Vermont business helps alleviate employees’ student debt

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WATERBURY, Vt.- Lawmakers in Washington are working on legislation that would encourage more business owners to help employees pay their student debt.

It’s something one Vermont business is already doing, but they say the program isn’t perfect.

“At one point, I was paying nearly $1,000 a month,” said Robin Gresham, account at SunCommon.

Gresham is just one of 44 million Americans with student loans.

“It’s really hard to plan for the future when you’re working so hard to just dig out,” she said.

Recently Gresham’s been getting some help from her employer.

“It’s not just kind, it’s not just loving, it’s not just good for the employees,” said Duane Peterson, SunCommon Co-President. “It’s just good business.”

Peterson says a couple years ago he noticed the company was under budget in contributing to retirement accounts.

“We’re trying to give them money,” he said. “So we surveyed the employees who are not participating and sure enough crushing student debt.”

The company has since contributed nearly $30,000 to help reduce student loan debt for 16 employees. But there is a caveat. The contributions are considered taxable income to the worker.

“It is an incredible burden,” said Rep. Peter Welch, D- Vermont.

Welch is sponsoring legislation that would treat this assistance like health insurance and 401K contributions.

“The employer who made that payment would be able to deduct from their top line,” he said. “The student who received the benefit would have to report that as income.”

Welch says the burden of student debt is especially prominent in rural states like Vermont where job prospects are usually challenging.

“Anything that a company can do that makes that margin a difference for a young person to be able to take that job back here in Vermont, he said. “That really makes a difference.”

According to Advance Vermont, the amount of student loan debt for Vermonters between the ages of 25 and 35 was about $722 million in 20-17. �X

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