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Nothing in Life is Free – ERISA Expense Account Considerations

Many 401(k) plans contain spending accounts funded by revenue-sharing generated by a plan’s mutual fund holdings. These accounts, often referred to as ERISA expense accounts, revenue-sharing accounts, or plan expense reimbursement accounts, can cause complications for plans if not administered properly. These revenue-sharing accounts can accumulate quickly, and in large plans, can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. However, plan sponsors often do not know that the accounts are accumulating, and when they find them, may think they have just discovered “free money.” But nothing in life is free, and missteps with the use of these funds could result in participant claims. Accordingly, before utilizing these funds, plan sponsors should use care and consider the following questions: Are the funds being held in the trust? DOL Advisory Opinion 2013-03A (which is available here) noted that revenue sharing payments that were being received by the third party administrator prior… Continue Reading

IRS Publishes Updated Operational Compliance Checklist

The IRS recently updated its Operational Compliance Checklist (the “Checklist”) to include qualification requirements that will become effective during the 2021 and 2022 calendar years. Examples of items added to the Checklist for 2021 and 2022 include, among other things: Final regulations relating to updated life expectancy and distribution tables used for determining minimum required distributions; The SECURE Act requirement that qualified cash or deferred arrangements must allow long-term employees (i.e., employees who work at least 500 but less than 1,000 hours per year for three consecutive 12-month periods beginning on or after January 1, 2021) to participate; and Temporary relief from the physical presence requirement for spousal consents under qualified retirement plans. 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,… Continue Reading

IRS Releases Additional FAQs on Partial Plan Terminations

During the pandemic, many employers laid off and terminated employees as businesses shut-down and then rehired employees when businesses reopened. Employers who sponsored retirement plans and incurred these fluctuations in their workforce risked that the layoffs and terminations could trigger partial retirement plan terminations, which would require 100% vesting of affected participants. Whether a partial plan termination has occurred is generally based on the facts and circumstances, but there is a rebuttable presumption that a partial plan termination has occurred if 20% or more of a plan’s active participants have had an employer-initiated termination within a given plan year. In September of 2020, the IRS issued FAQs to clarify that when an employee was terminated and rehired within 2020, they would not be counted for purposes of determining whether a partial plan termination occurred (we reported on this guidance here). Section 209 of the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief… Continue Reading

Reminder: Employer Obligations Regarding Employee Life Insurance Coverage

In our prior blog post here, we discussed the case of Anastos v. IKEA Property, Inc., which highlighted the importance of an employer’s understanding of how its group term life insurance coverage is impacted by changes in employment status, such as termination of employment, retirement, or a leave of absence. This understanding is necessary for the employer to correctly communicate to employees when life insurance coverage will end, when evidence of insurability will be required, and the requirements necessary to convert coverage. In Anastos, the employer drafted its retiree benefit plan to state that eligible retirees could continue life insurance and that, in most cases, coverage would be guaranteed with no medical certification required. When a retiree attempted to obtain this coverage, the employer admitted that its plan was misleading and that it could not obtain underwriting to provide that kind of life insurance continuation benefit. The retiree sued, and… Continue Reading

Reminder: A Release of Claims May Not Offer Blanket Protection Against Potential ERISA Claims

A recent federal district court case, Anastos v. IKEA Property, Inc., illustrates that a release agreement executed upon employment termination may not offer blanket protection for employers against potential future ERISA or other claims that arise after termination (and after the release agreement has been executed). In Anastos, an employee sued his former employer alleging the information provided to him about the employer’s retiree life insurance program led him to believe that no medical certification would be required to continue his life insurance coverage post-retirement. After the employee retired, his employer informed him that life insurance coverage was not available post-termination under the employer-provided plan and that, instead, he would have to convert the coverage to a whole life insurance policy with MetLife. MetLife required a medical examination before it would issue the policy, and the employee would not be able to satisfy the medical examination requirement. The employer filed a… Continue Reading

Guidance on Investment Advice Exemption

The DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (the “EBSA”) recently released additional guidance on PTE 2020-02, Improving Investment Advice for Workers and Retirees, a new prohibited transaction exemption under ERISA that was adopted on December 18, 2020 (the “Exemption”) (see our prior blog posts about the Exemption here and here). The guidance consists of two documents: (i) a publication titled “Choosing the Right Person to Give You Investment Advice: Information for Investors in Retirement Plans and Individual Retirement Accounts” (the “Investor Guidance”), and (ii) a publication titled “New Fiduciary Advice Exemption: PTE 2020-02 Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees Frequently Asked Questions” (the “Advisor Guidance”). The Investor Guidance provides information on the Exemption for investors and includes a list of questions for investors to ask their investment advice providers, as well as a list of investor-focused FAQs. The Advisor Guidance is compliance focused and includes a list of FAQs targeted… Continue Reading

Voluntary Correction Program Applications – Best Practices

The IRS recently issued a list of the top errors it finds in Voluntary Correction Program (“VCP”) submissions, which is available here. The errors listed generally relate to issues associated with the submission of files in the correct PDF format, failing to pay the correct user fee, or the incorrect submission of the Form 8950. Filing a VCP application can be a useful method for plan sponsors to correct operational issues that have spanned numerous years or  other issues for which self-correction is unavailable. Errors in the submission can delay resolution of the application or, in some cases, cause a rejection of the application. In addition to the common errors outlined by the IRS, plan sponsors should also use care to avoid the following additional common issues: Failure to Submit a Comprehensive Filing – If one operational error is found, plan sponsors should conduct a self-audit prior to filing a… Continue Reading

ARPA Relaxes Funding Requirements for Single Employer Defined Benefit Pension Plans

Section 9705 of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA”) extends the amortization period for prior year shortfalls from seven to 15 years, beginning with the 2022 plan year (or, at the election of the plan sponsor, the 2019, 2020, or 2021 plan year). Section 9706 of the ARPA both modifies and extends the funding stabilization percentages for single employer defined benefit pension plans through 2029 and allows plan sponsors to elect whether to have these modified percentages apply for all purposes or solely for the purpose of determining the plan’s adjusted funding target attainment percentage.  The plan sponsor may further elect whether to apply the modified percentages beginning with the 2020, 2021, or 2022 plan year.  The ARPA is available here. 

The DOL Announces a Non-Enforcement Policy on Final ESG Investment and Proxy Voting Rules

On March 10, 2021, the DOL released an enforcement policy statement (the “Statement”), which announced that until the DOL publishes further guidance, it will not enforce the recently issued “Financial Factors in Selecting Plan Investments” final rule (the “ESG Rule”) and the “Fiduciary Duties Regarding Proxy Voting and Shareholder Rights” final rule (the “Proxy Voting Rule”, together with the ESG Rule referred to herein as, the “Final Rules”). The ESG Rule generally required plan fiduciaries to select investments and investment courses of action based solely on consideration of “pecuniary factors,” and the Proxy Voting Rule set forth a plan fiduciary’s obligations when voting proxies and exercising other shareholder rights in connection with plan investments. The implementation of the ESG Rule in particular has caused concerns for plan fiduciaries about the use of environment, social, and governance considerations in its investment decisions and has been met with increasing criticism from a… Continue Reading

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

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