Companies looking to attract top talent have recently been offering benefits in the form of student loan repayment assistance. The problem is, historically this benefit has not offered tax benefits for employers and caused some unexpected tax issues for employees.
The good news is, legislation that passed during the beginning of the pandemic and additional provisions in the last COVID relief package have made it equally beneficial for both employers and employees to take advantage of this benefit.
I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about student loan repayment assistance and share a few of the top companies currently offering this benefit.
Student loan repayment assistance is a benefit that a handful of larger companies began offering employees in order to attract top talent and retain high performing employees. When a company creates a student loan repayment program, it allows them to pay a portion towards an employee’s student loan debt.
While traditionally student loan repayment programs offer a small monthly contribution towards debt, this repayment strategy can help employees pay down their student loan debts more quickly. Although this option might not be particularly effective for an employee with a six-figure student loan debt, it can help many significantly reduce their debt.
The average amount of student loan debt for 2021 is $32,731. With employers contributing $50 to $200 per month, in addition to borrowers’ repayments, student loan repayment assistance becomes a more viable option to pay down this debt even faster.
Additionally, employer funded student loan assistance programs can be used to pay down both private and federal student loan debts. This includes direct loans and Perkins loans. These programs can also be used to repay debt for secondary school loans, graduate education loans, and law school loans.
If you’re applying to a job that offers student loan repayment assistance, the good news is, there’s very little you’ll need to do. Your employer will either set up payments directly with your student loan lender or work with a student loan repayment assistance program partner, like Goodly, to begin repayment. Typically the only requirement is that you are using some of your employment funds to pay for your student loan repayment regularly.
On top of this, your employer’s contribution will be applied directly to the principal of the loan, which can also help you save money over time in interest charges.
Downsides to student loan repayment assistance
Traditionally, there are two major downsides to student loan repayment assistance. The first is that few companies have historically offered this incentive, since there have not been any tax advantages to providing this additional expense. Those that could afford it without tax breaks are typically larger corporations.
In addition, if your student loan balance is paid down by an employer, this amount was added to your taxable income for the year. In other words, you were traditionally responsible for paying income tax on the total yearly contributions for that year. So, if a company paid $3,000 annually for your student loan debt, you’d have to pay your income bracket rate on this amount. If you pay 20% for income tax, for instance, you would owe $600 during tax season.
The good news is, new legislation has incentivized this employee benefit for more employers and has made enrolling in this repayment program more affordable for employees.
How the CARES ACT impacted student loan repayment assistance
At the start of the pandemic, new legislation was put into place that not only placed federal loans into a period of deferment (and froze interest rates at 0%), but also altered how employers handled student loan repayment assistance. When the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Securities (CARES) Act was passed in March, it included a provision impacting educational loans.
Section 2206 of the CARES Act added a temporary tax-free provision for any employer-sponsored student loan repayment programs. This meant two things: employers would be eligible for payroll tax exclusions for these contributions and employees were no longer responsible for paying income taxes on employer contributions.
This new legislation only applied to $5,250 in aid per year. If an employer contributed more than that within 2020, the difference would not be eligible for these tax benefits. Still, this offered more companies the flexibility and means to be able to attract new employees and offer benefits that might tremendously impact their staff.
Many companies began focusing on improving their employees’ overall wellbeing during the pandemic and adding student loan repayment benefits became more popular. Prior to this legislation, only 8% of companies offered some form of student loan repayment assistance, while another one third of companies were expected to create similar programs if tax benefits were added.
Although numbers are not yet in for 2020 data, more companies began releasing student loan repayment programs to employees last year. The Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) passed earlier this year also extended this benefit through 2025.
How the American Rescue Plan impacts student loan repayment programs
While the CARES Act helped incentivize a portion of student loan repayments, the American Rescue Plan that was signed into office by President Biden on March 11th takes this incentive a step further.
There’s a provision within the American Rescue Plan that eliminates taxes on all student loan repayments through 2025. This was initially heralded as a means to have legislation passed on student loan forgiveness — and while that’s still an option, it might also mean student loan repayment programs can provide more than $5,250 per year in loan contributions. It’s not yet clear if this tax benefit extends to employers beyond the approved $5,250, but it’s a topic that will certainly be explored and better defined in the weeks to come.
Now that you understand how student loan repayment assistance programs work, you might be wondering what companies currently offer repayment programs. Here are a few major, national companies that currently provide student loan payment assistance for its employees:
$100 monthly; $6,000 cap
Penguin Random House
$1,200 annually; $9,000 cap
New York Life
$2,040 annually; $10,000 cap
Natixis Global Asset Management
$1,000 annually: $10,000 cap
$1,200 annually; $10,000 cap
$100 monthly; $3,600 cap
$100 monthly; no cap
$100 monthly; $10,000 cap
$2,400 annually; no cap
$1,200 annually; $1,000 bonus after 5 years
$6,000 annually, $30,000 cap
%, based on debt
During the pandemic, Google launched an update to its student loan repayment assistance program designed to further benefit its employees. This program now offers up to $2,500 in student loan repayment assistance annually.
This large healthcare insurance company boasts many student loan benefits. Aetna currently offers student loan repayment assistance options (amounts vary), for employees who meet certain criteria. In addition to student loan repayment assistance, Aetna also offers tuition assistance, paying as much as $5,000 per year for degree programs and $2,500 for certificates and other professional courses.
Currently, LiveNation offers student loan repayment assistance with a lifetime cap at $6,000. This repayment assistance is standard among all employees and set at $100 monthly contributions. The program was initially launched in 2017 and the company has claimed to help pay down over $4 million in student loan assistance.
4. Fidelity Investments
Fidelity Investments is another top company offering both student loan repayment assistance and tuition aid. This financial firm offers a total lifetime contribution of $10,000 for student loan repayment and has noted that its saved its employees over $38 million thanks to its student loan assistance program.
5. Penguin Random House
This notable publisher has been offering its staff student loan repayment assistance since 2017. The publisher will provide up to $1,200 in assistance each year, maxing out at 7 ½ years. This means employees can receive up to $9,000 in student loan repayment assistance through this employer.
6. New York Life
New York Life also launched a student loan repayment program in 2017 that offers employees up to $10,200 in student loan repayment assistance over the course of five years. This means employees can receive approximately $2,040 in assistance each year. Some eligibility requirements must be met to enroll in this program.
7. Natixis Global Asset Management
Asset management firm Natixis Global provides its employees with up to $83.33 per month ($1,000 annually) in student loan repayment assistance. This benefit maxes out at $10,000 or 10 years.
This larger corporation began offering student loan repayment assistance recently to its employees. Right now, employees are eligible to receive up to $1,200 per year in assistance ($100 per month) for a total amount of $10,000. This benefit would max out after eight years and four months.
Top performers who work at this office supply distributor can receive up to $100 per month in student loan repayment assistance. This program is a bit more unique, because full-time employees are eligible to opt in if they’re currently working towards a degree or already have one. This benefit is paid for a maximum of three years, offering a total of $3,600 in assistance.
Peleton also offers its employees student loan assistance with a major benefit — no lifetime cap for U.S. based full-time employees. As long as your job status remains the same, you’re eligible for $100 per month contributions with no maximums.
Chegg, an education services company, is extremely focused on providing its employees with education incentives. It currently offers up to $5,000 in student loan repayment assistance annually for entry-level to manager-level workers. Director and vice president-level employees are eligible for $3,000 annually. Chegg also offers up to $5,250 in non-taxed assistance for employees obtaining a degree.
12. Estee Lauder
This global beauty brand launched a student loan repayment program in 2018. Estee Lauder offers its employees up to $100 per month in student loan repayment contributions, maxing out at $10,000 in repayment funds. For employees currently pursuing a higher education degree, this company also provides tuition reimbursement options.
Just this past year, the streaming giant, Hulu, announced that it would start offering its employees $1,200 per year in student loan repayment assistance. There’s no information available yet on when or if this benefit will max out.
After launching a survey and learning that 90% of respondents would be more inclined to accept a position if student loan assistance were offered, SoFi launched its own repayment program for employees in 2016. SoFi offers $200 per month ($2,400 per year) in student loan repayment assistance with no lifetime cap.
15. Connelly Partners
Connelly Partners is a large advertising agency that began offering $100 per month in student loan contributions ($1,200 annually) in 2016. New employees can also receive a $1,000 signup bonus in student loan repayment assistance and once employees reach their five-year milestone at the company, an additional $1,000 will be provided in repayment aid.
This digital technology company has one of the best student loan repayment assistance programs available. Nvidia offers part-time and full-time employees who have worked at the company for at least three months up to $500 per month ($6,000 per year) in student loan repayment assistance. This assistance maxes out at $30,000.
There are some caveats here. Nvidia will pay $500 or your lender’s required monthly payment, whichever is less. You also must have graduated within three years to be eligible for this benefit.
Nvidia also offers tuition reimbursement and a special student loan financing option through a partnership with SoFi.
As a student loan refinancing company, it’s great to see that CommonBond offers its employees student loan repayment assistance. Launched in 2015, CommonBond’s student loan employee assistance program offers up to $100 per month ($1,200 per year) for all employees. The program only maxes out once your student loans have been paid off.
18. First Republic
First Republic is a private bank and wealth management firm that launched a student loan repayment program for employees in 2016. Through this program, employees are eligible for up to $100 per month in financial aid, with amounts increasing each year until reaching $200 per month. Payments only end once an employee’s student loan balance has been paid in full.
This software company also provides options for student loan repayment assistance and tuition reimbursement. The yearly number is lower than most — $500 per year — and the company does not seem to impose a maximum. Still, this is much better than companies that do not provide any student debt assistance for employees.
AlloSource is a medical research company that offers a percentage of an employee’s student debt amount each month in student loan repayment assistance. This percentage varies based on your total debt and other qualifications.
Regional, state, and local companies
Of course, the above is just a small sampling of larger companies providing student loan repayment assistance. There are many other additional smaller companies providing student debt benefits and many more are expected to begin offering this benefit now that there is a temporary tax benefit available for both employers and employees. Keep in mind that exclusion criteria such as job retention and other factors will vary across employers.
Talk to your human resources department to find out if your employer is considering offering a student loan repayment assistance program.
Does the state or federal government offer employees student loan repayment assistance?
Qualifying public service officials, government employees, and K-12 teachers are eligible for education loan cancellation through the public service loan forgiveness program or the teacher loan forgiveness program. To qualify, individuals must remain in a qualifying position in full-time capacity for 10 years (120 student loan payments) and pay on-time and in-full each month. After meeting the terms of this agreement, individuals’ remaining qualifying loans are to be forgiven.
What’s the difference between student debt forgiveness and assistance programs?
Employer sponsored student loan repayment plans are different from student loan forgiveness programs, which were hot button issue during the 2020 election. While student loan repayment programs offer individuals additional money to pay off student loans faster, forgiveness programs eliminate a qualifying amount of student debt entirely.
Will student loans be forgiven in 2021?
Many progressive and Democrat legislators have been pushing for student loan forgiveness (up to a certain amount) in recent years. While it’s unclear if any form of student loan forgiveness will be reviewed or approved by Congress, the American Rescue Plan eliminated the income tax requirement on forgiven student loan debt until 2025. This left room for legislators to try to push through measure on student loan forgiveness, if desired.
How long can you be on employer repayment assistance for student loans?
Each employer offering student loan repayment assistance is in charge of their own program. While some employers cap assistance at a certain monthly payment and lifetime amount, others provide assistance until student loan debt has been repaid in full.
Does student loan repayment assistance impact your credit score?
The contributions your employer contributes to your student loan debt can impact your credit score by decreasing the amount of debt you hold. Some student loan repayment programs require you to also make monthly payments, which will also show creditors a history of on-time payments, which can positively impact your credit report.
Are employer student loan repayment plans different than federal repayment plans
Yes. Employer repayment assistance helps you pay for your student loans, while federal repayment plans help low-income earners better afford their loans by reducing payments to a percentage of their take-home pay.
The bottom line
Student loan repayment assistance is a benefit more and more employers are looking to provide to attract long-term, high performing employees. If you’re looking for a new job, considering companies that provide this type of assistance may be beneficial if you’re struggling to pay down your student loan debt.
While assistance programs vary across workplaces, with new tax incentives available, it’s likely that more companies will begin offering these benefits and existing employers may increase the amount being offered in assistance.
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