Finding the right gift can be challenging, especially if you don't know a member of your family that well.
If you're shopping for a young, educated person (especially a Millennial or member of Generation Z), there's one gift that will never go out of style: helping that person pay off a student loan.
As of the end of 2019, outstanding student loan debt in the U.S. totals $1.5 trillion.
The average student loan debt for 2016 college graduates was $37,172. If a 2016 graduate followed a standard repayment plan for that amount (10 years at a 4.29 percent interest rate), that person would pay $382 a month for the next decade.
That's the average and those are the statistics. But the personal side of the story is more gut-wrenching. It's a story of constant, crushing anxiety. It's how many Millennials and members of Gen Z feel about money.
Close to one in four Millennials say financial stress makes them physically ill on a weekly or monthly basis (compared with 12 percent of other age groups). Sixty-seven percent say money stress compromises their ability to focus and be productive in the workplace (compared with 32 percent of Boomers). And 68 percent say their debt has had a negative impact on their relationships with co-workers, friends, and partners.
A big part of this financial stress? Student loan debt.
For example, one of my friends is 28 years old. She forks over more than $800 a month in student loan payments. Add that to her other costs of living (rent and food) and there's almost nothing left at the end of the month. It's a seemingly unending burden. It weighs on her constantly.
It probably weighs on the young people in your life, too.
Enter Gift of College, a registry to help people rally others to help them with their student loan debt.
Here's how it works: The graduate registers his or her student loan accounts with Gift of College, and then shares their profile. Friends and family can then contribute funds directly to their debt.
While it may seem like an impersonal gift (it's not something you can wrap in a big box and put under the tree), the truth is it's an intensely personal one. It shows not only that you care, but that you are a witness to the struggle. That you grasp that student loans can be an overwhelming burden--and that you want to help lift it.
The average individual gift at Gift of College is $127, and there are a number of repeat gift-givers. About half of those who contribute are giving to people who already have student loan debt, and half are putting money into 529s to help a young person save for college.
The largest percentage of contributors is made up of grandparents, followed closely by aunts and uncles.
Fortunately, student loan assistance is also starting to become more mainstream in terms of workplace benefits. Financial giant Fidelity says that over 75 companies (including defense contractor Raytheon) currently use their student debt employer contribution programs to help their employees rid themselves of student loan debt. (Fidelity also offers the benefit to its own employees, many of whom are Millennials or Gen Z-ers.)
"We're certainly seeing more and more employers interested in offering student debt benefits to their employees," said Asha Srikantiah, head of Fidelity's student debt program.
PwC (formerly PricewaterhouseCoopers) is a particularly striking example. Close to 9,000 PwC staffers are signed up for their student loan repayment benefit, which offers $100 per month in loan payments for up to six years.
That's $1,200 a year, which can make a huge difference--it can shorten a graduate's debt-payoff timeline by up to three years, and reduce loan principal and interest by as much as $10,000.
Go back to those numbers again--their employee student loan repayment benefit can help take three years off of a graduate's debt timeline, and cut principal and interest by $10K.
Let's go back to my friend, who currently pays over $800 per month in debt. Imagine the relief she would feel in knowing she'd be able to pay her debt off three years sooner--that the end was in sight. She'd be able to breathe easier.
We live in a consumer culture that makes it easy to be careless when it comes to gift-giving. We're encouraged to buy, consume, and give physical items, many of which don't really land with those who receive them.
This point: 'Tis the season for giving, and the young people in your life would likely be far more grateful for your help paying down their debt than receiving some well-meaning moisturizer from L'Occitane.
And they'll feel seen, supported, and loved in the process.