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The DOL Issues Guidance Regarding Lifetime Income Illustrations

The DOL recently issued an interim final rule (“IFR”) pursuant to the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019 (the “SECURE Act”) 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’ 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’s 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

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

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 Extends Deadline to Roll Over Waived RMD Distributions / Provides Model Amendment

The IRS issued Notice 2020-51 which provides additional guidance and relief relating to the required minimum distribution (“RMD”) waiver provisions in Section 2203 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”). The CARES Act waived the requirement to make RMDs in 2020. Distributed amounts that—but for the CARES Act waiver—would have been RMDs are instead treated as eligible rollover distributions. Generally, the deadline to roll over an eligible rollover distribution into an IRA or another qualified plan is 60 days from the distribution date. However, for those eligible rollover distributions made in 2020 that otherwise would have been RMDs and for which the 60-day rollover period expires before August 31, 2020, the IRS extended the rollover deadline to August 31, 2020. Additionally, Notice 2020-51 includes a Q&A relating to the waiver of RMDs in 2020 and a model amendment that plan sponsors can adopt to provide… Continue Reading

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

Cases Highlight Importance of Governing Law Clauses in ERISA Plan Documents

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit recently held that the choice of law provision contained in a long-term disability insurance policy (the “LTD Policy”) controlled when determining which state law applied to the case. The LTD Policy, which was subject to regulation under ERISA as an employee benefit plan, stated that it was governed by the law of Pennsylvania, where Comcast (the employer) was incorporated and had its principal place of business. The employee argued that Colorado law controlled, because Colorado is where the employee worked for Comcast and filed the lawsuit. This was important because Colorado insurance law prohibited granting discretion to the plan administrator to interpret the LTD Policy, whereas Pennsylvania law did not prohibit this deferential standard. Generally, a plan administrator’s denial of benefits under an ERISA plan is reviewed by a court de novo (i.e., without deference being paid to the plan administrator’s… Continue Reading

Fifth Circuit Holds that Offering Single Stock Investments in a 401(k) Plan is Not Per-Se Imprudent

Following a spinoff, a 401(k) plan continued to offer the employer stock fund of the predecessor parent company as an investment alternative, but closed it to new investments. After the share price fell by approximately 50%, the participants brought a lawsuit against the plan fiduciaries claiming, among other things, that the fiduciary breached its duty to diversify under ERISA Section 404(a)(1)(C) by retaining the stock fund as an investment alternative. The District Court dismissed the case and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the dismissal. The Fifth Circuit held that although the stock of the former parent was not statutorily exempt from ERISA’s diversification because it was no longer a “qualifying employer security”, there was no obligation for the plan fiduciaries to force plan participants to divest from the funds. The court explained that ERISA contains no per se prohibition on individual account plans offering single-stock… Continue Reading

Use Care When Implementing CARES Act Retirement Plan Distributions – State Law and Benefit Offset Concerns

As we have previously reported on our blog here and here, the CARES Act provided relief to participants in retirement plans by allowing employers to amend their retirement plans to include certain coronavirus-related distributions and to permit increased loan amounts for certain qualified individuals. Many employers have agreed to adopt these changes, and under federal law, the treatment of these distributions is clear. But there are other issues that employers and employees should consider, including: The coronavirus-related distributions could be subject to taxation under state law, even if the employee later repays the distribution to the plan; and If employees are receiving unemployment and/or disability benefits, the coronavirus-related distributions may reduce or offset these benefits. However, the enhanced loans would not be subject to taxation and may not offset unemployment and disability benefits, which may make the enhanced loan a better option for employees who anticipate paying back the distribution.… 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

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