Employer Tuition Assistance
Employer-Paid Tuition Assistance
Tuition, Fees, Course Materials
Number of Years
Up to $5,250 in employer-provided tuition assistance, also known as employer educational assistance or employer tuition reimbursement, can be excluded from an employee’s income each year.
Eligible expenses include tuition, fees and course materials like textbooks, supplies and equipment. Eligible expenses do not include the cost of a computer or other supplies that can be retained by the employee after completing the course of instruction.
Eligible expenses also do not include the cost of meals, lodging or transportation. Courses involving sports, games or hobbies are not eligible unless they are required for the degree program or they have a reasonable relationship to the employer’s business.
The exclusion from income is not available to the employee’s spouse or dependents. Some employers will pay for the cost of tuition up-front or after the employee completes the course. Some employers require the student to complete the course or earn a specific grade.
Reimbursements in excess of $5,250 will be considered taxable income to the employee, unless the reimbursement represents a working condition fringe benefit. There are no enrollment status restrictions, so students might be enrolled part-time. Eligible students do not need to earn a degree, certificate or other recognized education credential.
The courses do not need to be provided by an accredited college or a college that is eligible for Title IV federal student aid. Undergraduate and graduate classes are eligible. Students are eligible even if they have a felony drug conviction, unlike the American Opportunity Tax Credit.
There are no income phase-outs and the exclusion from income for employer-paid tuition assistance does not expire. The exclusion from income is available for an unlimited number of years.
Working Condition Fringe Benefit
Employer tuition assistance in excess of $5,250 can be excluded from income if it represents a working condition fringe benefit. To be a working condition fringe benefit, the education must relate to the employee’s current job, such as improving job-related skills or maintaining professional continuing education requirements.
Education that qualifies the employee for a new trade or business is not eligible. The expense must be an ordinary and necessary business expense. The expense must be documented with receipts or invoices just like any other business expense.
Impact on Eligibility for Need-Based Financial Aid
Most colleges consider employer-paid tuition assistance to be estimated financial aid and will reduce the student’s eligibility for need-based financial aid dollar-for-dollar.
There is no double-dipping. The same qualified education expenses cannot be used to justify another education tax benefit, such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit.
A good source of additional information concerning employer-provided educational assistance is Chapter 11 of IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education. Information concerning the business deduction for work-related education can be found in Chapter 12 of IRS Publication 970 and information about tax benefits for work-related education can be found in Chapter 27 of IRS Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax. See also “Working Condition Benefits” in Chapter 2 of IRS Publication 15-B, Employer's Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits.