When Amber Steves started working at Verizon nearly 15 years ago, she did one of the best things you can do when starting a new job. I joined the company's 401(k) program to start saving for retirement.
“I was never financially stable, and that was the goal,” she told CNBC. “Well, now I'm working, I need to be smart with my money,” she remembers thinking to herself.
Steves started at Verizon right out of college. Around the same time, she also began making monthly payments on her student debt, which was less than $15,000 when she graduated. Although she balances her debt payments and retirement savings well now, it wasn't easy at first, she says.
“I was working paycheck to paycheck after graduating from school and entering the workforce during the 2009 recession,” says Steves. “Several times on and off for about six years, I had to request options such as lowering my monthly payments or temporary forbearance due to unforeseen life and financial circumstances.”
Verizon offers employees 6% retirement contributions, which Steves says she's been taking full advantage of “from day one.” But now Steves, who works as a member of the company's accommodations team, has the opportunity to access more of her employee benefits.
Last December, Verizon announced that it would begin offering 401(k) matching for student loan payments.
“It seemed like an April Fools' joke, and I couldn't believe it,” she says. The company, like many others, had a tuition assistance program, but Steeves says she often jokes with colleagues or friends at other companies about their employers offering a benefit for educational debt.
“[It] “It's still a little unreal, even though I signed up for it, it's ready,” she says. “I can't really put it into words because I've never heard of a company offering this kind of benefit before.”
Verizon employees are eligible to enroll in the company's Secure Your Future plan as early as their first day. The plan allows employees to earn the full 6% employer 401(k) contribution by making student loan payments, making their own 401(k) contributions, or a combination of the two.
This means an employee can put 3% of their salary toward student loans and 3% into a 401(k) and get a 6% 401(k) contribution from Verizon. Alternatively, an employee can put the full 6% of their salary toward their loans and still get the employer's 6% contribution to their retirement savings.
Steves says enrolling was easy, and she uses another employee benefit, financial coaching, to make sure she's making the best decisions to achieve her long-term goals.
She currently contributes more than 6% of her salary to her 401(k), but has not made a final decision on how much she will allocate to her debt and 401(k) moving forward. She tends to prioritize her debts for a period of time to pay off her loans.
“I think this is the first time in the 15 years since I graduated when it comes to focus and a plan to repay these loans,” she says.
Steeves hopes the Securing Your Future program will help her achieve her goal of paying off her student loans in the next five years. She says that the program itself and the platform she uses to navigate it were helpful, because it helped her visualize and organize what she needed to do to achieve her goals.
“I feel more confident now,” she says. “I feel sharper.”
Do you want to get your dream job in 2024? Takes CNBC's new online course on how to ace your job interview To learn what hiring managers are really looking for, body language techniques, what to say and what not to say, and the best way to talk about pay.
“Devoted student. Bacon advocate. Beer scholar. Troublemaker. Falls down a lot. Typical coffee enthusiast.”