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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.

Review Investment Policy Statements for ESG Investment Compliance

The DOL recently updated its “investment duties” regulation to provide further guidance in light of recent trends in environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) 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 (“IPS”) and evaluate whether such policies comply with the current rules for ESG investments (and will comply going forward with the DOL’s 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

M&A Considerations When the Seller Uses a PEO

Smaller companies often use professional employer organizations (“PEOs”) as a way to reduce benefit costs and to assist with many, if not all, human resources and payroll functions. While PEOs may work well for a company’s day-to-day operations, they can create headaches and complications in corporate transactions. When acquiring a company that uses a PEO, it is important to consider the following: Seller’s representations and warranties relating to employee benefit plan compliance generally include representations and warranties relating to the compliance of the plans it sponsors. Since individual companies do not sponsor PEOs, the typical benefit plan representations and warranties should be modified to include representations and warranties regarding any plans or benefits provided by the seller or its controlled group members plus more limited representations and warranties regarding the plans sponsored by the PEO. Depending on the PEO involved, it may be more difficult to get copies of actual… Continue Reading

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.

Puerto Rico Extends the Deadline for Special Disaster Distributions

The Puerto Rico Treasury Department (“Puerto Rico Treasury”) recently issued Internal Revenue Circular Letter (“CC RI”) 20-29 extending the period to make “Special Disaster Distributions” from qualified retirement plans and IRAs from June 30, 2020 to December 31, 2020. See our prior blog post here for details regarding what distributions qualify as Special Disaster Distributions. Other provisions of previously issued CC RI 20-09 (which provides rules applicable to distributions), CC RI 20-23 (which amends CC RI 20-09 to add additional eligible expenses), and CC RI 20-24 (which removes the requirement of signing before a notary public) continue in force. A copy of CC RI 20-29 can be found here.

IRS Provides Pandemic Relief to Safe Harbor Plans

Notice 2020-52 (the “Notice”) provides temporary relief allowing sponsors of “safe harbor” 401(k) and 403(b) plans to amend their plans mid-plan year to suspend or reduce safe harbor contributions through the end of the plan year regardless of whether the employer (i) is suffering an economic loss, or (ii) included a statement in its annual safe harbor notice that safe harbor contributions could be reduced or suspended during the plan year. Plans that adopt an amendment to reduce or suspend safe harbor non-elective contributions in accordance with this Notice will not be treated as failing to satisfy the 30 day notice requirement in the regulations, provided that a supplemental notice is provided to the eligible employees no later than August 31, 2020, and the plan amendment that reduces or suspends the non-elective contributions is adopted no later than the effective date of the reduction or suspension. Plans that adopt an… Continue Reading

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

Sixth Circuit Case Excludes Voluntary Retirement Contributions from a Debtor’s Disposable Income

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (the “Sixth Circuit”), whose jurisdiction includes Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, recently held that, under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code, a debtor’s pre-petition and certain post-petition voluntary retirement contributions are excludable from the debtor’s disposable income, which is used to satisfy a debtor’s obligations to its unsecured creditors. In Davis, a debtor filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code and sought to satisfy her unsecured debts by paying all of her “projected disposable income” to her unsecured creditors. The debtor sought to exclude her voluntary 401(k) contributions from her projected disposable income, but the bankruptcy court upheld an amended bankruptcy plan that included such contributions in her disposable income. The debtor appealed to the Sixth Circuit, which held that, because the debtor’s post-petition monthly 401(k) contributions were regularly withheld from the debtor’s wages prior to the bankruptcy,… 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

The Supreme Court Holds Participants in Fully-Funded Defined Benefit Plans Cannot Sue for Fiduciary Breach

The U.S. Supreme Court held Monday that participants in a fully-funded defined benefit plan have no standing to bring a lawsuit against plan fiduciaries for a breach of ERISA’s fiduciary requirements. In Thole, plan participants alleged that the plan fiduciaries had mismanaged funds and invested in imprudent investments causing the plan to lose approximately $748 million more than it otherwise should have during the 2008 recession. Subsequent to that date, the plan sponsor contributed an additional $311 million to the plan resulting in the plan becoming fully funded. The Court held that because the participants would receive the same benefits whether they won or lost the lawsuit, there was no controversy and, therefore, the participants had no standing under Article III of the U.S. Constitution to bring a civil action under Sections 502(a)(2) or 502(a)(3) of ERISA. Thole v. U.S. Bank N.A., No. 17–1712 (U.S. June 1, 2020) can be… Continue Reading

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