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businessman climbingMaybe you went straight to work after high school, or after a couple years of college you cut out early to start making some money and figured you’d get back eventually.

Well, now may be the perfect time to inquire if your employer participates in a tuition payment/reimbursement program, also known as waivers, to pay for your continued education. While some companies will pay your bill on-the-spot, others will ask you to submit bills for reimbursement. Typically the Human Resources department of your company will handle tuition assistance programs.

Support is often determined by government guidelines. According to the IRS, employers can provide up to $5,250 to each employee per year on a tax-free basis. Because of this you may find many employers staying within the IRS limit.

Find out your employer’s requirements

First off, you need to find out what your employer requires of you; some have fairly lenient policies, while others require a submission of grades (or a GPA). Some pay based on those actual grades – i.e. for an “A” you get 100% reimbursement, for a “B” you might get 80% and so on and so forth.

They may offer assistance beyond tuition; some companies cover all textbook and material fees, saving you hundreds of dollars each semester!

Now, this is imperative to find out in detail: your company may only approve certain coursework for reimbursement, such as coursework that is relevant to your current work. In addition, they may restrict your major; some may even stipulate that you work for their company for X amount of years in exchange for assistance.

Just be sure to read your company’s policies!

Assess your options

This is a legitimate concern. If you really loathe your job and are required to sign on for 5 more years just so you can get, say, 60 credits paid for, you may need to ask yourself if it’s worth the money. The delay may be too great of a sacrifice.

If your goal is to make yourself more marketable and stay within the company you are currently working for, this may be an ideal way to continue your studies. Your employer gets a smarter employee and their $5k tax break, and you get the chance to move up the career ladder with them footing the bill for your newly acquired education.

Final words

Keep in mind, we’re not talking a lot of money here. Sure, $5k is nice, but if you are familiar with the cost of college, you will realize $5k will not go very far. Chances are, you will be funding a good percentage of this endeavor. Make your decisions wisely. Study what you feel will help you most, not necessarily what your employee restricts you to study. In fact, if you are looking for a career change, ask yourself if it is wise to ask for reimbursement for, say, a graduate degree in Psychology while working as a bank teller. You may need the stability of that day job, and disclosing your college intent by asking for reimbursement may put your current job on the line.