Tackling Student Debt for Our Employees

Groundbreaking program solves savings catch-22: Pay off my loans, or save for retirement?

Strategy and Strength|Jun.26, 2018

We've seen the headlines: $1.5 trillion in student debt in the U.S., $620 million more than credit card debt. 2017 graduates, on average, have just shy of $40,000 in student loans, each. And to top it all off, nearly 70 percent of Millennials aren't saving for retirement.

That's a big problem, when every decade you wait to save for your future means you need to save twice as much.

Tackling Student Debt for Our Employees

Health technology company Abbott is now tackling the student debt crisis head-on for its U.S. employees with the implementation of a groundbreaking program that solves a savings catch-22: Pay off my loans, or save for retirement?

Abbott's Freedom 2 Save Plan will enable full-time and part-time employees who qualify for the company’s 401(k) – and who are also contributing 2 percent of their eligible pay toward student loans – to receive the equivalent of the company's traditional 5 percent "match" deposited into their 401(k) plans, without any 401(k) contribution of their own.

In practical terms, that means participating employees could have $54,000 in their 401(k) plans after 10 years they wouldn't otherwise have. That’s assuming a starting salary of $70,000, 3 percent merit increases each year and an average market return of 6 percent. By the time those employees retire, that contribution could likely be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"Our employees have invested a lot in themselves to earn their way into Abbott, and we don't want student loans to prevent them from beginning to save when time is on their side," said Steve Fussell, executive vice president, Human Resources, Abbott. "With this program, we're changing the retirement savings formula. If you’ve got old school debt, we've got new-school retirement investing."

We know we compete for the best and brightest minds, people who have degrees ranging from science and engineering to sales and business development. We hired more than 1,000 people under the age of 35 last year in the U.S., the vast majority of whom had college degrees. In fact, more than a third of those 31-35 had a doctorate degree, and the same percentage had a master's degree.

One of those hires was Rariety Monford, who says she plans to take advantage of the program.

"I was out-of-state for my biomedical engineering degree, so my student loans are more than double the average," Monford said. "Paying it off is my No. 1 goal. I plan on using Abbott’s tuition assistance program when I attend graduate school in the fall, but this program will be a huge help in making sure I’m saving for the future, while still aggressively paying off my loans."

The benefit pairs with Abbott's industry-recognized total benefits package that includes medical coverage, health and wellness programs, commuter benefits, childcare solutions, and an array of innovative retirement programs.

See coverage in the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times.

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