New TIAA Study Reveals Borrowers Face Difficulty and Confusion When Student-Debt Payments Resume

Originally published at TIAA ranked No. 9 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2021.


Student loan borrowers working in the nonprofit and public sectors are emotionally distressed and uncertain about their ability to repay student loans once relief under the CARES Act ends, according to TIAA’s 2021 Nonprofit Student Debt Survey.

The vast majority (95%) of nonprofit and public sector employees surveyed who benefited from the CARES Act say they will experience at least some difficulty keeping up with student loan debt payments once the relief program ends, with two in five (40%) saying they will have “a great deal” of difficulty keeping up with payments. Nearly half (45%) say it would have been “very difficult” or “impossible” to pay their student loan debt without the relief from the CARES Act over the past 18 months.

“Almost two-thirds of nonprofit and public sector workers say their income is less today than it was at the start of the pandemic,” said Snezana Zlatar, head of Financial Wellness, Advice and Innovation at TIAA. “With student loan payments restarting soon, these workers need tools and resources that can help them feel more confident about their finances and achieve their goals.”

Over a third of these workers (36%) say they will be unable to make their payments from either their take-home pay or savings. Eleven percent say they will need to turn to their friends and family for financial assistance. Another 11% say they will reduce or stop their retirement plan contributions. Ten percent will have to ask for additional forbearance. The last 4% say they just aren’t sure at all where the money will come from.

Not surprisingly, student debt is a significant source of negative emotions. A little more than half of these workers (55%) still worry about their student debt. Three in ten have only negative feelings about their student loans (31%).

For help, employees turn to their employers as changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program create confusion.

The new TIAA student debt survey found three in five (60%) respondents think their employer has a responsibility to help them with their student debt.

Employers have an opportunity to provide timely and meaningful help as the federal PSLF program has now become eligible to a greater number of people.  Confusion also exists as there have been ongoing changes in the student debt servicing market. Findings from the survey underscore the need for all borrowers to have access to resources to better understand their current student loans and potential pathways for relief.

One example is the innovative program TIAA launched in 2020 at nonprofit education, healthcare and research institutions across the country. TIAA works with social impact startup Savi to help nonprofit workers successfully achieve student loan forgiveness through the PSLF program. The solution acts as a concierge, helping the individual stay in compliance with the recurring and new paperwork requirements of the PSLF program while reducing errors.

“The expanded eligibility for PSLF has the potential to have a life-changing impact for borrowers,” said Lindsay Clark, director of External Affairs at Savi. “For many borrowers, even if they are not outright eligible for immediate forgiveness, they will become significantly closer to achieving forgiveness.”

Under the new federal policies, this solution helps borrowers determine if they are eligible for retroactive credit for student loan payments made prior to enrolling in an income-driven repayment plan.

TIAA and Savi have helped individuals secure $200 million in projected forgiveness since rolling out the program in mid-2020. TIAA participants using Savi save an average of $1,880 per year in student loan payments and average a projected forgiveness of more than $51,300 per person.

previous TIAA survey found that nearly 70% of these workers said they would use their savings to purchase a house, contribute to retirement, or save for a child’s college education.

For more information on how to support your employees as they tackle their student loan debt, visit

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