LoanBenefits Impacts: An Interview with Zeke Johnson
Though the employer student loan repayment assistance program is still dipping its toe in the job market, there are plenty of success stories that can help demonstrate how the benefit actually impacts the lives of those employees who participate in it. We find one such example with Zeke, an industrial designer at RKS Design, a firm in Thousand Oaks, California. I had the chance to speak with Zeke and ask him a few questions.
A few things to keep in mind. The average annual income of an individual in the United States is about $45,000. This varies, of course, but the number gives you a good idea of where many, if not most, people fall on the spectrum. Meanwhile, the average student loan debt of an individual is $37,172. A majority of those people with student loan debt say they are unable to save for retirement because of it. They also report being unable to buy homes, cars, or other major purchases.
An overwhelming majority of people with student loan debt – 86% – say that their loan debts are a “major source of stress.” The situation is rather dire for many of these individuals, 65% of whom said that their monthly student loan bills were bigger than their food budget. 56% said their monthly student loan bill was bigger than their health insurance costs.
This article is part of an ongoing series that examines the personal impact of the employer student loan repayment assistance program on the lives of those employees who participate in it.
Would you mind telling me a little bit about yourself and what you do at RKS Design?
I am an industrial designer here at RKS. I am originally from Milwaukee, WI, and I found my way to Los Angeles after graduation. I get to work on a wide variety of projects here and find myself always getting into new industries based on the clients we work with. My education continues as I move from project to project. Aside from work, I love to explore the city through its restaurants, events, and landscapes. Photography has always been another passion of mine so this city provides a wide variety of opportunities to explore that as well.
How long have you been with the company?
I have been with RKS for 3.5 years. I started with the company following graduation in May of 2015.
Where did you go to school and what was your major?
I received my Bachelor’s degree from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design with a major in Industrial Design.
Let’s talk a little about student debt. How would you say that student debt has affected your life? Your job?
I think the first thing that comes to mind is how it affects the way you think about your future. For example, I find it difficult to see myself owning a home of my own for at least 10-15 years because I feel the responsibility to pay the student debt off first.
Did your perception of the company change when they announced the implementation of the benefit? How so?
I think that like any other benefits such as 401(k) or health care, it really became a staple of my employment package. I see it now as an expectation from employers and I would expect many other employees would as well.
Tell me about how the program works.
I have very little interaction with the program, which is a benefit in my eyes. I get an email every time a new gift is received and it has an overview of the amount and the impact it has on my repayment date. Overall it’s quite seamless.
What are the direct, long-term results that you anticipate seeing as a result of receiving this benefit?
I think that the repayment term being shortened will be the main benefit.
How did you feel when you first started receiving the contribution payments?
It was nice to see after a bit of time that with the employer benefits along with my own regular contributions to see the loan balances decreasing. For quite some time it felt like every payment had little impact.
How, if at all, have those payments affected your daily life?
I do think that I am still quite conscious about saving and paying my loans with additional income that I receive even though I am receiving loan benefits.
How, if at all, have those payments affected your work life?
I think the more of it has to do with a reassurance that my employer understands I have this burden and want to make sure they are supportive in addressing it.
Are there any tips or recommendations you would give to employers who are thinking of offering this benefit to their employees?
I would say it can only benefit their team and it is something that is very flexible for the company to meet the company needs.
Are there any tips or recommendations you would give to employees who may be interested in getting this benefit implemented at their workplace?
I think talking about it with coworker to get a support base and then approaching your employer about the benefits it could offer the company as a whole is the most direct way.
I’m a 32-year-old writer based out of San Antonio, Texas, with my own mountain of student loan debt to conquer. When I’m not working, I’m either out for a run on the trails or chilling at home with my rescue dog, Vincent (for Van Gogh, my favorite painter). I like to eat (a lot), read (I’m a real horror junkie, with Stephen King topping my list of favorite writers), watch movies (Titanic – yes, Titanic – is the be-all and end-all for me), drink wine (red only, please), travel (Italy has my heart and always will), collect crystals, meditate, and read tarot cards. Perpetually single, but a softie deep down, I try to stay true to my hippie heart and find the good in every person and situation. I remain curious and open to learning new things (except for math which, I am convinced, will always be my downfall). If I can answer any questions about my work here on student loan debt and repayment assistance programs, feel free to shoot me an email. I don’t bite (usually). [email protected]