Businesses offer student loan perks to attract employees

- The JW Marriott in downtown Tampa will be beautiful on the outside, but it's the guts of the whole building that Ariel Casas is most concerned with. Using 3D images, the new grad coordinates plumbing, duct work and electrical lines for one of Florida's largest contractors, Coastal Construction.

"It is definitely awesome, coming right out of school and being able to work on this size of a project," Casas explained. 

He received an architecture degree from FIU in December, which cost him $55,000 in student loans. He has already refinanced his loans in an attempt to lessen the $600 monthly payments.  

"It is not a great feeling," he admitted.

Coastal employs about 40 people in Tampa and Central Florida, and 350 statewide. 

For a year of service, Coastal will chip in $100 a month to a worker's student loan payments and $125 for three years. For five years, $150 a month until the loan is paid off.

The owner says it's no longer feasible to ignore the plight of their workers.

"Quite frankly, we believe this is the least we can do for our employees," said the company's co-owner, Patrick Murphy, who is also a former Democratic congressman from Martin County. "We have some smart, talented young people coming to our company who we want to retain. Like any business, that turnover is very costly."

American student loan debt has more than doubled since 2008 to $1.5 trillion.

Experts expect more employers to make a similar move as Coastal, especially if employers are eventually allowed to deduct the subsidy.

"If there is no benefit, then it comes down to the social mindedness of the employer," said Joshua Cohen, a student loan attorney.

For Casas, the help will erase about a third of his payments, saving him years' time in paying it off.

"I can either put it towards it, and keep paying the same amount," he said. "Or I can just subtract from it and use it towards food or any other stuff."

Coastal Construction says they expect to spend about $200,000 per year in helping employees pay off their loans.

They expect 75 of their employees to participate in the program.

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