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SEC Guidance on Registration of 401(k) Plan Interests when Brokerage Windows are Offered

secThe Securities Act of 1933 prohibits the offer or sale of securities unless either a registration statement has been filed with the SEC or an exemption from registration is applicable. Although most qualified plan interests qualify for an exemption from the registration requirement, offers or sales of employer securities as part of a 401(k) plan generally will not qualify for such an exemption.  Accordingly, 401(k) plans with a company stock investment option typically register the shares offered as an investment option under the plan using Form S-8.

On September 22, 2016, the SEC released a Compliance and Disclosure Interpretation addressing the application of the registration requirements to offers and sales of employer securities under 401(k) plans that (i) do not include a company securities fund but (ii) do allow participants to select investments through a self-directed brokerage window.  Open brokerage windows typically allow plan participants to invest their 401(k) accounts in publicly traded securities, including, in the case of a public company employer, company stock.  The SEC determined that registration in this situation would not be required as long as the employer does no more than (i) communicate the existence of the open brokerage window, (ii) make payroll deductions, and (iii) pay administrative expenses associated with the brokerage window in a manner that is not tied to particular investments selected by participants.  This means that the employer may not draw participants’ attention to the possibility

2017 Qualified Plan Limits Released

The IRS recently released updated limits for retirement plans.  Our summary of those limits (along with the limits from the last few years) is below.

Type of Limitation 2017 2016 2015 2014 Elective Deferrals (401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2) and 457(c)(1)) $18,000 $18,000 $18,000 $17,500 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 $5,500 SIMPLE 401(k) or regular SIMPLE plans, Catch-Up Deferrals $3,000 $3,000 $3,000 $2,500 415 limit for Defined Benefit Plans $215,000 $210,000 $210,000 $210,000 415 limit for Defined Contribution Plans $54,000 $53,000 $53,000 $52,000 Annual Compensation Limit $270,000 $265,000 $265,000 $260,000 Annual Compensation Limit for Grandfathered Participants in Governmental Plans Which Followed 401(a)(17) Limits (With Indexing) on July 1, 1993 $400,000 $395,000 $395,000 $385,000 Highly Compensated Employee 414(q)(1)(B) $120,000 $120,000 $120,000 $115,000 Key employee in top heavy plan (officer) $175,000 $170,000 $170,000 $170,000 SIMPLE Salary Deferral $12,500 $12,500 $12,500 $12,000 Tax Credit ESOP Maximum balance $1,080,000 $1,070,000 $1,070,000 $1,050,000 Amount for Lengthening of 5-Year ESOP Period $215,000 $210,000 $210,000 $210,000 Taxable Wage Base $127,200 $118,500 $118,500 $117,000 FICA Tax for employees and employers 7.65% 7.65% 7.65% 7.65% Social Security Tax for employees 6.2% 6.2% 6.2% 6.2% Social Security Tax for employers 6.2% 6.2% 6.2% 6.2% Medicare Tax for employers and employees 1.45% 1.45% 1.45% 1.45% Additional Medicare Tax* .9% of comp >$200,000 .9% of comp >$200,000 .9% of comp > $200,000 .9% of comp > $200,000

*For taxable years beginning

IRS Overhauls the Retirement Plan Correction Program

IRS Overhauls the Retirement Plan Correction Program

October 20, 2016

Authored by: Katharine Finley and benefitsbclp

old-way-new-wayWith the looming end of the determination letter program as we know it, the IRS has issued an updated Revenue Procedure for the Employee Plans Compliance Resolutions System (EPCRS). Released on September 29, 2016, Rev. Proc. 2016-51 updates the EPCRS procedures, replaces Rev. Proc. 2013-12 and integrates the changes provided in Rev. Proc. 2015-27 and Rev. Proc. 2015-28. The updated revenue procedure is effective January 1, 2017 and its provisions cannot be used until that date. Rev. Proc. 2013-12, as modified by Rev. Proc. 2015-27 and Rev. Proc. 2015-28, should be used for any corrections under the EPCRS for the remainder of 2016. Highlights from the new revenue procedure are outlined below.

Changes

  • Determination Letter Applications. Determination letter applications are no longer required to be submitted as part of corrections that include plan amendments. The new revenue procedure also clarifies that any compliance statement for a correction through plan amendment will not constitute a determination that the plan amendment satisfies the qualification requirements.
  • Favorable Letter Requirements. A qualified individually designed plan submitted under the Self Correction Program (SCP) will still satisfy the Favorable Letter requirement when correcting significant failures even if its determination letter is out of date.
  • Fees. The Voluntary Correction Program (VCP) fees are now user fees. Effective January 1, 2017 a plan sponsor must refer to the annual Employee

PBGC Proposed Rule May Offer DC Plans New Tool for Finding Missing Participants

where-are-youFor many years, the PBGC has been helping reunite missing participants with their benefits under single-employer defined benefit plans. Now, a new PBGC proposed rule may open up the program to missing participants under other terminated plans.

Under this proposed rule, terminated defined contributions plans may choose to transfer benefits of missing participants to the PBGC or to establish an IRA to receive the transfer and send information to the PBGC about the IRA provider.   The PBGC will attempt to locate the missing participants and add them to a searchable database. The PBGC notes that once the program is established, it may issue guidance making the reporting requirement mandatory for defined contribution plans as authorized under section 4050 of ERISA.

The PBGC will accept the transfer of accounts of any size. If a plan sponsor chooses to transfer accounts to the PBGC, it must transfer the accounts of all missing participants.  There will be no fee for transfers of $250 or less. For transfers above that amount, a one-time flat fee will apply which the PBGC indicates will not exceed its costs associated with the program.  Initially, the fee has been set at $35.

This newly-proposed voluntary program for defined contribution plans has certain limitations. For instance, it would only be available to locate missing participants upon plan termination.  It would not be available to locate missing participants for

Kübler-Ross and IRS Announcement 2016-32

griefWhen the IRS announced that it would virtually eliminate the determination letter program for individually designed retirement plans, many practitioners moved through the classic Kübler-Ross five stages of grief (see the picture at the right).  Some have yet to finish.  In Announcement 2016-32, the IRS requested comments on how these plans can maintain compliance going forward since determination letters are no longer available.

As a general rule, the IRS used to deny plans the ability to incorporate tax code provisions by reference (rather than reciting them wholesale in the plan), except for a very short list available here.  The IRS is asking if there are additional provisions that would also be appropriate to incorporate by reference.  This would avoid the need to reproduce these provisions wholesale and run the risk of a minor foot fault if the language did not line up.  It would also help avoid the need to update plans for law changes, in some cases.

Additionally, much to the anger of many practitioners, the IRS has historically sometimes required a plan to include provisions that were not applicable to the plan.  For example, there are special diversification requirements for plans that hold publicly-traded employer stock, yet the IRS has required them even for private companies.  One wonders if the IRS actually observed numerous situations where privately held corporations became public companies and then failed to amend those of

I Know My Rollover is Late, but It’s Okay. Trust Me.

certified-with-ink-padAs retirement plan professionals know, certain distributions from plans and IRAs to taxpayers can be rolled over to another plan or IRA within 60 days. Of course, sometimes 60 days is just not enough and the IRS recognizes that, having permitted a seemingly innumerable number of private letter rulings granting extensions.  These often occur where a financial advisor gave bad advice or made some kind of mistake or where some tragedy worthy of a blues or country song (or worse) befell the taxpayer that made it impossible to complete the rollover in 60 days.

The IRS has had a small cottage industry the last decade or so of granting private letter rulings extending the 60-day period for these rollovers.  But now, they’ve decided to let plans and IRAs just take the taxpayer’s word for it.

Under a new revenue procedure, taxpayers can now self-certify as to the reason that they need more time.  Now, taxpayers can’t just certify for any reason.  They have to have missed the 60-day period because of one or more of the following reasons:

  • An error on the part of the financial institution receiving the rollover or making the distribution
  • The distribution was made in the form of a check and the check was misplaced and never cashed (“I put the check where I knew I’d remember it. It was right next to my keys.”)
  • The

Update on the Apparent Demise of the Determination Letter Program

IRSAs we previously reported, the IRS had said last year that determination letter program for retirement plans would largely be going away. Rev. Proc. 2016-37 includes information with respect to the future of the determination letter program.  As highlighted in a recent IRS webcast, a noteworthy development is that “subject to IRS resources” that post-initial determination letters may be available after 2017 in specified circumstances:

(1) significant law changes,

(2) new plan designs, and

(3) Plan types that can’t convert to a pre-approved format.

Number 3 means complex plans that do not fit on a pre-approved document may, ‘subject to IRS resources’ as published annually, be able to be submitted for a ruling under the determination letter program.  Therefore, complex individually designed plans may still have hope that the IRS will continue to rule on their qualified status.

There were two other key points in the webcast.  First, the IRS will publish a “required amendments” list and that employers will have until the end of the second calendar year after the date the list is published to amend their plans.  Second, there will also be an operational compliance list issued annually that will be accessible on the IRS website, not published. The purpose of the operational list is to focus on the operation of the plan prior to the date of adoption of the amendment.  These lists will include information that

IRS Issues Clarification on Phased Retirement Payments

IRS Issues Clarification on Phased Retirement Payments

July 5, 2016

Authored by: benefitsbclp

Part-time and full-time job working businessman business man conceptTypically, when a participant receives annuity payments from a defined benefit pension plan where he or she has a basis in the benefit (what Code Section 72 calls an “investment in the contract”), a portion of the payment is treated as a recovery of that basis. Therefore, it is not taxable to the participant.  That portion is determined under the rules of Code Section 72.  The most common way in which an employee has basis in his or her benefit is by making after-tax contributions.  Currently, this is more common in governmental defined benefit plans than other plans.

However, it was not clear how these basis recovery rules worked in the context of phased retirement distributions. The IRS recently issued Notice 2016-39 to address the treatment of payments made by a qualified defined benefit pension plan to an employee during phased retirement.  Phased retirement is the period during which an employee begins to take distributions of a portion of his or her retirement benefits from a plan while continuing to work on a part-time basis.  During these periods, it may be difficult for the plan to do the typical calculation under Code Section 72.  Additionally, the employee may be continuing to accrue additional benefits, which would further complicate the calculation.

The Notice provides that if certain conditions are met, the payments will not be considered

Changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act May Affect Employee Benefits

200270748-001The United States Department of Labor recently issued a Final Rule updating the Fair Labor Standards Act (the “FLSA”) that includes an increase in the standard salary level and that will take effect December 1, 2016. Under the FLSA, certain employees may be exempted from overtime pay for working more than 40 hours per week if their job duties primarily involve executive, administrative, or professional duties and their salary is equal to or greater than the required salary levels.

Among other changes made by the Final Rule, the threshold salary levels have been dramatically increased and will continue to be automatically updated every three years in the future. Prior to the Final Rule, the standard salary level was $455/week or $23,660/year.  As of December 1, 2016, the standard salary level will be $913/week or $47,476/year.  Highly compensated employees are subject to a less stringent job duties test than lower compensated employees; the salary threshold for highly compensated employees was $100,000 and will increase to $134,004.

The Final Rule also revises prior FLSA regulations by permitting up to ten percent (10%) of the salary thresholds to be met with nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive compensation (including commissions).

Employers may face many other decisions in addition to whether to increase pay or limit overtime hours as a result of the Final Rule. Many employers offer certain benefits, like long-term disability or paid

Exceptional Plan Governance: Beat Back the Coming Litigation Onslaught

Gavel and ScalesIt was bound to happen. For several years, the plaintiffs’ bar has sued fiduciaries of large 401(k) plans asserting breach of their duties under ERISA by failing to exercise requisite prudence in permitting excessive administrative and investment fees.  It may be that the plaintiffs’ bar has come close to exhausting the low-hanging lineup of potential large plan defendants, and, if a recent case is any indication, the small and medium-sized plan fiduciaries are the next target.  See, Damberg v. LaMettry’s Collision Inc., et al. The allegations in this class action case parallel those that have been successful in the large plan fee dispute cases. Now that the lid is off, small and medium sized plan fiduciaries should be forewarned of the need to employ solid plan governance to avoid, or at least well defend, a suit aimed at them.

Exceptional plan governance means that, at a minimum, plan sponsors (and designated fiduciaries) should consider the following items to help demonstrate that they are primarily operating their plans to the benefit of participants and their beneficiaries and then to reduce liability exposure for themselves:

  • Understand and exercise procedural prudence – process, process, process
  • Identify plan fiduciaries and know their roles and duties
  • Seek and obtain fiduciary training for all plan fiduciaries
  • Adopt a proper plan committee charter or similar document
  • Appoint fiduciaries and retain service providers prudently
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