25 Jan How the latest stimulus bill impacts student loan benefits
With passage of the COVID-19 stimulus bill in December, Congress granted a five-year extension to a temporary provision of the CARES Act that allows employers to contribute up to $5,250 annually toward each employee’s student debt on a tax-free basis.
This tax exemption was set to expire on December 31, 2020. Congress has now extended that deadline through December 31, 2025. The legislation allows employers to help pay down their employees’ student loan debt without employer contributions being taxed, similar to a 401(k) match.
By utilizing this benefit, both employers and employees avoid federal payroll and income taxes on employer payments to principal or interest on a qualified education loan, which is defined as a student loan in the name of the employee and used for their education. Federal, private and refinanced student loans are all eligible for pre-tax employer contributions. This tax exemption, however, does not apply to education loans for an employee’s spouse, children, or other dependents.
Addressing student debt at work has been a burgeoning trend in employee benefits in recent years. Even prior to this tax exemption, the number of employers offering student loan repayment benefits doubled from 4% to 8% of U.S. employers between 2018 and 2019. Providing student loan assistance has rapidly gained traction as an employee benefit because it’s often a win-win for employers and employees.
Some 47 million Americans collectively owe $1.7 trillion in student debt and that figure is not slowing down. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that over $1 trillion dollars in new student loan debt will be added by 2028. With 70% of college students graduating and beginning their careers with an average of $40,000 in debt that will take 22 years to pay off, employers have begun to recognize the social cost and impact such an astronomical level of debt has on recruiting, retention, and employee productivity.
By the age of 30, employees with student debt hold less than half the retirement savings of their peers without student loans. Student loan borrowers have delayed homeownership, getting married and having children because of their debt. Stress over how to repay student loans causes 65% of borrowers to report losing sleep at night and 1 out of 8 divorces are attributable to student debt.
When one takes that into consideration, it should not be surprising that many job seekers are drawn to employers that offer to help pay down their student loans. When young adult job seekers were asked “What percentage of your benefit compensation money would you allocate for student loan debt repayment versus an alternative benefit?” In all cases, respondents chose more money going toward student loan repayment, ahead of all other benefits, including 401(k) match, health insurance, and paid time off.
At Goodly, we work with employers to help them offer student loan repayment as an employee benefit. Across the hundreds of clients we work with, employers typically contribute between $50 to $200 per month, with the median employer contribution being $100 per month toward the employee’s student debt.
Many Goodly clients fund student loan benefits by simply redirecting existing benefits budgets, often from tuition assistance programs. This is a fairly straightforward proposition when one considers that roughly half of employers already offer tuition assistance benefits that allow employees to go back to school. Yet, these programs often see abysmal utilization with less than 10% of eligible workers taking advantage of a tuition benefit on an annual basis.
The most common approach to employer-sponsored student loan repayment is to have employees continue making their regular student loan payments. Employer payments are then made on top of that to the principal of the student loan, similar to a 401(k) match. By taking this approach, we’ve found that the average student loan borrower on Goodly can pay off their student loans 25% to 30% faster than they otherwise would with the help of their employer.
SOURCE: Poulin, G. (20 January 2021) “How the latest stimulus bill impacts student loan benefits” (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-the-latest-stimulus-bill-impacts-student-loan-benefits