COLUMBIA -- South Carolina businesses suffering sticker shock because of soaring unemployment insurance taxes are getting a little bit of relief.

The S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce is offering businesses a payment plan of up to six months to pay their taxes due for the first quarter of 2011.

The deadline to file quarterly reports is Monday. To sign up for the payment plan, employers need to file their quarterly reports, send in at least 10 percent of what they owe and include a letter indicating that they want to use the payment plan.

A 1 percent per month interest fee will be applied to the outstanding balances of all businesses who take part in the plan.

"We can work with businesses to come up with a payment option depending on individual circumstances," the department's executive director, John Finan, said in a statement. "The critical issue is for businesses to file their monthly reports and contact (the department) if they want to arrange for a payment plan."

Among the options are monthly payments, weekly payments and payments over two installments, Finan said.

S.C. businesses are reeling at the cost of repaying the nearly $1 billion that the state borrowed from the federal government so that it could continue paying jobless benefits to unemployed workers during the recession. The first increased payments for unemployment insurance, reflecting the cost of repaying that $1 billion loan, are due to the state later this month.

South Carolina's new unemployment insurance law, passed in the wake of the $1 billion debacle, created 20 rating tiers for employers, with those that laid off the most employees seeing the largest increases in their insurance rates.

About half of all state companies are in the lowest tier and will pay less than $11 an employee each year, an 88 percent decrease in their unemployment insurance premiums.

Lawmakers have spent weeks debating ways to possibly lessen the impact of the higher rates. But many lawmakers refuse to lower rates for the most layoff-prone companies if it means increasing rates for companies with a record of laying off fewer workers.

Earlier this month, a state Senate panel approved a bill adjusting the rates, but it still faces heated debate on the Senate floor.

Manufacturers are asking lawmakers for more relief, and the S.C. House also is working on a similar bill.