The Dark Side of Employer Student Loan Repayment Programs

 November 24, 2020
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More and more companies are offering employer student loan repayment programs to help employees pay off their student loans. This benefit gives employers leverage to attract and retain talented workers, and it helps new hires build their careers while paying off student debt.

But there’s one drawback to employer-sponsored student loan benefits: Under tax laws, employer student loan repayment is usually taxable. (Although borrowers received a tax break in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.)

That said, paying taxes on this benefit doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. For more on the benefits and tax consequences of an employer paying your student loans, let’s look at the following subjects:

Job-sponsored student loan payments: how they work

In 2019, 8% of companies offered employer student loan repayment assistance, twice as many as the year prior, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. Companies that offer this benefit generally allocate a certain amount of money from their budgets for employees with student loans.

Here are some examples of high-profile companies that offer student loan repayment benefits:

  • Fidelity Investments offers a $2,000 reimbursement package distributed over five years to employees who pass the six-month mark at the firm. Employees can receive up to $10,000 per borrower toward student loan repayments.
  • Education technology company Chegg disburses up to $5,000 a year to entry-level and manager-level employees in the U.S. for student loan repayment, while more senior employees can receive up to $3,000 annually. As a separate benefit, employees can receive up to $1,000 per year in cash for debt repayment.
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers’ student loan pay-down plan gives employees the chance to receive $1,200 a year toward student loan debt, up to $10,000. The company says the benefit helps shave up to three years off student loan repayment.
  • Global asset management company Natixis offers workers $1,000 immediately to use toward student loan debt, along with $83.33 per month paid directly to the student loan servicer. The benefit maxes out at $10,000 over a 10-year period, as long as the individual is still an employee during the duration.
  • Aetna offers student loan repayment assistance to employees with eligible loans that meet company guidelines. It will start providing a $2,000 annual match for employee student loan payments, maxing out the benefit at $10,000. To be eligible, employees must work at least 20 hours per week.

Head to this guide for more companies that offer an employer student loan repayment program.

Tax consequences of an employer paying your student loans

Ordinarily, any student loan repayment assistance you receive from your employer is taxable.

There was an exception for 2020 which allowed borrowers to deduct up to $5,250 from any employer-paid student loan assistance as part of pandemic relief.

But while repayment assistance might come with taxes, you can still get a tax break on any tuition reimbursement you receive. If your employer helps you pay for classes, you can claim a tax deduction for up to $5,250 annually.

Making sure you benefit from student loan repayment

Don’t let tax fears discourage you from participating in an employer-backed student loan assistance program. If you’re concerned that you’ll end up paying more in taxes to the IRS compared with what you’d likely save in student loan payments each month, consider the following five facts:

1. Tax rates and potential savings depend on your finances
2. Some programs are already tax-free
3. Refinancing can sometimes save you even more
4. Research potential employers’ student loan repayment policies is key
5. Your retirement should also be a factor

Tax rates and potential savings depend on your finances

Minimizing the tax hit will depend on several factors, like the interest rate and terms of your student loans, your salary and the structure of your employer’s student loan assistance program. Crunch some numbers to see if you’ll come out ahead of the tax liabilities by receiving student loan benefits from your employer.

Some programs are already tax-free

Some public sector student loan repayment programs are tax-exempt, including the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and other similar loan repayment or forgiveness programs.

If you choose a position in a qualifying program or field that already offers loan repayment or forgiveness, you don’t have to factor employer contributions into your decision-making when accepting a position. With the money you’re saving on loan repayment, you may be able to direct more funds into your retirement savings account.

Refinancing can sometimes save you even more

Student loan refinancing can potentially provide borrowers with a lower interest rate, better repayment terms and higher quality service. Combine it with repayment assistance from your employer, and you could come out on top financially.

Just remember, once you refinance federal loans, you permanently lose access to federal aid programs, such as income-driven repayment plans and Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Research potential employers’ student loan repayment policies is key

When considering potential employers, recent grads are increasingly looking for loan repayment assistance as a benefit. A Student Loan Hero survey found that nearly 39% of students said it was a very important or extremely important benefit. Future employers who reimburse student loans may be ahead of the curve on the tax-savings front.

Your retirement should also be a factor

There’s a less-obvious benefit of working with an employer who will contribute to your student loans: The faster you pay off your student loans, the sooner you can really tackle your retirement contributions.

Some companies will also help you build your 401(k) while you pay off student loans. Instead of requiring that you contribute to your retirement account, these companies will provide a matching 401(k) contribution based on your student loan payments (and this match isn’t taxable). Head to this guide for more details on this unique benefit.

Next steps to consider

For now, prioritize your student loan payments and weigh the pros and cons between the benefits you’re likely to receive against the taxes you’ll need to pay. Although you don’t have to worry about any tax consequences of your employer paying your student loan in 2020 due to the CARES Act, this benefit could become taxable again when this legislation expires.

A student loan repayment assistance program can help you get a leg up on your finances while also advancing your career. Use Student Loan Hero’s resources to search for additional student loan repayment assistance programs in your state.

Rebecca Safier and Alli Romano contributed to this report.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 9 lenders of 2022!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
1.74% – 8.70%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

1.74% – 7.99%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

4.44% – 8.09%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit CommonBond

1.74% – 7.99%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

1.89% – 5.90%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Laurel Road

1.74% – 7.99%6Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit NaviRefi

2.05% – 5.25%7Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Lendkey

1.86% – 6.01%Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Elfi

N/A8Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit PenFed

Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.

Splash Financial Disclosures

Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. If approved, your actual rate will be within a range of rates and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, income and other factors. Refinancing or consolidating private and federal student loans may not be the right decision for everyone. Federal loans carry special benefits not available for loans made through Splash Financial, for example, public service loan forgiveness and economic hardship programs, fee waivers and rebates on the principal, which may not be accessible to you after you refinance. The rates displayed may include a 0.25% autopay discount

The information you provide to us is an inquiry to determine whether we or our lenders can make a loan offer that meets your needs. If we or any of our lending partners has an available loan offer for you, you will be invited to submit a loan application to the lender for its review. We do not guarantee that you will receive any loan offers or that your loan application will be approved. Offers are subject to credit approval and are available only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rates, which are available to the most qualified borrowers. Participating lenders, rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice.

To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Splash Financial conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, the lender will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. This information is current as of May 4, 2022.


2 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

Student Loan Refinance Interest Rate Disclosure Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 2.99% APR to 8.24% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 1.99% APR to 8.24% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan refinance loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. The maximum rate for your loan is 8.95% if your loan term is 10 years or less. For loan terms of more than 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95%. Please note, we are not able to offer variable rate loans in AK, IL, MN, NH, OH, TN, and TX. Let us know if you have any questions and feel free to reach out directly to our team.


3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. ‍All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Apr 22, 2021 and may increase after consummation.


4 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

Fixed rates range from 3.49% APR to 7.99% APR with a 0.25% autopay discount. Variable rates from 1.74% APR to 7.99% APR with a 0.25% autopay discount. Unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law, Variable Interest rates on 5-, 7-, and 10-year terms are capped at 8.95% APR; 15- and 20-year terms are capped at 9.95% APR. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on the term you select, evaluation of your creditworthiness, income, presence of a co-signer and a variety of other factors. Lowest rates reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. For the SoFi variable-rate product, the variable interest rate for a given month is derived by adding a margin to the 30-day average SOFR index, published two business days preceding such calendar month, rounded up to the nearest one hundredth of one percent (0.01% or 0.0001). APRs for variable-rate loans may increase after origination if the SOFR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. This benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit lowers your interest rate but does not change the amount of your monthly payment. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance. Autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi.


5 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

All credit products are subject to credit approval.

Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $4 billion in federal and private school loans. Laurel Road also offers a suite of online graduate school loan products and personal loans that help simplify lending through customized technology and personalized service. In April 2019, Laurel Road was acquired by KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association, a nationally chartered bank. Member FDIC. For more information, visit www.laurelroad.com.

As used throughout these Terms & Conditions, the term “Lender” refers to KeyBank National Association and its affiliates, agents, guaranty insurers, investors, assigns, and successors in interest.

  1. Checking your rate with Laurel Road only requires a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. To proceed with an application, a hard credit pull will be required, which may affect your credit score.
  2. Savings vary based on rate and term of your existing and refinanced loan(s). Refinancing to a longer term may lower your monthly payments, but may also increase the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Refinancing to a shorter term may increase your monthly payments, but may lower the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Review your loan documentation for total cost of your refinanced loan.
  3. After loan disbursement, if a borrower documents a qualifying economic hardship, we may agree in our discretion to allow for full or partial forbearance of payments for one or more 3-month time periods (not to exceed 12 months in the aggregate during the term of your loan), provided that we receive acceptable documentation (including updating documentation) of the nature and expected duration of the borrower’s economic hardship. During any period of forbearance interest will continue to accrue. At the end of the forbearance period, any unpaid accrued interest will be capitalized and be added to the remaining principle amount of the loan.
  4. Automatic Payment (“AutoPay”) Discount: if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically from a bank account, the interest rate will decrease by 0.25% and will increase back if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically from the borrower’s bank account. The 0.25% AutoPay discount will not reduce the monthly payment; instead, the discount is applied to the principal to help pay the loan down faster.

Assumptions: Repayment examples above assume a loan amount of $10,000 with repayment beginning immediately following disbursement. Repayment examples do not include the 0.25% AutoPay Discount.

Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): This term represents the actual cost of financing to the borrower over the life of the loan expressed as a yearly rate.

Interest Rate: A simple annual rate that is applied to an unpaid balance.

Variable Rates: The current index for variable rate loans is derived from the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) and changes in the LIBOR index may cause your monthly payment to increase. Borrowers who take out a term of 5, 7, or 10 years will have a maximum interest rate of 9%, those who take out a 15 or 20-year variable loan will have a maximum interest rate of 10%.

KEYBANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.

This information is current as of April 29, 2021. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.
 


6 Important Disclosures for Navient.

Navient Disclosures

You can choose between fixed and variable rates. Fixed interest rates are 2.99% – 8.24% APR (2.74% – 7.99% APR with Auto Pay discount). Starting variable interest rates are 1.99% APR to 8.24% APR (1.74% – 7.99% APR with Auto Pay discount). Variable rates are based on an index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) plus a margin. Variable rates are reset monthly based on the fluctuation of the index. We do not currently offer variable rate loans in AK, CO, CT, HI, IL, KY, MA, MN, MS, NH, OH, OK, SC, TN, TX, and VA.


7 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it  endorse,  any educational institution.

Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments. The lowest advertised variable APR is only available for loan terms of  5 years and is reserved for applicants with FICO scores of at least 810.

As of 5/17/2022 student loan refinancing rates range from 2.05% APR – 5.25% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.49% APR – 7.93% Fixed APR with AutoPay.


8 Important Disclosures for PenFed.

PenFed Disclosures

Fixed Rate Loan Terms: 5 years/60 monthly payments, 8 years/96 monthly payments, 12 years/144 monthly payments or 15 years/180 monthly payments. Annual Percentage Rate is the cost of credit calculating the interest rate, loan amount, repayment term and the timing of payments. Fixed rates range from 3.29% to 5.43% APR. Rates are subject to change without notice. Fixed APR: Fixed rates will not change during the term. This rate is expressed as an APR. Since there are no fees associated with this loan offer, the APR is the same percentage as the actual interest rate of the loan. These rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.