Empowering Small Businesses: Educational Assistance Programs

By Charles Knuth · March 15, 2024 · 6 minute read

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Empowering Small Businesses: Educational Assistance Programs

In today’s competitive business landscape, small businesses face the challenge of attracting and retaining top talent. At the same time, educational assistance programs have emerged as a powerful tool for empowering employees and fostering a culture of continuous learning. By offering tuition reimbursement, student loan repayment assistance, and/or free online courses, small businesses can unlock the potential of their workforce and gain a competitive edge.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the various educational assistance programs available to small businesses and highlight the benefits they offer. We’ll also examine the tax incentives provided by the SECURE 2.0 Act and Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code, which make these programs even more cost-effective for employers.

Offering Tuition Reimbursement

In today’s knowledge-driven economy, continuous learning and skill development are essential for both individuals and organizations. Recognizing this need, small businesses increasingly offer tuition
programs as a strategic investment in their employees’ growth and the company’s success. By providing financial assistance for employees to pursue higher education, these programs empower individuals to enhance their knowledge, skills, and qualifications.

The benefits of tuition reimbursement for small businesses are multifaceted. Firstly, it serves as a powerful tool for attracting and retaining top talent. In a competitive job market, where skilled professionals have multiple options, tuition reimbursement stands out as a highly desirable benefit. It demonstrates the company’s commitment to employee development and creates a positive employer brand, making recruiting and retaining valuable employees easier.

Secondly, tuition reimbursement contributes to developing a more skilled and knowledgeable workforce. By supporting employees’ educational pursuits, businesses can enhance their employees’ expertise in their current roles and prepare them for future opportunities within the organization. This leads to increased productivity, improved problem-solving abilities, and a more innovative work environment. Employees who feel invested in and supported by their employers are more likely to be engaged and motivated, driving the company’s overall success.

Furthermore, tuition reimbursement fosters a culture of continuous learning and personal growth within the organization. When employees see that their employer values education and professional development, they are inspired to take ownership of their careers and seek new challenges. This positive cycle of learning and growth benefits not only the individual employees but also the entire organization, as it enhances the collective knowledge and capabilities of the workforce.

Recommended: Companies That Help Employees Pay for College

Student Loan Repayment Programs

Another excellent way for small businesses to support their employees is to help them pay off their student debt. These programs can help attract and retain top talent, as well as improve employee morale and productivity. According to a recent survey by SoFi, 75% of employees said they would be more likely to stay with a company that offered financial benefits like student loan repayment assistance.

There are several ways to structure a student loan repayment program. One option is to offer a fixed amount of money each month towards an employee’s student loans. Another option is to match an employee’s contributions up to a certain amount. Employers can also offer student loan repayment assistance as a taxable or non-taxable benefit.

Suppose an employer chooses to offer student loan repayment assistance as a taxable benefit. In that case, the employee must include the amount of assistance they receive in their taxable income at the end of each year. However, the employer can deduct the amount of assistance they provide as a business expense.

Suppose an employer chooses to offer student loan repayment assistance as a non-taxable benefit. In that case, the employee will not need to include the amount of assistance they receive in their taxable income. However, the employer will not be able to deduct the amount of assistance they provide as a business expense.

The Secure 2.0 Act and Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code create tax-favorable ways for employers to provide direct and indirect educational assistance to their employees. These incentives make it more affordable for small businesses to offer these programs and help their employees pay off their student debt.

Recommended: How Student Loan Benefits Can Help Retain Employees

Free Online Courses: A Cost-Effective Option

Online courses can be another cost-effective way for small businesses to provide educational assistance to their employees. A number of reputable online learning platforms offer a variety of courses, many of which are available for free. These courses can help employees develop new skills, learn new software, and stay current on industry trends.

Some popular free online course platforms include Coursera, edX, and Udemy. These platforms offer courses from top universities and companies worldwide, and they cover a wide range of topics, including business, computer science, data science, and more.

In addition to these platforms, there are also many other websites and resources that offer free online courses. A quick Google search can help you find courses on almost any topic imaginable.

Free online courses can be a great way for small businesses to help their employees learn new skills and develop their careers. They are a cost-effective option that can be easily accessed by employees from anywhere in the world.

Recommended: The Future of Financial Well-Being at Work

Maximizing the Benefit of the Secure 2.0 Act and Sec. 127

The Secure 2.0 Act

The Secure 2.0 Act, which became law in 2022, is designed to encourage more American workers to save for retirement. One of the Act’s key provisions is that it formally authorizes matching contributions for student loan repayment, allowing companies to match employees’ qualified student loan payments with contributions to their retirement accounts. This provision is a significant incentive for small businesses to offer student loan repayment assistance, as it allows them to help their employees pay off their student debt while also saving for their retirement.

Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code

In addition to the SECURE 2.0 Act, Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code also offers tax incentives to employers who provide educational assistance to their employees.

Under Section 127, employers can deduct up to $5,250 per employee per year in educational assistance expenses, and employees do not have to pay federal income tax on educational assistance benefits received under Section 127. This provision makes it even more affordable for small businesses to offer educational assistance programs to their employees.

Small businesses may want to strongly consider implementing a formal educational assistance program to take advantage of these tax incentives. This program should outline the types of educational expenses that are eligible for reimbursement, the maximum amount of reimbursement that employees can receive, and the process for applying for reimbursement. Businesses should also make sure to keep track of all educational assistance expenses so that they can claim the tax deduction.

Recommended: Helping Employees Make Smart Student Debt Decisions: The Urgent Need for HR Support

The Takeaway

Small businesses can help their employees pursue higher education, develop new skills, and advance their careers by offering educational assistance programs and taking advantage of the tax incentives available. This can lead to a more skilled and knowledgeable workforce, improved employee morale and productivity, and reduced turnover.

SoFi at Work can help. We’re experts in the employee education assistance space. With SoFi at work, you can access platforms and information that will help build the benefits needed to create a successful and loyal workforce.

Photo credit: iStock/amenic181

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