SECURE 2.0: Student Loan Matching

Updated August 24, 2023

SECURE 2.0 has brought many changes to the retirement space. Among them: student loan matching. This permissible and optional change is of great interest to many employers and plan sponsors, especially those seeking to attract and retain younger workers.

What’s the new rule in a nutshell?

SECURE 2.0 makes it significantly easier for employers to adopt student loan matching programs by treating “qualified student loan payments” as elective deferrals for purposes of employer matching contributions. This means the employer’s contribution that matches “qualified student loan payments” is actually counted as a match (instead of a nonelective contribution) and can be incorporated into a safe harbor match plan (learn more about safe harbor plan design options). Employers may begin implementing this option for plan years beginning after December 31, 2023.

What are “qualified student loan payments”?

SECURE 2.0 defines “qualified student loan payments” (QSLPs) as those: (1) made by an employee, (2) that repay a qualified education loan, (3) incurred by the employee, (4) used to pay for qualified higher education expenses. Only repayments up to the maximum employee salary deferral limit (or the employee’s compensation, if less) minus elective deferrals actually made can be taken into account.

To break this down a bit further:

  1. The payment must be made by the employee. This means that QSLPs do not include loans that have been forgiven, paid by a nonprofit or through a grant, paid by a family member, or paid by the employer as an employee benefit.
  2. The payment must be made to repay a qualified education loan. This generally means a loan incurred by the employee solely to pay for qualified higher education expenses. Higher education expenses here must have been paid or incurred within a reasonable time before or after the loan was taken, and must have been used to pay for education furnished while the recipient was an “eligible student” (defined for this purpose as one enrolled in higher education carrying at least a half-time workload of study). This generally includes both expenses for an employee and expenses for an individual who was the employee’s spouse or dependent at the time the loan was incurred.
  3. The loan must have been incurred by the employee. This means that it must be the employee that is liable for repayment. This can include instances in which the employee is liable for the education of a spouse or dependent (such as through a Parent PLUS loan or a loan in which the employee is a joint borrower). If the loan is not enforceable against the employee, it is not incurred by the employee.
  4. Finally, the loan must have been used to pay qualified higher education expenses. This includes a wide range of expenses related to higher education, including things like normal tuition and fees, books, supplies, room and board, study abroad expenses and, for students with dependents, an allowance for daycare. This is generally limited to expenses for education at accredited public, nonprofit, proprietary, and postsecondary institutions.

What are some other plan requirements that must be in place?

  • Matching contributions made for deferrals and QSLPs should be made at the same rate.
  • Employees can receive QSLP matching contributions only if they are otherwise eligible to receive matching contributions on deferral, and all employees eligible to receive a matching contribution on deferrals should be eligible to receive a matching contribution on QSLPs.
  • Matching contributions on QSLPs must vest in the same manner as matching contributions made on deferrals.
  • Employees must certify annually to the employer that QSLPs were made.

How does this impact testing?

Most importantly, the match on QSLPs can be incorporated into a safe harbor 401(k) plan design —meaning that no additional testing would occur. For plans that are not safe harbor plans, the employer contribution on qualified student loan payments is counted as a match for purposes of the ACP test (compliance test for amounts of match) and the plan may perform ADP testing (compliance test for amounts of salary deferrals) separately for those employees who received matching of qualified student loan payments.


The Treasury will be issuing guidance on QSLP implementation in the future.

This optional provision is a welcome development, but many questions remain, including the required plan document language, technical details of compliance testing and test corrections, timing of deposit of match for loan repayments when employer match is made more frequently than on an annual basis, and other issues. Additionally, investment platform providers, payroll systems, and compliance testing systems must be programmed to accommodate tracking of loan repayments for match purposes.

We suggest closely monitoring this development, including emerging service providers who will assist with tracking of loan repayments. As guidance is issued and providers enter the space, employers may find incorporating a student loan matching feature into their workplace savings program a competitive advantage for attracting and retaining talent.

Let Pinnacle Plan Design Help

Consultants at Pinnacle Plan Design are actively monitoring new guidance concerning SECURE 2.0. This represents our understanding of the laws at this time. Additional guidance will provide additional clarity. If you have any questions about the student loan match feature in a retirement plan, don’t hesitate to contact us at (520) 618-1305.

Adopted from SECURE 2.0: Highlight on SECURE 2.0 Student Loan Matching by Kelsey Mayo, Partner, Poyner Spruill. Used with permission.

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