Many organizations are gearing up to help their employees prepare for student loan repayment. On October 1, 2023, some 40 million borrowers will be facing the return of monthly student loan bills after a three-year pause. Knowing the importance of helping employees have a smooth transition back into repayment and maintain good financial posture, many employers want to make sure their workforces are ready.
Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, payments for federal student loans owned by the Department of Education were suspended and interest rates for those loans were set to 0%. Although the pause was originally set to expire in September, 2021, the Biden administration extended the deadline multiple times. With the recent signing of the debt ceiling bill, however, the President no longer has the legal authority to extend the student loan pause.
With broad one-time forgiveness blocked by the Supreme Court, many of your employees will soon be facing a significant financial challenge — resuming college loan payments after a three year hiatus or, for more recent graduates, starting them for the first time.
Fortunately, a provision that was also introduced in the CARES Act (and that has also been extended via more recent legislation) sets employers up to ease this transition by letting them contribute $5,250 annually per employee on a tax-exempt basis toward tuition reimbursement or student loan payments through 2025. To maximize the value of this benefit, employees also benefit from zero tax liability on contributions made by their employer toward educational assistance programs (up to $5,250) under Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code.
About 8% of large companies offered student loan repayment benefits before the pandemic. During the pandemic, however, interest in this type of benefit generally ebbed, due to the repayment pause and a shift towards programs offering more immediate help, like emergency savings and hardship payments.
Now, tax changes combined with the upcoming return to repayment has resulted in renewed interest in student debt benefits. More generally, helping with student debt is a vital part of the trend toward offering financial wellness programs that reach beyond retirement savings to build financial security in all areas of an employee’s life.
Here’s a closer look at how a handful of large employers are situated to help their employees face the restart of student loan payments.
The healthcare company Abbott has paved the way for a creative, effective way to help employees who are saddled with college debt continue their retirement savings. Like many companies, Abbott noticed that employees struggling to pay back loans can’t afford to contribute to 401(k) and other retirement savings. So, Abbott started its Freedom 2 Save program, which allows employees with student loans to divert the 2% minimum contribution they would need to contribute to their 401(k)s to receive Abbott’s 5% match to paying off student loans.
This benefit led to the so-called Abbott rule. The IRS issued the company a private letter ruling allowing the unorthodox 401(k) match, which led other companies to adopt or consider the practice. Many other employers may rush to adopt this benefit, however, thanks to the SECURE 2.0 Act (passed in 2022). The Act permits employers to make matching contributions to retirement plans based on employees’ student loan payments and simplifies the process.
The health insurance giant began supporting employees with student debt back in 2016, making it an early adopter. Aetna matches student loan payments up to $2,000 with a lifetime maximum of $10,000. Aetna differs from many other employers offering this benefit in that the company includes part-time employees in the program, providing them with half the amount of payment relief that it gives to full-time employees.
The tech heavyweight joined the student loan repayment benefit bandwagon in the wake of the pandemic. Starting in 2021, the company began matching up to $2,500 a year per full-time employee, adding to the company’s existing tuition reimbursement program. To be eligible, you must be a full-time Google employee. To get the full $2,500, your annual student loan payments total at least $2,500.
New York Life
Another company with one of the more established student loan payment benefits, New York Life pays up to $10,200 over five years for an eligible employee’s college debt. Importantly, the program also strongly encourages employees to use the student loan advice and online planning tools the company offers, including financial planning counseling, its student loan calculator, and information on how to qualify for a mortgage while carrying student debt and other education efforts.
Visual computing company NVIDIA may be one of the most generous employers offering student loan payment assistance, although only recent grads are eligible. Full- and part-time employees who have graduated within the past three years can receive up to $350 a month for a maximum total of $4,200 each year, with a lifetime maximum of $30,000. The company’s contributions are made directly to the employee’s loan servicer. NVIDIA also offers a robust suite of student loan coaching and tools at no cost to employees.
Accounting and professional services firm PwC is also one of the first companies to offer student loan repayment. If you’re an associate or senior associate with the company, PwC will pay up to $1,200 per year towards your student loans. According to the company, their student loan paydown benefit can reduce student loan principal and interest obligations by as much as $10,000, and shorten loan payoff by up to three years.
Looking for ways to help your employees navigate the student loan landscape? SoFi at Work’s student loan education, refinancing, and repayment benefit platforms can offer the tools you need to support your employees and promote their overall financial wellness.
Photo credit: iStock/Ivan-balvan
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