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Student loan debt is a top concern of young adult job seekers as they enter the job market and evaluate the employment opportunities, according to research commissioned by the American Institute of CPAs.

Among millennials in an online survey who were asked which three benefits would best help them achieve their financial goals, student loan forgiveness was the third most-cited option, after health insurance and paid time off.

AICPA said in a statement that this demonstrated to employers that besides health and work-life balance, student loans are a primary concern for young adults entering the workforce. It said this priority may prompt some new graduates to pursue careers in public service where student loan forgiveness is a more common incentive.

But forgiveness isn’t the only way to help graduates pay down their debt. A bill recently introduced in the Senate Finance Committee, the Retirement Parity for Student Loans Act, would allow employers to match workers’ student debt payments with contributions to their 401(k)s, so they could start saving for retirement while repaying their loans. And retirement plan providers are starting to offer solutions to help workers manage their debt along with their retirement savings.

These were among the benefits respondents listed in their top three choices:

  • Health insurance – 54%
  • Paid time off – 45%
  • Student loan forgiveness – 41%
  • Working remotely – 38%
  • 401(k) match – 36%

AICPA said the relatively low priority respondents placed on 401(k) match may have to do with the seeming remoteness of retirement.

“Early career decisions often have a major impact later in life,” Gregory Anton, chairman of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, said in a statement. “A mentality of ‘I’ll start saving when I get a bit older’ often results in retirement savings being put on the back burner.

“However, by beginning to save towards retirement as early as possible, new graduates will benefit from decades of compounding growth. Time is an asset, and those just starting their career are in a prime position to take advantage of it.”

The research on millennial job seekers, released Thursday, was part of AICPA’s 2018 employee benefits report.

MAVY Poll conducted an online survey within the U.S. in September, using The Agency’s proprietary online community, supplemented with sample provided from Pegasus by InnovateMR. The poll received responses from 547 millennial respondents who had graduated from college in the last 24 months or would graduate in the next 12 months. Of those, 413 said they were currently seeking full-time employment.

While student loan forgiveness ranked third overall as a benefit for young job seekers, those with outstanding loan debt viewed repayment as a more important use of their benefit dollars than any other comparable benefit.

Participants burdened by student loan debt were given a hypothetical $100 to have an employer split between paying a portion of their debt versus putting it toward a specific benefit.

In all cases — health insurance, paid time off, tuition reimbursement, life insurance 401(k) match and day care — they preferred that their employer put more money toward paying their student loan debt.

“Student loan debt can cause recent graduates to make the mistake of looking past the benefits an employer is offering and just focus on the salary,” Anton said.

“Wide disparities between health insurance options, employer retirement contributions as well as vacation and sick leave underscore the need for prospective employees to fully understand the value of the benefits being offered to them.”