In late December, US Senator Ron Wyden introduced the Retirement Parity for Student Loans Act (Student Loan Act), which would allow employers to make matching contributions under 401(k), 403(b) and SIMPLE plans with respect to student loan repayments made by employees. If enacted, this legislation would provide powerful new guidance for employers looking to offer student-loan-repayment-related benefits to their employees.

Last year, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released a groundbreaking private letter ruling (PLR) that helped to clear the way for employers to begin providing student loan repayment benefits as part of their 401(k) plans. More specifically, the PLR confirmed that, under certain circumstances, employers might be able to link the amount of employer contributions made on an employee’s behalf under a 401(k) plan to the amount of student loan repayments made by the employee outside the plan. However, the PLR only applied to the plan sponsor requesting the ruling and only addressed the specific issue and facts presented by the plan sponsor. As a result, although the PLR provided helpful guidance to employers, it also left many questions unanswered.

In response, many employers and industry groups have pushed for legislation that provides comprehensive guidance on how employers can and should structure student loan repayment benefits under their retirement plans. The Student Loan Act would address a number of the questions raised in response to the PLR and would provide employers more flexibility to offer student loan repayment benefits under their plans. In particular, the Student Loan Act would open the door for student loan repayments to be treated as elective deferrals under an employer’s plan and to qualify for corresponding matching contributions (rather than the special non-elective contributions described in the PLR). In addition, the Student Loan Act would clarify nondiscrimination testing requirements for student loan repayment benefits and address how student loan repayment benefits may be provided under not only traditional 401(k) plans, but also under safe harbor 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans and SIMPLE plans.

The Student Loan Act is part of the broader Retirement Security & Savings Act, which has bipartisan backing. The prospects for enactment of the Student Loan Act and Retirement Security & Savings Act are uncertain. Nevertheless, the release of the Student Loan Act, and its inclusion as part of the Retirement Security & Savings Act, shows that legislators are responding to employer demand and industry group efforts to seek further clarification on how they can provide employees with student loan repayment benefits under their tax-qualified retirement plans.

Join us Friday, October 5 for our monthly Fridays with Benefits webinar on employer options for student loan benefits. Student loan debt is an increasingly significant concern for employees and student loan benefits are becoming an increasingly significant way for employers to attract and retain key talent.

Join members of the McDermott Benefits Team for a discussion on employer options and strategies for employee student loan benefits that your company won’t want to miss! We will address refinancing options, direct financial assistance, and developments in retirement plan designs for benefits tied to student loan repayments.

Friday, October 5, 2018
10:00 – 10:45 am PDT
11:00 – 11:45 am MDT
12:00 – 12:45 pm CDT
1:00 – 1:45 pm EDT

Register now.

On Friday, the IRS released a private letter ruling (PLR) which will help clear the way for employers to provide a new type of student loan repayment benefit as part of their 401(k) plans. By issuing the PLR, the IRS gave its blessing to an employer-provided student loan repayment benefit offered through an employer’s 401(k) plan. Historically, many plan sponsors had questioned whether such an approach would be permissible under IRS rules. As a result, the PLR provides welcome confirmation that such an arrangement is permissible under certain circumstances.

Generally speaking, the PLR confirmed that, under certain circumstances, employers may be able to link the amount of employer contributions made on an employee’s behalf under a 401(k) plan to the amount of student loan repayments made by the employee outside the plan. More specifically, as explained in our On the Subject published on Friday, the IRS concluded that an employer could make a non-elective contribution to its 401(k) plan where the amount of the non-elective contribution would be based on an employee’s total student loan repayments and would be contributed to the plan in lieu of the matching contributions that would otherwise be made to the plan had the employee made pre-tax, Roth 401(k) or after-tax contributions.

Because student loan benefit programs are becoming an increasingly powerful way for employers to attract and retain key talent, particularly employers with a young and educated workforce, the PLR will very likely cause many employers to consider offering a student loan benefit as part of their retirement program. Importantly, employers who wish to do so should take care to review their 401(k) plans for special rules, features or design elements (outside those discussed in the PLR) that might create additional hurdles to linking the amount of employer contributions made on an employee’s behalf under a 401(k) plan to the amount of student loan repayments made by the employee outside the plan. For example, some of the special rules that apply to safe harbor plans could limit an employer’s ability to create a similar student loan benefit structure.

For more information about this groundbreaking ruling, including the key features of the student loan benefit program described in the PLR, the advantages of such programs and other important considerations, please see our On the Subject published on Friday.