quarter?’ ...Get all the information you can to make sure the no is not a permanent no.”

As for your loans, be as proactive as you can about managing and minimizing your debt without your company’s assistance. “Make a list of what you owe to whom and your monthly minimum payments, and start creating a plan of action for paying down your debts based on your current income and expenses,” O’Connell said. “And remember, you can always be on the hunt for a job that offers you perks that might better serve you.”