Growing company perk: Paying student loans

It’s like old times in some sections of the economy. Some companies are increasing benefits to attract and keep employees.

The latest trend? Paying off the student loans of workers, the Boston Globe says.

Some private businesses are taking the cue from the federal government, which has offered debt relief to students who take lower-paying public service jobs such as teaching.

The move underscores how big student debt has become for workers.

Millennials — adults in their 20s and early 30s — are now 83 million strong and outnumber baby boomers. As the economy improves and the labor force tightens, employers are seeking ways to attract young workers and retain them, said Bruce Elliott, a manager for compensation and benefits at the Society for Human Resource Management, a Virginia-based trade group.

“Employers don’t do this to be nice,” he said. “It’s absolutely an investment.”

Such benefits promise to be popular. Fidelity is still cementing details of its program, aimed at employees at the lower end of the pay scale, but the initial reaction has been more than enthusiastic, said Jennifer Hanson, the senior vice president of human resources at the Boston-based fund giant.

“You don’t usually get high fives in the hallway,” she said.

To be sure, it’s a select group undertaking the increased benefits. Only about 3 percent of companies currently offer it. But some of the experts say it’ll spread, especially if Congress makes the benefit tax-free for workers who receive it.

Not everyone is sold on the notion that it’ll make a dent in the student loan debt problem. Most of the companies offering the benefit already pay employees well enough that servicing the loan isn’t a significant drain on their finances.