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Employee Layoffs Due to COVID-19 Can Trigger Partial Retirement Plan Termination

Under current IRS guidance, when a “significant” number of participants cease to be eligible to participate in a tax qualified retirement plan, such as due to involuntary terminations of employment, a partial plan termination has occurred, and the affected participants must be made 100% fully vested in their account balances. The IRS considers an involuntary reduction in the number of plan participants by more than 20% in a given plan year to be significant for that purpose. In light of the significant disruptions to many employers’ businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the question arises whether any of their workforce reductions also triggered a partial plan termination. The IRS recently issued FAQs which clarify that employees who are laid off or terminated in 2020 but are rehired by their employer by the end of 2020 will not have incurred an involuntary termination of employment for purposes of determining whether a… Continue Reading

Postponed Deadline for Reporting and Payment of Excise Taxes

The IRS recently released Announcement 2020-17 (the “Announcement”) postponing the due dates for reporting and paying excise taxes related to certain delayed minimum required contributions to single employer defined benefit plans. The Announcement only applies to excise taxes under Internal Revenue Code Sections 4971(a)(1) (failure to meet minimum funding standards) and 4971(f)(1) (failure to pay liquidity shortfall). Generally, these taxes must be reported and paid by the last day of the seventh month after the end of the employer’s tax year or eight and one-half months after the last day of the plan year that ends with or within the filer’s tax year. However, because the CARES Act postpones the deadline to make minimum required contributions that are otherwise due in 2020 until January 1, 2021, the Department of Treasury and the IRS are extending the deadline to report and pay the excise taxes under Sections 4971(a)(1) and 4971(f)(1) with… Continue Reading

IRS Issues Guidance on Special Funding and Benefit Limitation Rules under the CARES Act

The IRS recently issued Notice 2020-61 (the “Notice”) containing 18 questions and answers that provide helpful guidance for sponsors of single-employer defined benefit pension plans regarding Section 3608 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”). Section 3608 of the CARES Act delays the due date for “minimum required contributions” otherwise due during calendar year 2020 until January 1, 2021. In addition, it allows plan sponsors to use the plan’s adjusted funding target attainment percentage (“AFTAP”) for the last plan year ending before January 1, 2020, for plan years that include calendar year 2020. The Notice addresses issues related to the deadline extension for minimum required contributions under the CARES Act, including how the contributions are to be adjusted for interest. The Notice also discusses issues related to the use of the prior year AFTAP for benefit limitations. Plan sponsors should consult with their benefits counsel… Continue Reading

Approaching Deadline for Cash Balance Plans to Submit IRS Determination Letter Applications

Sponsors of retirement plans that use a statutory hybrid benefit formula (e.g., cash balance plans) have until August 31, 2020 to submit such plans to the IRS for a favorable determination letter. However, because “interested parties” must be notified of the filing at least ten days in advance of the submission, the decision on whether to file must be made sooner (within the next week or so). Among other things, under this special determination letter cycle for cash balance plans, the IRS will review plan provisions implementing the final cash balance plan regulations. This is true even if the plan’s cash balance formula was in place when the plan received a prior favorable determination letter. The guidance allowing for the special cycle for cash balance plans is available here.

IRS Publishes Updated Operational Compliance Checklist

The IRS recently published an updated Operational Compliance Checklist (the “Checklist”), which lists changes in qualification requirements that became effective during the 2016 through 2020 calendar years. Examples of items added to the Checklist for 2020 include, among other things: Final regulations relating to hardship distributions; Temporary nondiscrimination relief for closed defined benefit pension plans; Penalty-free withdrawals from retirement plans for individuals in cases of birth or adoption; and Increase in age for required beginning date for mandatory distributions. 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, which can instead be found on the IRS’s Recently Published Guidance webpage here. The Checklist is available here.

IRS Relief Allows Individuals to Make Participant Elections Electronically

Treasury Regulations § 1.401(a)-21(d)(6) requires participant elections, including spousal consents, to be witnessed in the physical presence of a plan representative or notary public.  In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRS recently issued Notice 2020-42 (the “Notice”) to allow individuals making participant elections to do so through electronic means for the period from January 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020.  For participant elections, including spousal consents, that require a signature to be witnessed in the physical presence of a notary public, the “physical presence” requirement is satisfied if remote notarization is done through live audio-video technology that otherwise satisfies the requirements of Treasury Regulations § 1.401(a)-21(d)(6) and is compliant with state law applicable to notaries.  For participant elections, including spousal consents, that require a signature to be witnessed in the physical presence of a plan representative, the “physical presence” requirement is satisfied if (i) the person signing the participant… Continue Reading

IRS Releases FAQs on Retirement Plan Relief Under the CARES Act

The IRS recently published guidance in the form of FAQs related to the implementation of retirement plan relief available under the CARES Act. While the guidance does not resolve all of the open issues, it does provide some helpful clarifications and insight into what we may expect from future guidance. Specifically, the guidance confirms that the CARES Act provisions allowing for coronavirus-related distributions (“CRDs”) and loan relief are permissible, not required. Furthermore, the guidance points out that even if a 401(k) plan decides not to allow CRDs, if an individual meets the requirements to be a “qualified individual,” he or she may be able to treat other plan distributions as a CRD for federal tax purposes. Individuals need to consult with their personal tax advisors on these matters. Finally, alluding to what we may expect from future guidance, the CARES Act FAQs referred back to IRS Notice 2005-92 (issued on… Continue Reading

UPDATE: Calculation of Payroll Costs for Purposes of the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”)

The Small Business Administration (“SBA”) continues to update its FAQs on PPP loans to provide additional guidance regarding what costs constitute payroll costs. Borrowers should use care in determining what amounts constitute payroll costs since borrowers are responsible for providing an accurate calculation of payroll costs and must attest to the accuracy of those calculations on their Borrower Application Form. Under the new guidance the SBA clarified: The $100,000 annualized per employee cap only applies to cash compensation and does not include any non-cash benefits, such as employer contributions to defined benefit or defined contribution retirement plans, payment for the provision of employee benefits consisting of group health care coverage, including insurance premiums, and payment of state and local taxes assessed on employees’ compensation. PPP loans can be used to cover costs for employee paid vacation, parental, family, medical and sick leave (other than qualified sick and family wages for… Continue Reading

The DOL and the IRS Jointly Provide Relief from Certain Timeframes Applicable to Health and Welfare and Pension Plans

On April 28, 2020, the IRS and DOL issued a Final Rule extending certain timeframes under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code for group health, disability and other welfare plans, pension plans, and the participants and beneficiaries under those plans. The timeframe extensions include, among other things, the time to elect COBRA and pay premiums, special enrollment timeframes under HIPPA and CHIPs, claims procedure timeframes, and certain external review process timeframes.  Applicable plans must disregard the period from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency for all plan participants, beneficiaries, qualified beneficiaries, or claimants wherever located in determining the enumerated time periods and dates and for providing COBRA election notices.  In addition, Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01 was issued addressing the timeframe relief and addressing certain other COVID-19 relief. The Final Rule is available here: https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/ebsa/temporary-postings/covid-19-final-rule.pdf. Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01 is available here: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ebsa/employers-and-advisers/plan-administration-and-compliance/disaster-relief/ebsa-disaster-relief-notice-2020-01.

Employee Benefits as Payroll Costs under the Paycheck Protection Program

Businesses that received a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) are eligible for forgiveness of that loan if, among other things, the loan proceeds are used to cover “payroll costs” incurred over the eight-week period after the loan is made. Payroll costs, capped at $100,000 on an annualized basis for each employee (i.e., $15,384 over the eight-week period), are broadly defined to include, among other things: Salary, wages, commissions, or tips; Employee benefits costs, such as for vacation or paid family or medical leave (other than wages for which a credit is received under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act), group health care costs, retirement plan contributions, and severance benefits; and State and local taxes assessed on employee compensation. As of the date of this posting, no guidance has been issued by the IRS or the Department of Treasury to further clarify what specific items qualify as payroll costs.… Continue Reading

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