Editors' pick: Originally published Jan. 13.
While college students are taking out more and more money to pay for school, those loans may not just be making it harder to pay rent after graduation.
College graduates' retirements may be getting shortchanged due to the bills they run up getting a degree, according to new research. In fact, workers with student loans participate in employer-provided retirement plans at a lower rate than those without — 71% compared to 77%, according to a study released by retirement and health solution provider Aon Hewitt.
"It is a very difficult decision for young college graduates to prioritize their finances as it pertains to student loans and contributing to a retirement account," said Sandy Young, founder of SY Financial Group in Maryland.
The study also shows —perhaps even more disconcerting — more than half of workers with student loans are contributing only 5% or less of pay to their retirement plan.
"When you are faced with this dilemma, most people focus on the here and now and this can be a costly mistake," Young said.
Young said to help ease the pain of the repayment phase of student loans, workers should take advantage of repayment programs such as income based repayment, income contingent repayment and income sensitive payment.
"I believe that making the minimum payment is better than nothing," she said. "Don't let yourself be overwhelmed about the total amount of debt, just try to manage to make payments consistently."
Andy Josuweit, CEO of Student Loan Hero, said paying off debt should always be the top priority for those who are looking to better their finances, so it's not surprising that many student loan borrowers put off retirement savings as a result.
"At first glance it may seem like putting off saving for retirement is the obvious choice, but this isn't always the best choice," Josuweit said. "For example, if a borrower's employer offers a 401K contribution match and they don't take advantage of this, then they are leaving free money on the table."
Josuweit said always compare the potential interest gained from investing to the interest cost of unpaid debt. He added to not forget to factor in the money to be gained if your employee offers to match your 401(k) contribution.
Ryan Frailich, a financial coach and planner with Deliberate Finance LLC, said the student loans-versus-retirement debate really comes down to one thing — there isn't really a one-size-fits-all approach.
"Depending on the type of loans, the interest rates, the job you're working, your long-term earning potential, your company's retirement plans, etc. — the 'right' answer can change," he said.
Frailich said he looks at a handful of factors when trying to help clients, and agreed if there is an employer-match program, a worker always should maximize that first — no matter your student loan position.
"After you make that decision, figure out what options you have for your loans," Frailich said. "If your loans are private and you have a high credit score, refinancing may be a good option for you. If your loans are federal, you may have a bunch of options available to you at the state or federal level, depending on your profession."
Frailich added he also generally recommends clients still pay the minimum amount asked for on their student loans.
"For most people, they will have their loans paid off within 10 years on a standard repayment plan," he said.
Most importantly, however, Young adds college graduates need to realize it's imperative to put something towards their retirement.
"If you're only putting $20 a month towards retirement, at least that money can work towards earning interest which will make a big difference in the future," she said. "Ideally, people in their 20's should be putting close to 10% of their income towards retirement."