Americans have fewer vacation days than their European counterparts, and yet we still don't use them all. Some companies allow you to roll them over and cash out when you quit, but for many Americans they just disappear into the ether. If you don't use all your vacation days, it's just a boon for the company--they get more work out of you for no more money. 

Combine this with the crushing student loan debt many employees have--and their desire to sacrifice to reduce that burden--and insurance company Unum Group came up with a solution: trade in your unused vacation for extra money towards your student loans. (They also will allow parents who carry their children's loans to use this benefit.)

Bloomberg reports

Unum estimates that around 30 percent of its U.S. workforce will take advantage of the benefit. On average, Unum employees carry $32,000 in debt, with payments of $350 a month, according to the company's internal research. How much workers can earn for their vacation days depends on their salary, but the company estimates an average of about $1,200 a year.

Don't Disparage Vacation

While I love the idea of paying down debt, I don't love the idea of giving up too much vacation. Our brains need a break. The last thing you want is employees to burn out. You also don't want a culture where people who do take vacations are seen as lazy or not dedicated to their work.

Vacation doesn't have to mean exotic and expensive trips; it can just mean getting away from the office for a few days. Your employees will do better if they get a rest every once in a while.

Student Loans Aren't the Only Debt

While millions of people have student loan debt, it's not the only debt and it's not the most dangerous. Yes, other debt can be discharged in bankruptcy while student loans can't, but student loans are often at low-interest rates, unlike some credit card debt. And while we like to maintain moral superiority by assuming that all credit card debt is due to expensive electronics and avocado toast, credit cards are sometimes the only means of getting food on the table during a rough patch.

Likewise, medical debt, car loans, and even a mortgage can be great burdens. Yes, we should all live frugally, but even frugality sometimes requires loans. Appendicitis can cause you to have to pay every penny of your $10,000 deductible. Most Americans need a car to get to and from work. We all need somewhere to live.

I would strongly prefer to program that allowed people to use this money to pay down any debt--not just student loans.

But, all in all, it's a nice trade-off for many employees. The company benefits from extra work and the employee benefits with a bit of extra pay directed towards loans. 

Published on: Feb 7, 2019