Do you know that as an employer, you can provide tax-free educational assistance to your employees? It's true! The Internal Revenue Code (IRC) has a provision that allows employers to offer educational assistance programs that are tax-free up to a certain limit.
Outline of IRC Section 127
Section 127 defines educational assistance as the payment of expenses incurred by the employee for education, including tuition, fees, books, supplies, and equipment, and the provision of courses of instruction. This is a very broad definition!
Section 127 outlines the criteria for employers to provide educational assistance programs to their employees. According to this section, employers can exclude from their employees' gross income up to $5,250 annually that is paid by the employer for educational assistance if the assistance is provided under a written educational assistance program that meets certain requirements.
One of the requirements is that the program must be for the exclusive benefit of employees and not discriminatory in favor of highly-compensated employees or their dependents. The program must not offer a choice between educational assistance and other remuneration that is includable in gross income. Eligible employees must be notified of the availability and terms of the program.
Under Section 127, employers can provide educational assistance to their employees as a tax-free benefit. This means that the employer does not have to pay payroll taxes, such as Social Security and Medicare taxes, on the amount of educational assistance provided. In addition, the employer does not have to withhold federal income tax or state income tax on the amount of educational assistance provided, as long as the assistance meets the requirements of the tax code.
Furthermore, providing educational assistance can also be tax-deductible for the employer as a business expense. The expenses incurred by the employer in providing educational assistance to employees, up to the annual limit of $5,250 per employee, can be deducted from the employer's taxable income. This can result in a reduction of the employer's tax liability, which can be beneficial for the business.
Empower Your Employees with Educational Assistance Programs
Employers have many strategic reasons to offer educational assistance programs, such as recruiting and retaining high-quality employees, enhancing workforce skills, and boosting employee engagement.
Moreover, educational assistance programs can help address skill gaps in the workforce, leading to increased productivity and higher-quality work. By providing opportunities for ongoing education and training, employers can invest in the long-term success of their employees and their organization as a whole.
In addition to the benefits for employees and the organization, educational assistance programs can also improve branding efforts, showing potential candidates and customers that the organization values education and employee development. Some companies, such as Intel and Booz Allen Hamilton, even use educational assistance programs as part of their branding efforts.
It's important for employers to follow the rules outlined in Section 127 to ensure that their educational assistance programs qualify for tax-free treatment. By doing so, employers can provide a valuable benefit to their employees while also receiving tax benefits. So, if you're an employer, consider offering educational assistance programs to your employees and help them achieve their educational goals.
Solve Talent Gaps and High Turnover with Educational Programs
Creating an educational assistance benefit program is a critical task for HR, as it can serve as a powerful tool to achieve an organization's human resource objectives and address its problems. The HR team should design educational programs that align with their organization's strategic goals and objectives, as employees who complete these programs should expect career development opportunities and enhanced marketability.
There are two significant human resource problems that many companies face today, particularly in sectors such as Retail, E-commerce, Healthcare, and Manufacturing. Firstly, high frontline employee turnover rates, which can average around 90 days, are a considerable challenge. One of the key reasons for this is the lack of employee loyalty due to marginal salary increments, which can be as low as $0.25 per hour. Secondly, companies in these sectors require entry-level tech employees to fill positions within their IT department, product team, or data analytics team. The cost of hiring these resources externally can be a significant burden on the company's finances, leading to talent crises and skills shortages.
To solve both these problems simultaneously, HR should design an educational program that creates an internal pathway for frontline workers to learn skills and technologies that are required to fill these talent gaps. This will give employees an incentive to stay with the organization, as they can develop their careers and upward mobility within the company. Additionally, these trained employees can be deployed to relevant tech and product jobs to fill the talent crisis gap, saving the company millions of dollars.
However, HR must present a strong business case to senior leaders who may not be aware of the cost-effectiveness of such programs. If leaders support the idea, HR should design a benefits package that suits the organization best. External support may also be necessary to structure or conduct the program effectively, and this can include taking help from third-party organizations or experts. The program should be tailored to meet the organization's unique needs, and it should not look like any other corporate training program.
According to Sean Segal, CEO of Escalate, a Techstars backed company which enables its clients to conduct education assistance programs,
“ The education program should include asynchronous learning so that frontline workers can learn as per their availability. Still, it should be cohort-based and with live-instructional support to avoid becoming an isolated journey. Furthermore, the organization must ensure that the program delivers the expected competitive advantages in terms of recruiting, development, retention, engagement, and other relevant factors, and the program's management should be facilitated by appropriate technology and metrics.”
In summary, educational assistance programs are a win-win for both employers and employees, providing valuable benefits and opportunities for career development to employees. As an employer, you can offer tax-free educational assistance to your employees under Section 127 and at the same time you can enhance workforce skills, boost employee engagement, and address skill gaps in the workforce, among other benefits.
If you want to learn how Escalate is helping organizations to design and conduct effective educational assistance programs and get benefits of Section 127, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit our website www.escalateusa.com for more information.