You may not know this, but you may be eligible for employer assistance to pay off your student loans. Employers who help their employees pay down student loan debt receive tax incentives and other benefits thanks to recent federal government relief measures.
Due to the passing of the CARES Act and additional legislation to extend relief, millions of Americans can now get help from their employers to pay down their student loan debt. And for individuals whose employers aren’t interested in helping, there are still other options to save money on your student loans.
Pandemic relief efforts and student loans
Student loans haven’t necessarily been at the forefront of relief efforts during the pandemic. Relief packages so far have been more focused on helping businesses and getting stimulus checks in the hands of Americans. That doesn’t mean, however, that the millions of people currently paying off student loan debt have been ignored.
Since Congress signed the CARES Act into law on March 27, 2020, federal student loan payments are paused temporarily. The government also stopped collecting on defaulted student loans and lowered interest rates to 0%. As of January 2021, these emergency relief efforts are now extended through September 30, 2021.
Employer assistance through the CARES Act
Another way that American borrowers received potential student loan relief is through employer assistance programs. Under the CARES Act, there’s a tax incentive for employers who provide assistance to employees with student loan repayment.
Through the CARES Act, employers can make tax-free payments on student loans up to $5,250 per employee each year. Even better, this benefit extends to any qualifying educational loan, including private student loans. Qualifying employer loan payments can be applied towards either your loan principal or interest. Payments can also be paid directly to the loan servicer or given to the employee to make the payment.
The provision incentivizes employer student loan repayment by exempting the benefit from payroll taxes, similar to employer-paid health insurance. Originally slated to end December 31, 2020, employer assistance benefits were recently extended by Congress through December 31, 2025.
How to get your employer to pay student loans
The relief legislation doesn’t provide an official program or blueprint for employers to provide student loan assistance. Participation isn’t required, and your employer may not even know this benefit exists. Your best option is to contact your company’s human resource department to find out if there’s an existing assistance program or if they’d be willing to provide assistance.
How student loan repayment assistance benefits your employer
As mentioned, employers receive tax benefits by paying down your loans. How does this work? Initially, this benefit applied only to employers who helped pay for educational expenses so employees could finish school. The CARES Act expanded the benefit to include student loan payments.
Employers are eligible to provide up to $5,250 annually towards student loan repayment. The employer can exclude the total amount provided from the employee’s wages. The tax break is similar to what happens with employer-paid health insurance. If employer assistance exceeds $5,250 for the year, they must report the excess value as employee wages.
While getting a tax break is nice, the real value for employers could be a better shot at attracting the best job candidates. According to an employee benefits survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, only 8% of employers offered a student loan assistance program to their employees. For college graduates finishing school with significant student loan debt, finding an employer willing to help pay off debt is a huge draw.
Also, companies now have five years to implement the program, with the possibility of it being extended permanently.
Details you need to know about employer assistance relief
Hidden in the fine print of this tax exclusion is that employers have the choice to give employees money to make student loan payments or send payments directly to the lender.
This may not matter to you, but if you are pursuing Public Service Loan Forgiveness, none of your employer’s direct payments to a loan servicer count towards the program’s requirements. Since your loan debt will eventually be completely paid off tax-free, getting employer assistance isn’t worth as much as it is to other borrowers.
Also, employers could use a student loan assistance program as part of their compensation package instead of using those funds to raise employee wages, which will continue after your loans are paid off. Reliance on a repayment assistance program also ties you to an employer for an extended time. If you leave the company before maxing out loan repayment benefits, you could end up leaving much-needed help on the table.
Examples of employer assistance programs
Student loan repayment assistance programs existed before the federal government started providing tax breaks to companies. While some employers choose to help pay education costs for employees currently enrolled in school, others have set up programs to help pay off existing student loan debt.
Not all employers structure their programs the same way. You might receive assistance in several ways. Some companies provide assistance through monthly payments. Office supply chain, Staples gives its employees $100 assistance per month for up to 36 months. Penguin Random House Publishing also offers $100 monthly assistance, but up to $9,000 for up to seven and half years.
Fidelity Investments implemented the Step Ahead Student Loan assistance program to help employees pay down debt. Employees who’ve worked at least six months at the company can receive $2,000 per year towards their student loans, up to $10,000 total.
Other employers provide assistance by offering to match your student loan payments. Insurance company Aetna matches payments for full-time employees up to $2,000 annually ($10,000 total max) and $1,000 annually ($5,000 total max) for part-time employees. If your employer makes payments as a match, try to max out matching payments since it’s free money to pay down your debt.
What can you do if your employer doesn’t participate?
While the relief efforts mentioned above benefit your employer, they aren’t required to participate. Unfortunately, if your employer isn’t on board with providing assistance, you can’t force them to help.
But, one surefire way to lower your student loan debt is by refinancing your student loans. You could qualify for a refinance loan with a lower interest rate than your current loan. Doing so could lead to considerable savings in interest payments over the life of your loan. Use MU30’s student loan refinance calculator below to estimate your potential savings.
When you refinance student loans, the lender pays off your old loan, and you receive an entirely new loan with a new interest rate and terms. You can refinance federal student loans and private loans. Refinancing federal student loans means you’ll lose access to federal loan forgiveness programs, repayment plans, and other protective benefits.
There are several student loan refinance options available, including Credible, an online marketplace that lets you check rates from multiple top lenders in one spot. Plus, checking rates doesn’t hurt your credit score. The process takes minutes and gives you an idea of where you stand and the kind of rates available, starting at 2.55% APR (with autopay)* and 2.39% Var. APR (with autopay)* for refinancing.
Fiona is another excellent place to check interest rates for student loan refinancing with several lenders at once. It’s free to use and only requires filling out a short form to receive multiple quotes from lenders that match your needs.
And if your credit history isn’t up to par with lending standards, you may still qualify for student loan refinancing through Upstart. I love the peer-to-peer lending platform because they look at other factors besides your credit when determining eligibility. There are still several requirements you’ll need to meet, but Upstart makes it easier to qualify for student loan refinancing.
Student loan debt is no doubt a financial burden. Take advantage of loan repayment assistance programs if offered by your employer. If not, loan forgiveness programs or refinancing can ease the burden if you can qualify.