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IRS Private Letter Ruling Approves Student Loan Repayment Feature in 401(k) Plan

A recently released IRS Private Letter Ruling (the “PLR”) describes a potential approach for an employer to integrate a student loan repayment program with the employer’s defined contribution plan. As described in the PLR, the employer proposed to amend its 401(k) plan to permit employees to enroll in a voluntary student loan benefit program (the “Program”) under which the employer would make a nonelective contribution to an employee’s account under the plan for each pay period during which the employee made a student loan repayment equal to a specified amount of eligible compensation. The IRS ruled that, based on the conditions described in the PLR, the Program did not violate the Internal Revenue Code’s “contingent benefit” prohibition (i.e., an employer cannot offer a benefit, other than a matching contribution, that is contingent upon the employee making contributions to a 401(k) plan). The PLR did not address what impact such a… Continue Reading

Sixth Circuit Decision Highlights Importance of Distributing Accurate SPDs

A recent case decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit provides yet another example of the importance of ensuring that plan documents and summary plan descriptions (“SPDs”) accurately and consistently describe plan benefits. In Pearce v. Chrysler Group LLC Pension Plan, the plan document provided that a participant who was not actively employed at retirement would be ineligible to receive an early retirement supplement. In contrast, the SPD stated that a participant did not need to be actively employed at retirement to remain eligible for the early retirement supplement. This discrepancy became an issue when an employee accepted a termination incentive, and the employer, relying on the language in the plan document, argued that this made the employee ineligible for the early retirement supplement. The employee requested that the lower court (i) grant equitable estoppel to prevent the employer from relying on the plan document, and… Continue Reading

IRS Finalizes Rules Permitting Use of Forfeitures to Fund Safe Harbor Contributions, QNECs, and QMACs

As we previously reported, on January 18, 2017, the IRS proposed amendments to regulations under Section 401(k) of the Internal Revenue Code that would permit the use of forfeitures to fund safe harbor contributions, qualified non-elective contributions (“QNECs”), and qualified matching contributions (“QMACs”). The IRS recently finalized the proposed amendments, effective as of July 20, 2018, without substantive changes. The prior regulations had provided that employer contributions could only qualify as safe harbor contributions, QNECs, or QMACs if they were non-forfeitable and not eligible for early distribution at the time they were contributed to the plan. The final regulations now provide that safe harbor contributions, QNECs, and QMACs be non-forfeitable and not eligible for early distribution at the time they are allocated to participants’ accounts. View the final regulations.

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.

Plan Loans: Plan Document and Forms May Require Updates Due to Tax Reform

Under the terms of many defined contribution plans, if a participant incurs a termination of employment, any outstanding loan will become immediately due and payable. If the participant is unable to repay the loan, the participant’s account balance will be offset by the amount of the outstanding loan, and this offset will be treated as a taxable distribution from the plan unless the participant contributes the amount of the loan offset to an eligible retirement plan (such as an IRA). As we previously reported on our blog, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which was enacted on December 22, 2017, extended the period of time a participant has to make such a contribution from 60 days after the date of the offset to the due date (including extensions) for filing the participant’s federal income tax return for the year in which the plan loan offset occurred. Plan sponsors should confirm… Continue Reading

DOL Clarifies ESG Investing Guidance

The DOL recently released Field Assistance Bulletin (“FAB”) No. 2018-01, which provides guidance on earlier-issued Interpretive Bulletins 2015-01 and 2016-01 (the “IBs”) regarding how ERISA plan fiduciaries may exercise shareholder rights and the extent to which such fiduciaries may take into account environmental, social, or corporate governance (“ESG”) considerations when making plan investments. FAB 2018-01 includes additional observations regarding the IBs and cautionary notes for plan fiduciaries regarding (i) treatment of ESG factors as being economically relevant to a particular investment choice, (ii) following guidelines related to ESG factors in a plan’s investment policy statement, (iii) selection of ESG-themed investment alternatives as a plan’s “qualified default investment alternative”, and (iv) incurring significant plan expenses for shareholder engagement activities related to plan investments. View the FAB 2018-01.

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

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

Employee Compensation and Benefits Changes Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

The following post is a general summary of the changes to the Internal Revenue Code made by the recently enacted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the “Act”) that affect employee compensation and benefits: Executive Compensation Updates Loss of Deduction for Compensation in Excess of $1 Million Currently, Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code limits the ability of publicly held corporations to deduct annual compensation paid to a “covered employee” in excess of $1 million, with an exception to this limit for certain performance-based compensation. Beginning on and after January 1, 2018, the Act amends Code Section 162(m) to eliminate the exception for “qualified performance-based compensation” (which includes stock options, stock appreciation rights, and compensation paid upon the attainment of pre-established performance goals) and commissions. There is limited grandfathering relief available under the Act that preserves the deductibility of existing arrangements that pay out after 2017, provided the “written binding… Continue Reading

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