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IRS Expands Determination Letter Program for Mergers of Qualified Plans Following Corporate Transactions

The IRS recently reversed course on the availability of the determination letter program for merged qualified retirement plans – thereby providing new alternatives for integrating qualified retirement plan benefits in the context of corporate transactions.

Merged Plan Relief:  Rev. Proc. 2019-20, released on May 1, 2019, expands the IRS’ determination letter program for individually designed qualified retirement plans (e.g., defined benefit plans or defined contribution plans) that result from a merger of two or more qualified retirement plans following a corporate merger, acquisition or other similar business transaction (a “Merged Plan”).  The newly expanded program will be available beginning September 1, 2019 and continuing on an ongoing basis.

Eligibility:  To be eligible for the determination letter program:

  • The Merged Plan must be a combination of two or more qualified retirement plans maintained by previously unrelated entities (i.e., entities that are not members of the same controlled group under Section 414 of the Internal Revenue Code);
  • The plan merger must occur no later than the last day of the first plan year that begins after the effective date of the corporate merger, acquisition or other similar business transaction (the “Corporate Transaction”); and
  • A determination letter application for the Merged Plan must be submitted by the last day of the first plan year that begins after the effective date of the plan merger.

Pre-approved or prototype qualified retirement plans are not explicitly covered by the procedure  — additional IRS guidance will be needed to determine the applicability

IRS Takes Step Towards De-Risking Retiree Lump Sum Windows

On March 6, 2019, the IRS announced that it will not amend the minimum required distribution regulations under Code section 401(a)(9) to expressly prohibit lump-sum window elections for retirees who are already receiving annuity payments under a defined benefit pension plan.  This practice has never been clearly permissible under existing RMD regulations. Nevertheless, some plan sponsors seeking to “de-risk” their pension liability received private letter rulings in the past permitting such action.  Then the IRS issued Notice 2015-49 announcing that it would propose amendments to the RMD regulations clarifying that lump sum windows for retirees are not be permitted.  Now the IRS has altered course on this issue again with Notice 2019-18.

Thoroughly confused?  Not surprising given the shifting positions of the IRS on this issue.

Existing Regulations

Existing regulations state that once annuity payments have commenced over a period of time, the period may only be changed in accordance with certain exceptions enumerated in Treas. Reg. 1.401(a)(9)-6, Q&A-13.  One enumerated exception is for annuity payment increases described in Q&A-14.  The regulations under Q&A-14 provide that annuity payments may increase to allow a beneficiary to convert the survivor portion of a joint and survivor annuity into a single-sum distribution upon the employee’s death.  They do not expressly recognize a similar right to convert an annuity into to a lump sum during the employee’s lifetime.  They do, however, permit the payment of “increased benefits that result from a plan amendment.”  Plan sponsors interested

2019 Qualified Plan Limits Released

The Internal Revenue Service released the 2019 dollar limits for retirement plans, as adjusted under Code Section 415(d). We have summarized the new limits (along with the limits from the last few years) in the chart below.

Type of Limitation

2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 Elective Deferrals (401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2) and 457(c)(1)) $19,000 $18,500 $18,000 $18,000 $18,000 Section 414(v) Catch-Up Deferrals to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b), or SARSEP Plans (457(b)(3) and 402(g) provide separate catch-up rules to be considered as appropriate) $6,000 $6,000 $6,000 $6,000 $6,000 SIMPLE Salary Deferral $13,000 $12,500 $12,500 $12,500 $12,500 SIMPLE 401(k) or regular SIMPLE plans, Catch-Up Deferrals $3,000 $3,000 $3,000 $3,000 $3,000 415 limit for Defined Benefit Plans $225,000 $220,000 $215,000 $210,000 $210,000 415 limit for Defined Contribution Plans $56,000 $55,000 $54,000 $53,000 $53,000 Annual Compensation Limit $280,000 $275,000 $270,000 $265,000 $265,000 Annual Compensation Limit for Grandfathered Participants in Governmental Plans Which Followed 401(a)(17) Limits (With Indexing) on July 1, 1993  

$415,000  

$405,000  

$400,000  

$395,000  

$395,000 Highly Compensated Employee 414(q)(1)(B) $125,000 $120,000 $120,000 $120,000 $120,000 Key employee in top heavy plan (officer) $180,000 $175,000 $175,000 $170,000 $170,000 Tax Credit ESOP Maximum balance $1,130,000 $1,105,000 $1,080,000 $1,070,000 $1,070,000 Amount for Lengthening of 5-Year ESOP Period $225,000 $220,000 $215,000 $210,000 $210,000 Taxable Wage Base $132,900 $128,400 $127,200 $118,500 $118,500 IRAs for individuals 49 and below $6,000 $5,500 $5,500 $5,500 $5,500 IRAs for individuals 50 and above $7,000 $6,500 $6,500 $6,500 $6,500 FICA Tax for employees and employers 7.65% 7.65%

A Mistake a Day: Top 5 401(k) Compliance Mistakes & Best Practices

Last week, we discussed four of the five most common compliance mistakes made by 401(k) plan administrators and fiduciaries, the potential liability associated with such mistakes, and steps you can take to avoid making them yourself.

On Monday, we discussed failures to timely update plan documents.

On Tuesday, we discussed an SPD’s failure to accurately describe the terms of a plan.

On Wednesday, we discussed a plan’s definition of compensation.

On Thursday, we discussed delinquent contributions.

We hope you enjoyed this refresher on best compliance practices.  For our last post in this five-part series, we discuss a topic that never goes out of style…

Plan Governance

Description

Plan governance generally encompasses the oversight policies and procedures that plans enact to ensure good process and operational compliance. The following discussion addresses two specific aspects of plan governance—those which are among the most commonly neglected.  Fortunately, these requirements for good plan governance are also extremely easy to satisfy.

Potential Liability

Errors stemming from poor plan governance can result in plan operational failures with potential consequences ranging from minor to loss of a plan’s qualified status.  To the extent poor plan governance stems from or results in a fiduciary breach, fiduciaries may be held personally liable.

Examples

Fiduciary Training. Plan fiduciaries should receive regular and thorough training on best practices in plan governance. Common errors resulting from a failure to receive such training include failure to properly establish and engage

A Mistake a Day: Top 5 401(k) Compliance Mistakes & Best Practices

This week, we are discussing the five most common compliance mistakes made by 401(k) plan administrators and fiduciaries, the potential liability associated with such mistakes, and steps you can take to avoid making them yourself.

On Monday, we discussed failures to timely update plan documents.

On Tuesday, we discussed an SPD’s failure to accurately describe the terms of a plan.

On Wednesday, we discussed a plan’s definition of compensation.

In this, our penultimate post, we discuss the most common mistake of all: delinquent contributions.

Delinquent Contributions

Description

Employers are required to contribute employees’ elective deferrals to the plan on the earliest date that the contributions can reasonably be segregated from the employer’s general assets, and in no event later than the fifteenth (15th) business day of the month following the month in which the participant contributions are withheld or received by the employer. The Department of Labor takes the position that this rule requires the employer to deposit elective deferrals into the plan trust as soon as reasonably practicable – which would in virtually all cases be significantly sooner than the above described outside limit. An employer’s deposit history may establish a basis for what is possible. When employers contribute withheld amounts later than the time frame described above, the contributions are considered delinquent.

Potential Liability

When an employer mixes an employee’s contribution to a 401(k) plan with its general assets longer than necessary, it engages in a prohibited transaction. To

A Mistake a Day: Top 5 401(k) Compliance Mistakes & Best Practices

Welcome to the third installment of this series! This week, we are discussing the five most common compliance mistakes made by 401(k) plan administrators and fiduciaries, the potential liability associated with such mistakes, and steps you can take to avoid making them yourself. Each day we will discuss a new compliance mistake. So far, we have discussed failures to timely update plan documents and an SPD’s failure to accurately describe plan terms. Today we discuss a plan’s definition of compensation.

Wrong Definition of Compensation

Description

401(k) plans may use different definitions of compensation for different purposes. For instance, plans may use any definition of compensation for certain purposes, but must use one of two statutory definitions of compensation found in the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) for certain other purposes. For example, (i) the IRC § 415 definition of compensation must be used when calculating the employer’s deduction for contributions and determining which employees are considered highly compensated, and (ii)  the IRC § 414 definition of compensation must be used for safe harbor plans and for determining if a plan meets nondiscrimination requirements. An operational failure occurs when the administrator uses a definition of compensation other than the definition specified in the plan documents. Even if the definition used for the calculation is legally permissible, the definition must match the definition contained in the plan’s terms.

Potential Liability

If the error is discovered by the plan sponsor, it may generally be corrected as described below. 

A Mistake a Day: Top 5 401(k) Compliance Mistakes & Best Practices

This week, we are discussing the five most common compliance mistakes made by 401(k) plan administrators and fiduciaries, the potential liability associated with such mistakes, and steps you can take to avoid making them yourself. Each day we will discuss a new compliance mistake. Yesterday, we discussed failures to timely update plan documents. Today, we are discussing an SPD-related failure. Check in through the end of the week for more compliance mistakes!

SPD Fails to Accurately Describe Plan Terms

Description

A Summary Plan Description (“SPD”), by definition, must accurately summarize a plan. This means that all descriptions in the SPD must accurately describe the terms of the underlying plan document.

Potential Liability

If an SPD includes different provisions than the corresponding plan document, a court may enforce the provisions of the SPD rather than those of the plan. The facts that a plaintiff must prove to receive this relief varies from circuit to circuit.

Examples

The plan requires that a participant be employed on the last day of the plan year to receive a matching contribution.  The SPD indicates that participants will receive a matching contribution regardless of whether they are in the employer’s employment on the last day of the year. The SPD does not accurately describe the of plan’s eligibility provisions.

The Fix

Regularly review the SPD for consistency with applicable plan terms and plan operation.

Seventh Circuit Holds that ERISA does not Preempt State “Slayer Statute”

We turn once again to the sad and difficult task that plan administrators face when distributing the benefits of a participant who has been murdered by his or her designated beneficiary. Sad for obvious reasons.  Difficult because ERISA and state law may provide different answers.  ERISA directs a plan to honor a participant’s beneficiary designation—meaning that the murderer would receive the benefit. “Slayer statutes” prohibit the murderer from receiving a financial benefit from his or her victim, requiring the plan to disregard the beneficiary designation.

Our prior blog post suggested three strategies that a plan administrator might employ in the face of uncertainty: interpleader, receipt and refunding agreement, and affidavit of status.  Under the interpleader approach, the plan administrator would pay the benefit into the registry of the court and join each potential claimant as a party defendant. Each claimant would then argue for receipt of the benefit, and the court would award the benefit and issue a judgment upon which the plan administrator may rely for protection against the losing claimants.  This certainty comes at the cost and effort required by litigation in federal court.

A recent Seventh Circuit case involves just this approach.  In Laborers’ Pension Fund v. Miscevice, No. 17-2022, the participant was killed by his wife.  At the state criminal court proceeding, the court determined that the wife intended to kill her husband without legal justification but also that she was insane at the time and therefore not guilty of

Revised VCP Fees – Simple Isn’t Always Better

Revised VCP Fees – Simple Isn’t Always Better

January 18, 2018

Authored by: benefitsbclp

The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) has described its recent changes to its Voluntary Correction Program (“VCP”) user fees as “simplification.”  This simplification is achieved by significantly changing the way user fees are determined and by eliminating alternative and reduced fees that were previously available.   At first blush, this simplification appears to result in a general reduction in user fees, however, in certain circumstances, the changes will actually result in significantly higher fees.   If you are the person responsible for issuing or requesting checks for your plan’s VCP application(s), it is important to note the differences from the past fee structure so that you will know what your plan is in for (good or bad) the next time a VCP application is necessary.

In case you are not familiar with the VCP, the IRS created the program under its Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System, to allow tax-favored retirement plans not currently under examination to correct certain failures that would otherwise result in the loss of tax-favored status.  If a plan sponsor elects to submit an application under the program, the fee that must be paid with each application is called a “user fee.”  This user fee has always been subject to change, but never before has the user fee structure undergone such an extreme makeover from one year to another.

On the surface, the biggest change to the VCP user fee structure is that for applications submitted prior to January 2, 2018, the user fee was based on the number

Code Section 409A…Here Today but Possibly Gone Tomorrow and Other Proposed Changes in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

Last week the House unveiled its tax overhaul plan, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“Act”).  The Act’s proposals related to employee benefits and compensation are as follows:

Nonqualified Deferred Compensation

Perhaps one of the most talked about aspects of the Act (at least among benefits practitioners) is the demise of Code section 409A and the creation of its replacement, Code section 409B.

Under the proposed Code section 409B regime, nonqualified deferred compensation would be defined broadly to include any compensation that could be paid later than the March 15 following the taxable year in which the compensation is no longer subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture, but with specific carve-outs for qualified retirement plans and bona fide vacation, leave, disability, or death benefit plans.  Stock options, stock appreciation rights, restricted stock units, and other phantom equity are included expressly in the definition of nonqualified deferred compensation.

All nonqualified deferred compensation earned for services performed after 2017 would become taxable once the substantial risk of forfeiture no longer exists, even if payment of the compensation occurs in a later tax year.  As a result:

  • Stock options and stock appreciation rights would become includible in income in the year in which the award vests, without regard to whether they have been exercised.
  • An employee’s deferral of any salary under a nonqualified deferred compensation arrangement until separation from service or otherwise would result in the inclusion of such amount in the employee’s income in the year earned.
  • All salary
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