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Consider Periodic Internal Plan Audits to Ensure Proper Application of Plan’s Definition of “Compensation”

A frequent, but often times avoidable, operational error for retirement plans is the failure to use the proper definition of compensation for various purposes, including, without limitation, calculating employee deferrals and employer contributions. A retirement plan’s definition of compensation typically includes dozens of components that all must be properly coded in the plan sponsor’s payroll system as eligible or ineligible plan compensation. Plan sponsors should periodically compare the plan’s definition of “compensation” to the employer’s payroll records to verify that the proper definition of compensation has been used for all plan purposes, including calculating employee deferrals and employer contributions. Performing such an audit can help identify any errors and help to minimize the amount of any corrective contributions and other fees and expenses that may be associated with correcting the error.

Be Careful in Reimbursing Travel Expenses from Plan Assets

While many qualified retirement plans allow for the reimbursement of certain administrative expenses from plan assets, plan fiduciaries must ensure that plan assets are being used only to reimburse reasonable administrative expenses, and not expenses that could be considered personal or business expenses. This issue may arise in a variety of contexts, including, in particular, a plan’s reimbursement of travel expenses. The DOL has taken the position that no personal or business related expenses are payable from plan assets, even if the travel is related to the administration of the plan. The concern with using plan assets to reimburse travel expenses is being able to prove that the travel expenses relate solely to the administration of the plan, and are not merely a personal or business expense.

New Federal Budget Impacts Qualified Retirement Plans

The recently enacted Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (the “Act”) modifies certain Internal Revenue Code provisions relating to hardship distributions from qualified retirement plans that (i) eliminate the requirement that a participant’s deferrals be suspended for six months following a hardship distribution, (ii) eliminate the requirement that participants take out all available plan loans before receiving a hardship distribution, and (iii) expand the sources available to fund hardship distributions to include QNECs and QMACs. These changes to the hardship distribution rules are effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2019. In addition to the changes for hardship distributions, the Act provides additional relief for victims of the recent California wildfires that permits eligible plan participants to receive a distribution of up to $100,000, which will not be subject to the mandatory 20 percent income tax withholding or the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty. The participant may elect… Continue Reading

Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Holds that ERISA Does Not Pre-empt State Slayer Statutes

Anka Miscevic had a history of mental illness. While her husband Zelkjo was sleeping, she stabbed him in the chest and hit him over the head with a baseball bat, killing him. An Illinois state court found Anka not guilty by reason of insanity. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the first federal appellate court to address ERISA pre-emption of any state slayer statute, held that Illinois’s slayer statute was not pre-empted by ERISA. At the time of his death, Zeijko was a participant in a union pension fund. If a participant were married at the time of his or her death, the fund would pay a pre-retirement death benefit to the surviving spouse. If a participant were not married but had a minor child, the fund would pay a minor child benefit until the child turns 21. Both Anka and her minor child filed competing claims… Continue Reading

IRS Revises VCP User Fees

For submissions made on or after January 2, 2018, the user fee to correct a qualified plan operational failure under the IRS’s Voluntary Correction Program (“VCP”) will be based on the total amount of net plan assets rather than the number of participants in the plan. Net plan assets are generally determined using the amount listed on the most recent Form 5500 filed for the plan. Additionally, alternative or reduced fees for certain corrections have been eliminated. Therefore, in some cases fees will be significantly lower than under the prior fee schedule, but in other cases, they will be higher because the prior fee schedule based the fee on the number of affected participants, not the number of total participants. Below is the new, simplified fee schedule for VCP submissions, followed by the prior fee schedule. New Fee Schedule: Net Plan Assets   VCP Fee  • $0 to $500,000  … Continue Reading

PBGC Expands Missing Participants Program to Terminated Defined Contribution Plans

The PBGC issued a final rule on December 22, 2017, that expands the missing participants program from covering only terminated PBGC-insured, single-employer defined benefit plans to also covering defined contribution plans (“DC Plans”), such as 401(k) plans, PBGC-insured multiemployer plans, and non-PBGC-insured defined benefit plans sponsored by professional service organizations that terminate on or after January 1, 2018. Participation will be voluntary for DC Plans and professional service organization plans, and terminating DC Plans will have the option of transferring all missing participants’ benefits to the PBGC in lieu of establishing an IRA. There would be a one-time fee upon the transfer of assets to the PBGC, and thereafter participant accounts would not be reduced by ongoing maintenance fees. After a participant is located, the PBGC would pay his or her initial account balance with interest to the participant when located. View the PBGC’s Missing Participants Program webpage. View the… Continue Reading

IRS Publishes 2017 Required Amendments List

In Notice 2017-72, the IRS published the Required Amendments List for 2017, which lists statutory and administrative changes in plan qualification requirements that (i) are first effective in the plan year in which the list is published and (ii) may require a plan amendment. This year’s list includes three items that relate to (a) certain market rate of return requirements for hybrid and cash balance plans, (b) benefit restrictions for certain defined benefit plans that are eligible cooperative plans or eligible charity plans, and (c) partial annuity distribution options for defined benefit plans. The deadline for adopting any required amendments described in this year’s Required Amendments List is December 31, 2019. View Notice 2017-72.

Retirement Plans Year-End Action Items

The following non-exhaustive list describes year-end action items and the annual notices for retirement plans, which generally must be distributed within a reasonable time prior to the start of the plan year. For calendar year plans, providing the notices outlined below by December 1, 2017 will meet this requirement in most cases. Safe Harbor 401(k) Notice: For 401(k) plans that are designed to comply with the safe harbor requirements of the Internal Revenue Code Automatic Enrollment Notice: For any plan that includes automatic enrollment provisions Qualified Automatic Contribution Arrangement Notice: For plans that are designed to comply with the Internal Revenue Code’s qualified automatic contribution provisions Eligible Automatic Contribution Arrangement Notice: For plans that are designed to comply with the Internal Revenue Code’s eligible automatic contribution provisions Qualified Default Investment Alternative (“QDIA”) Notice: For plans with participant-directed investments that include a QDIA in which a participant’s account will be invested… Continue Reading

IRS Announces 2018 Qualified Retirement Plan Limits

The IRS recently announced cost-of-living adjustments for 2018. Below is a list of some of the key annual limits that will apply to qualified retirement plans in 2018: Compensation limit used in calculating a participant’s benefit accruals: increased to $275,000. Elective deferrals to 401(k) and 403(b) plans: increased to $18,500. Annual additions to a defined contribution plan: increased to $55,000. Catch-up contributions for employees aged 50 and over to 401(k) and 403(b) plans: remains unchanged at $6,000. Annual benefit limit for a defined benefit plan: increased to $220,000. Compensation dollar limit for defining a “key employee” in a top heavy plan: remains unchanged at $175,000. Compensation dollar limit for defining a “highly compensated employee”: remains unchanged at $120,000. The full list of 2018 plan limits can be found in IRS Notice 2017-64.

IRS Issues Regulations and Guidance Updating Mortality Tables and Procedures for Using Substitute Mortality Tables

On October 3, 2017, the IRS issued final regulations updating the mortality tables that most defined benefit pension plan sponsors must use when calculating lump-sum benefits for participants and determining annual funding obligations. In addition, the final regulations provide updated procedures for sponsors of large defined benefit plans to use when applying to the IRS to use substitute mortality tables based on actual plan mortality experience. In conjunction with the regulations, the IRS issued Notice 2017-60, which explains the new mortality tables, and Revenue Procedure 2017-55, which explains and supplements the changes to the requirements for using substitute mortality tables. The regulations apply to plan years beginning on and after January 1, 2018. The final regulations are available here. Notice 2017-60 is available here. Rev. Proc. 2017-55 is available here.

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