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ABCDs of tuition reimbursement

Carl Jones works at Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., but he wants to be an astronaut.

What will his employer think?

Actually, Jones' employer not only supports his lofty ambitions, but pays for Jones to follow his star. Ball fully reimburses Jones' school expenses as he studies for a master's of science in aerospace engineering, with a focus in bioastronautics.

"They just take small amounts out of your paycheck for a number of pay periods that you designate," Jones says. "You go through the class, and once the class is finished, you have to have earned a B or better in the class in order to qualify for reimbursement."

After the necessary paperwork is filed, Ball places the refund directly into Jones's bank account.

"Since my company is basically paying for my education, it takes the financial stress off of me and allows me to further my education and my skills," Jones says.

"I get a great engineering education and a really good school that I don't have to pay for. My company gets a more seasoned employee who will stay longer. I want to give back, once my education finishes."

Many people think only big companies offer tuition-reimbursement plans, but smaller businesses also get staff into school.

While this benefit can enhance your career -- and earnings -- it's important to know the rules of tuition plans before you request reimbursement from your employer.

Many employer-sponsored programs come with strings attached. Your employer's human resources, or HR, department can provide information the tuition-reimbursement program in your workplace.

As you weigh this option, it's important to request clarification on the following topics. Think of them as the ABCDs of tuition reimbursement:

Know the basics
Know the tuition-reimbursement alphabet before asking your employer to pay for school.
'A' is for amounts 
Employers won't typically reimburse full tuition without restrictions. Caps or limitations are standard.

Sometimes, the established cap is a dollar amount -- for example, a lifetime cap of $10,000. In other cases, the employer may cap the number of classes for which it will provide reimbursement.

Many employers require employees to work for a certain length of time before they are eligible for reimbursement. After all, the employer doesn't want to waste dollars on short-timers. Be sure to ask your employer what's covered, and for whom.

The Holiday World & Splashin' Safari in Santa Claus, Ind. -- a theme park -- reimburses employees with at least two years of employment, to the tune of up to $1,500 of annual undergraduate or graduate tuition.

If you have at least three years of employment, the limit jumps to $2,500 each year for undergraduate and $3,000 for graduate expenses.

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Some businesses cover books and fees, while others don't. Holiday World pays up to $100 in books and fees.

'B' is for B grade or better 
Many employers reimburse according to the grade you earn. Jones says Ball Aerospace and Technologies reimburses expenses for students who have earned a B or better.

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