If you’re working and want to continue school but aren’t sure how to fund it, your employer may offer assistance.
It’s called tuition reimbursement, and it’s how many companies help employees pay for continuing their education. Tuition reimbursement programs are growing in popularity as companies work to attract and retain employees.
What is tuition reimbursement? It’s when companies such as Starbucks, Amazon, Target, and more offer programs to help employees pay for a portion of their educational costs. These programs vary by company. Some may only cover course costs if the path of education is related to your job. Others may require employees to remain with the company for a certain period of time after completing their degree.
If you’re wondering, how does tuition reimbursement work?, read on to learn the tuition reimbursement meaning and to find out the requirements involved.
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What Is Tuition Reimbursement?
Tuition reimbursement, or tuition assistance, is an arrangement where an employer pays for part or all of an employee’s continuing education whether undergraduate degrees or graduate school.
How does tuition reimbursement work? Your employment contract may lay out the terms of the tuition reimbursement: how much of your tuition your company will cover, what courses qualify, any minimum GPA requirements, and the minimum time period of employment.
Tuition reimbursement is often offered as an employee benefit on top of a salary package, along with other benefits like health insurance, a 401(k), or transportation expenses.
This is different from student loan repayment assistance, when your company provides some amount of money toward student loans you already have.
Not every company offers tuition reimbursement, but many large ones do provide reimbursement or financial support for continuing education. Some companies may stipulate that courses must relate to your current work.
Why Companies Offer Tuition Reimbursement
Tuition reimbursement is a perk that helps a company attract and retain employees, while also benefiting the company itself, since the courses you take may provide skills or knowledge you can put into practice at work.
Some companies are upping their educational benefits as a way to stay competitive. They may offer a range of benefits to their employees like refinancing student loans and student loan contributions.
Not sure if your employer offers tuition reimbursement? Check with your HR representative to see what options are available.
Tuition Reimbursement Requirements
The specifics of each company’s tuition reimbursement policy are likely laid out in an employment contract, but it’s common for a company to offer a tuition reimbursement only in accordance with certain eligibility requirements.
You’ll probably have to sign up and pay for the courses yourself first, so you’ll want to budget appropriately. In most cases you’ll need to pay for your courses out of pocket and then provide proof of completion and your grades in order to be reimbursed.
Your employer may limit its reimbursement program to certain institutions. For example, they may provide a list of accredited institutions you can choose from. Or they require that you attend a four-year program.
Your company may reimburse you only for classes pertaining to your current job description.
Other times, companies will approve courses focused on moving you into a management role or on gaining skills you can put toward other future roles or assignments. For example, if you work in project management for a large corporation and are interested in learning how to use data visualization, you might be able to take community college courses in data production and visual graphics.
After understanding what courses qualify for tuition reimbursement, you could then look over the other requirements. For example, there may be minimum GPA or attendance requirements.
Sometimes a company will also require you to continue working with them for a set amount of time, since they’ve invested in your education and don’t want you to take those new skills to a competitor.
Tuition Reimbursement And the FAFSA®
An employer’s tuition reimbursement program doesn’t preclude you from filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). In most scenarios, an employer is unlikely to cover 100% of tuition costs, and you may still qualify for aid in the form of federal loans and grants.
That said, you will be asked to note how much you are reimbursed for, which may have an effect on how much financial aid you’re offered.
Is Tuition Reimbursement Taxable?
While you should always consult with a licensed tax professional regarding the current tax law, and in no way should any of this information be considered tax advice, the IRS’ website currently states that employers can deduct the cost of tuition reimbursement (up to $5,250 annually). It’s a business expense for them. The IRS website also states that the first $5,250 of tuition reimbursement isn’t considered taxable income for employees. However, anything above that counts as part of your taxable wages and salary. Again, talking to a tax professional is always recommended.
The IRS does have some requirements on tax-free educational assistance benefits — which are not necessarily the same requirements your employer has.
Typically, for the IRS to consider tuition assistance as tax-free, it should be used to pay for tuition, fees, textbooks, supplies, or equipment.
And typically, it can’t be used for meals, lodging, transportation, or any equipment you keep after the course. It’s also not applicable to sports, games, or hobbies — unless they’re a degree requirement or you can prove they’re related to your employer’s business.
Again, consult with an accountant or tax attorney to get the complete picture.
What Are Other Options to Lower Education Costs?
The average cost of attending a four-year public college as an in-state student during the 2022-23 school year was $10,950, and that price tag only goes up for private schools and out-of-state students.
Federal Student Aid
For those who do not qualify for employer offered tuition reimbursement, there are other options that could be worth considering. As mentioned above, students can fill out FAFSA® annually. This allows them to apply for all types of federal student aid, including scholarships and grants, work-study, and federal student loans.
Private Student Loans
Beyond that, some may consider private student loans.
While one of the basics of student loans is that they offer students the opportunity to finance their education, private student loans don’t always have the same borrower protections, like income-driven repayment plans, that are afforded to federal student loans. For this reason, they are most often considered only after all other options.
Recommended: Private Student Loans Guide
Refinancing Existing Student Loans
If you already have student loans, when it comes time to repay you could consider refinancing to a lower interest rate. One of the advantages of refinancing student loans is that it could help you reduce the amount of money paid in interest over the total life of the loan; refinancing at a lower monthly payment could help with budgeting in the short term. However, lowering monthly payments is frequently the result of extending the loan term, which will result in increased cost over the life of the loan.
It’s important to know that there are various federal student loan repayment options and borrower protections (such as deferment or forbearance options). Refinancing federal loans eliminates them from these programs.
Employers who offer tuition reimbursement programs will cover a portion of tuition costs if the employee meets specific program eligibility requirements. These requirements vary by company, but may include things like maintaining a minimum GPA, doing certain coursework, and stipulations around the length of employment.
Refinancing is another method that might help you lower your education costs. If you’re looking to refinance your student loans now, prequalifying online with SoFi takes just two minutes. SoFi offers student loan refinancing with low fixed and variable rates, flexible terms, and no fees.
Learn more about refinancing your student loans with SoFi.
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Student Loan Refinancing
If you are a federal student loan borrower you should take time now to prepare for your payments to restart, including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. (You may pay more interest over the life of the loan if you refinance with an extended term.) Please note that once you refinance federal student loans, you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans, such as the SAVE Plan, or extended repayment plans.
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