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Severe Winter Storm Hardship Withdrawal Relief

The safe harbor rules for hardship withdrawals from a retirement plan permit such withdrawals for expenses and losses incurred by a participant due to a natural disaster declared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, provided the participant’s principal residence or principal place of employment at the time of the disaster was located in an area designated by FEMA for individual assistance related to that disaster. FEMA issued a series of disaster declarations as a result of the February 2021 winter storms that impacted portions of Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. A list of counties that have been designated by FEMA for individual assistance in those states can be found on FEMA’s website here. Those disaster declarations mean that affected participants may be eligible for hardship distributions from their 401(k) plan accounts. Plan sponsors with participants who live or work… Continue Reading

BREAKING: One-Year Limit on Suspended COBRA and Other Deadlines Applies On An Individual Basis

The DOL issued guidance today stating that the one-year limit on the suspension of COBRA, special enrollment, and claims deadlines during the COVID-19 outbreak period applies on an individual basis.  This means those deadlines do not resume running as of March 1, 2021.  Instead, each individual has up to a one-year suspension as long as the COVID-19 national emergency continues.  As discussed in our prior blog post here, it was unclear whether those deadlines were to resume running as of March 1, 2021.  Employers should contact their service providers to ensure they are aware of this new guidance and to issue new participant communications as needed. Notice 2021-01 is available here.

Required Minimum Distributions: A Tragedy in Three Acts

The SECURE Act and CARES Act made significant changes to required minimum distributions (“RMDs”). What should you be doing to ensure your retirement plans are administered correctly? The first step is to understand your options. SECURE Act Shifts the Start Before the SECURE Act, RMDs had to begin by April 1st of the calendar year following the later of (i) the calendar year during which the participant retires or (ii) the calendar year in which the participant turns age 70½.  Following the passage of the SECURE Act, the age cutoff in that rule changed from age 70½ to age 72, but only for individuals who turned age 70½ on or after January 1, 2020 (i.e., individuals born on or after July 1, 1949). In short, those terminated vested participants born before July 1, 1949 had to start their RMDs by April 1 of the year after turning 70½, while those… Continue Reading

Plan Record Retention Considerations in Corporate Transactions

As we’ve previously reported here, there are a number of record retention requirements applicable to employee benefit plans. Plan sponsors should be mindful of the impact and application of these requirements in the context of corporate mergers and acquisitions, especially if assets of the target’s retirement plan are to be merged into the buyer’s plan. When acquiring a company that sponsors (or has sponsored) its own retirement plan, plan sponsors should consider: Protected Benefits. Though the buyer’s plan may be amended to protect certain benefits under the target’s plan, as required by the Internal Revenue Code, in many cases the plan sponsor will need to refer to the target’s actual plan document to fully understand the specifics of the protected benefits. Missing Participants. The DOL recently issued a memorandum outlining best practices for pension plans to avoid and resolve missing participant issues (we previously discussed this issue here). Included in… Continue Reading

DOL Issues Missing Participant Guidance

The DOL issued three pieces of guidance relating to missing participants in tax-qualified retirement plans. In response to the new guidance, described in more detail below, employers should again review their plan documents and any plan policies and procedures, to ensure they align with the DOL’s requirements and best practices for avoiding and handling missing participants. In Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2021-01, the DOL issued a temporary enforcement policy on the use of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s (“PBGC”) Defined Contribution Missing Participants Program for terminating defined contribution plans. Under the temporary enforcement policy, the DOL will not pursue violations under ERISA’s fiduciary rules if the plan fiduciary of a terminating defined contribution plan transfers the benefits of missing participants to the PBGC under the program and otherwise follows the requirements of the DOL fiduciary safe harbor regulation at 29 CFR 2550.404a-3. In Compliance Assistance Release No. 2021-01, the DOL issued… Continue Reading

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and Benefits Changes Employers Need to Focus on Right Now

Retirement Plans Additional Relief May Help Prevent Partial Plan Terminations The recently adopted Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (the “CAA”) provides relief for qualified retirement plans of employers that had to reduce their workforce as a result of the pandemic (through furloughs, layoffs, or terminations) for plan years that include the period beginning on March 13, 2020 and ending on March 31, 2021. Specifically, these plans shall not be treated as incurring a partial plan termination if the number of active participants covered by the plan on March 31, 2021 is at least 80% of the number of active participants that were covered by the plan on March 13, 2020. A partial plan termination generally occurs when more than 20% of a plan’s participants are terminated in a plan year. If a partial plan termination occurs, then the plan is required to 100% vest any “affected employees”. “Affected employees” are… Continue Reading

IRS Issues Safe Harbor Plan Guidance on Sections 102 and 103 of the SECURE Act

The IRS recently issued Notice 2020-86 (the “Notice”), which provides guidance through a series of questions and answers with respect to Sections 102 and 103 of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019 (the “SECURE Act”). Section 102 of the SECURE Act increases the maximum automatic elective deferral percentage for automatic enrollment safe harbor plans from 10% to 15% (provided, however, that the maximum automatic deferral rate remains 10% during the initial period of automatic elective contributions).  Notably, the Notice clarifies that a QACA safe harbor 401(k) plan is not required to increase the maximum percentage, so long as the percentage is (i) applied uniformly, (ii) does not exceed 15% (or 10% during the initial period of automatic elective contributions), and (iii) satisfies certain other minimum percentage requirements as described in Code Section 401(k)(13)(C)(iii).  The Notice also clarifies that, if a plan incorporates the maximum qualified… Continue Reading

Regulations Provide for More Cost Transparency in Health Coverage

The federal Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury (collectively, the “Departments”) have jointly issued final regulations that are intended to provide for more transparency in health coverage (the “Regulations”). The Regulations have important implications for employer sponsors of certain group health plans (“Plans”) and health insurers. The Regulations do not apply to health plans that are grandfathered under the Affordable Care Act, health reimbursement arrangements, certain other account-based group health plans, or short-term limited duration insurance. The Regulations require two key forms of disclosures (collectively, the “Disclosures”) in order to provide for this improved transparency: Self-Service Disclosure. First, the Regulations require Plans and insurers in the individual and group markets to disclose certain cost-sharing information upon request to a participant, beneficiary, or enrollee (or his or her authorized representative), including (a) an estimate of the individual’s cost-sharing liability for covered items or services furnished by a… Continue Reading

IRS Issue Snapshot Highlights Plan Sponsor Responsibilities to Missing Participants and Beneficiaries

The IRS recently published an Issue Snapshot (the “Snapshot”) on IRS.gov that revisits the steps a plan sponsor must complete in order to locate missing plan participants and beneficiaries. While the Snapshot does not contain any new guidance, its publication is an indication that ensuring plan sponsors are undertaking appropriate steps to locate missing participants and beneficiaries remains an area of focus for the IRS, including when they are conducting plan audits. Under current IRS guidance, plan sponsors should complete the following steps to attempt to locate missing plan participants and beneficiaries: Search for alternate contact information (address, telephone number, email, etc.) held by the plan or any related plan, sponsor, or publicly-available records or directories. Use a commercial locator service, credit reporting agency, or proprietary Internet search tool for locating individuals. Mail a letter via certified mail to the last known mailing address and through any appropriate means for… Continue Reading

Want to Elect to Have a Safe Harbor Plan for 2021? – The Time is Now

As we previously reported here, earlier this year, the IRS provided relief to plan sponsors of safe harbor 401(k) and 403(b) plans, allowing them to amend their plans mid-year to suspend or reduce safe harbor contributions through the end of the 2020 plan year. Many employers elected to make this change in order to reduce overall costs to help them weather the COVID-19 pandemic. Plan sponsors who want to go back to a safe harbor plan design for 2021 must (i) amend their plan documents before the end of the year to include safe harbor contributions; (ii) notify their third party administrators as soon as possible so that the third party administrator is prepared to administer the plan as a safe harbor plan; and (iii) provide the required safe harbor notice to participants at least 30 days (and not more than 90 days) before the beginning of the plan year.… Continue Reading

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