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DOL Issues Guidance Cautioning 401(k) Fiduciaries Against Offering Crypto as an Investment Option

The DOL issued guidance reminding responsible 401(k) plan fiduciaries of their ongoing duty to monitor investments and cautioning that the DOL “has serious concerns about the prudence of a fiduciary’s decision to expose a 401(k) plan’s participants to direct investments in cryptocurrencies, or other products whose value is tied to cryptocurrencies.” The DOL listed five reasons why cryptocurrency investments and their derivatives (collectively, “Crypto”) may not be a prudent selection at this time and threatened that 401(k) plan fiduciaries who allow Crypto as an investment option (even if through a brokerage window) “should expect to be questioned about how they can square their actions with their duties of prudence and loyalty.” Accordingly, 401(k) plan fiduciaries who are contemplating including or retaining Crypto as a plan investment option should factor this DOL guidance into their decision-making process.   Compliance Assistance Release No. 2022-01 is available here.

New Plan Audit Standards Shift Burdens to Plan Fiduciaries

In an effort to address shortcomings in auditing procedures and reporting raised by the DOL, in July 2019, the Auditing Standards Board of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants issued a revised Statement on Auditing Standards No. 136 entitled, “Forming an Opinion and Reporting on Financial Statements of Employee Benefit Plans Subject to ERISA” (“SAS 136”). SAS 136 applies to plan financial statement periods ending on or after December 15, 2021. The updated audit standards imposed by SAS 136 add new audit procedures and significantly shift the burden for producing many plan-related documents to the plan sponsor. The new requirements will make it essential for plan sponsors to be able to produce quality, error-free records that demonstrate compliance in areas like compensation, deferrals, distributions, and vendors’ fees. Even before these new standards went into effect, it was often difficult for plan sponsors to produce such documentation, particularly when it… Continue Reading

Elective Deferral Election Records – Plan Sponsors Proceed With Caution

In a time when most employees make their 401(k) plan elective deferral elections electronically, plan sponsors often do not think twice about maintaining records of employee deferral elections, since they expect their third party administrators (“TPAs”) will retain such electronic records. However, this confidence in the TPA’s records can be a trap for the unwary, as mistakes in the transmission of elections from the TPA to the employer’s payroll can easily occur, and the elections for long-standing employees may have been entered manually based on paper election forms that could have long since been misplaced (or destroyed in accordance with a TPA’s record retention policies). Further, if the plan sponsor has changed TPAs, the current TPA’s records for participants prior to the conversion are based on the records of the prior TPA and may no longer be accessible following conversion to the new TPA.  A lack of reliable records can… Continue Reading

IRS Further Extends Temporary Relief from Physical Presence Requirement for Certain Retirement Plan Consents

As we previously reported here, in June 2020, the IRS issued Notice 2020-42 (available here) which provided temporary relief from the physical presence requirements for certain participant and beneficiary elections under qualified retirement plans. The IRS recently issued an advance version of Notice 2021-40 (available here) which extends the temporary relief for an additional year, through June 30, 2022. Under this extended relief, participant elections, including spousal consents, that require a signature to be witnessed in the physical presence of a notary public will meet the ?Ç£physical presence?Ç¥ requirement if remote notarization is done through live audio-video technology that otherwise satisfies the requirements of Treasury Regulations ?º 1.401(a)-21(d)(6) and is compliant with state law applicable to notaries. Participant elections, including spousal consents, that require a signature to be witnessed in the physical presence of a plan representative will meet the ?Ç£physical presence?Ç¥ requirement if (i) the person signing the participant… Continue Reading

IRS Publishes Updated Operational Compliance Checklist

The IRS recently updated its Operational Compliance Checklist (the ?Ç£Checklist?Ç¥) to include qualification requirements that will become effective during the 2021 and 2022 calendar years. Examples of items added to the Checklist for 2021 and 2022 include, among other things: Final regulations relating to updated life expectancy and distribution tables used for determining minimum required distributions; The SECURE Act requirement that qualified cash or deferred arrangements must allow long-term employees (i.e., employees who work at least 500 but less than 1,000 hours per year for three consecutive 12-month periods beginning on or after January 1, 2021) to participate; and Temporary relief from the physical presence requirement for spousal consents under qualified retirement plans. The Checklist is only available online and is updated periodically to reflect new legislation and IRS guidance. The Checklist does not, however, include routine, periodic changes, such as cost-of-living increases, spot segment rates, and applicable mortality tables,… Continue Reading

Is it Time for an Investment Committee Tune-up?

Companies sponsoring a 401(k) plan to help their employees save for retirement often form an investment committee to help select plan investments without realizing the duties that the committee assumes.?á To help prevent investment committee members from unintentionally breaching their fiduciary duties, companies periodically review their investment committee compliance and should keep complete records of appointments, policies, and procedures.?á The following investment committee checklist can be a starting point for this review: Review the underlying plan document to determine who it lists as the ?Ç£named fiduciary?Ç¥.?á Most plan documents provided by third party administrators list the ?Ç£plan sponsor?Ç¥ as the named fiduciary, which means the board of directors is the governing body responsible for acting as a fiduciary, absent a delegation of such fiduciary responsibility by the board of directors to a committee.?á If your plan lists the ?Ç£plan sponsor?Ç¥ as the named fiduciary and you have a committee selecting… Continue Reading

Hurricane Sally Hardship Withdrawal Relief

Last year, the safe harbor rules for hardship withdrawals were amended to include a new subsection which permits hardship withdrawals for expenses and losses incurred by an employee on account of a disaster declared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (?Ç£FEMA?Ç¥). Recently, FEMA issued a disaster declaration as a result of Hurricane Sally that impacted portions of Alabama and Florida on September 14, 2020. A list of areas covered by the disaster declaration can be found on FEMA?ÇÖs website. This disaster declaration means that affected participants may be eligible for hardship distributions under their 401(k) plans. Plan sponsors should review their 401(k) plan?ÇÖs hardship distribution provisions to ensure they contain either the updated safe harbor provisions specifically allowing hardship distributions for federally declared disasters or catch-all language allowing distributions on any permissible hardship under the Internal Revenue Code.

The DOL Issues Guidance Regarding Lifetime Income Illustrations

The DOL recently issued an interim final rule (?Ç£IFR?Ç¥) pursuant to the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019 (the ?Ç£SECURE Act?Ç¥) regarding the information that must be provided on pension benefit statements. ERISA requires plan administrators of defined contribution plans to provide periodic pension benefit statements to participants and certain beneficiaries. The SECURE Act requires plan administrators to provide annual statements illustrating participants?ÇÖ accrued benefits as two lifetime income stream illustrations: (i) a single life annuity, and (ii) a qualified joint and survivor annuity. The IFR describes certain required assumptions plan administrators must use when converting a participant?ÇÖs accrued benefit into lifetime income streams. The lifetime income stream illustrations must be accompanied by clear and understandable explanations of the assumptions underlying the illustrations. To assist plan administrators, the IFR provides model language that may be used to satisfy this explanation requirement. The IFR is effective September… Continue Reading

Review Investment Policy Statements for ESG Investment Compliance

The DOL recently updated its ?Ç£investment duties?Ç¥ regulation to provide further guidance in light of recent trends in environmental, social, and governance (?Ç£ESG?Ç¥) investing, which we previously posted on our blog here. As the DOL increases its investigations and inquiries into ESG investments held by retirement plans, plan fiduciaries should review their plan investments and policies to: (i) determine if their retirement plans hold any ESG-type investments, and (ii) if they do hold such investments, (a) review their investment policy statements (?Ç£IPS?Ç¥) and evaluate whether such policies comply with the current rules for ESG investments (and will comply going forward with the DOL?ÇÖs guidance), and (b) confirm whether such investments remain appropriate for the plan. Plan fiduciaries may need to consult with their financial/plan advisors to determine if ESG-type investments are currently held by their plan. If a plan holds ESG investments and the IPS does not address such investments,… Continue Reading

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