When it comes to covering college costs, employers offer more help than signing your paycheck.
Don't discount that contribution: Savings and especially parent income account for 32 percent of the average family's college funding for an undergraduate degree, according to Sallie Mae's How America Pays for College 2015 report.
But don't stop there. Whether you're hoping to return to school or are planning to help fund a spouse or child's education, it's likely your company offers some perks to lessen the burden. Some are still uncommon, but it's to your advantage to ask, said Mark Kantrowitz, senior vice president and publisher at Edvisors.com. "It lets your employer know what financial concerns their employees have, and it can lead to the employer adding a benefit," he said.
Six resources to ask about:
Tuition reimbursement. Roughly 85 percent of employers will reimburse some amount for educational expenses such as tuition and textbooks, according to benefits consulting firm Aon Hewitt. That's as much as $5,250 tax free, depending on the cap the company sets. Usually, this is a deal available only to employees heading back to college, but some firms also extend it to workers' children, said Kantrowitz.
Read the terms carefully. It's not unusual for companies to restrict reimbursement to courses and programs with ties to your current field, or to require high grades to get the cash. You might also need to sign papers agreeing to pay back the funds if you leave the company shortly after earning that degree. "They're only going to support you if they see a clear benefit," he said.
College planning. Not sure how much you should save, or the best strategies? Almost 40 percent of large employers, and 15 percent of all employers, offer workers financial wellness programs related to saving for college, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch's 2015 Workplace Benefits report. Those might be seminars, online resources or a one-on-one session with a financial advisor. Even better, about a quarter of employers offer or are considering offering incentives such as cash or discounts on insurance premiums for participating.