More feds are benefiting from student loan repayments

Federal agencies were more generous with student loan repayment benefits in 2009 than in the previous year, according to a report the Office of Personnel Management released on Thursday.

From 2008 to 2009, the number of federal employees receiving student loan repayment benefits increased 23 percent, rising from 6,879 to 8,454, according to the annual report to Congress. Agencies' overall financial investment in the program also grew, increasing 20 percent from $51.6 million to $61.8 million.

Employees at 36 agencies got help with their loans in 2009, with the average repayment valued at $7,317. By law, agencies may make payments to a loan holder of up to $10,000 annually, with a maximum payout of $60,000. In return, employees must sign a service agreement to remain with the agency for at least three years.

The program, established in 2001, is designed to help agencies recruit and retain top talent. Yet, 14 agencies said budgetary issues were a major impediment to using the payments for those purposes. One unnamed agency said it did not need to use the program because its positions are not specialized or hard to fill.

Attorneys benefited more from loan repayments in 2009 than federal employees in any other occupation. Of all recipients, 810, or 9.6 percent, were attorneys. The Justice Department had the highest number of attorneys collecting payments, at 193. It also had the highest number of employees overall receiving student loan repayments, at 2,357, or 27.9 percent of total recipients. These employees collectively received $19.3 million in benefits, or 31.3 percent of the total amount.

The Defense Department was a close second, with 2,126 employees receiving a total of $14.1 million in assistance. Many of those employees were in engineering positions.

After that, the other top four agencies were the State Department, Securities and Exchange Commission, Government Accountability Office and Health and Human Services Department, respectively.

The U.S. Agency for International Development made the biggest strides in the number of employees receiving student loan repayments, according to the report. The agency helped 195 employees with their loans in 2009, an increase of 71 percent over 2008. The amount given out also grew, rising 118 percent to $1.8 million.

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