Wayne firm does its part to curb student debt

Posted: May 20, 2014

The college class of 2014 numbers 1.6 million. And as these students graduate this month and next, many will be carrying tens of thousands of dollars in debt, contributing to the $1 trillion in total outstanding U.S. student loan debt.

"It's almost unethical," said Thomas P. Nerney, 59, chairman, president, and chief executive officer of U.S. Liability Insurance Group in Wayne.

"We have all but mandated a college degree for the majority of entry-level positions," Nerney wrote in a recent opinion piece. "I believe the business community is in a unique position to address this one small piece of the student-debt pie."

Question: How does your company help?

Answer: We pay college [interns] $15.25 an hour, and they work here 20 to 25 hours a week during the school year. We found a 1986 tax code that allowed businesses to withhold $3.25 of that $15.25 tax free.

Q: Then what?

A: Once a semester, we [take the withheld money] to their colleges and give it to the financial aid office and they [apply it to the individual student's] debt.

Q: Who participates?

A: Of the 110 students working here now, any of them that has deferred debt must participate.

Q: Now you're an evangelist for this program.

A: We work with 14 or 15 local colleges and we are trying to engage more businesses.

Q: What's involved?

A: Nothing. There's something in payroll you have to do.

Q: What made you start?

A: I have lunch with 130 people a year, and many of them are out of school four or five years. I'll learn they have $85,000 in college debt. I say, 'How do you feel about that?' They say, 'You know what, Tom? I'm really mad at my parents. I wish they had told me what the heck I was doing.' This [debt] thing is really nuts.

Q: Why is this important?

A: It used to be that college kids became financially independent at 24. Now the age is 30. So if you want your kids with you until 40, don't address this issue.

Q: Besides college interns, you employ a lot of young people. What do you think of all the buzz about millennial workers being spoiled and entitled?

A: It's junk.

Q: Do you have a good job interview question?

A: SAT scores. Not because I care. Everybody remembers their SAT scores. Some people will tell me, 'I don't remember what I got.' That just tells me they aren't comfortable with who they are."

Q: How did you do?

A: 950 [out of 1,600].

Q: Through brokers, you sell 113 different kinds of insurance - general liability, property, nonprofit, professional, and liquor liability - to a variety of small businesses. You must know a lot about what scares business owners.

A: We want to understand: What is the nightmare?

Q: For example?

A: Liquor liability - we insure bars, restaurants, fraternities. Every state is different. It's a tough class of business. We have been in it a long time and we have paid a hefty tuition to understand it.

Q: How so?

A: In our world, you have 1,250,000 attorneys. Most of them are overly educated and underutilized, so we are a great bank account for them.


MORE ONLINE

Thomas Nerney on managing millennial employees.

www.inquirer.com/jobbing


THOMAS NERNEY

Title: Chairman, chief executive, president, U.S. Liability Insurance Group.

Hometown: Center City.

Family: Ryan, 30; Christine, 30; Brendan, 22; Jackson, 5.

Diplomas: Cabrini College, philosophy; St. Joseph's University, master's in business administration.

What else: Chairman, Cabrini College board of trustees.

Claim to fame: Coached nine seasons of girls' AAU basketball. 25 players received full Division 1 scholarships.

New skill: Horseback riding.


Interview questions and answers have been edited for space.

jvonbergen@phillynews.com

215-854-2769

@JaneVonBergen

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