Is Auto-Enrollment right for your company or organization?

Since the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA), Automatic Enrollment features in 401(k) and 403(b) plans have increased in popularity for large and small employers alike. PPA added fiduciary protection for Plan Sponsors, as well as safeguards for employees with requirements for advanced notices and default investments. But what exactly is an Automatic Enrollment feature? Is it appropriate for your plan design? First, let’s look at the requirements, then we’ll look at the pros and cons. With the right knowledge and information, you can determine if the Automatic Enrollment feature is right for you.

Educating Participants and Auto-Enrollment Options

The basic tenet of an Automatic Enrollment feature is this; Employees do not participant in the 401(k) plan mainly because of apathy and lack of education. They don’t know how much to contribute, and they don’t know where to invest their funds. An Automatic Enrollment feature takes that decision away from the employee; the employee is automatically enrolled in the 401(k) or 403(b) plan at a default level and their contributions are invested in a default investment fund unless the employee proactively says no.

There are three types of automatic options to consider: Automatic Contribution Arrangement (ACA), Eligible Automatic Contribution Arrangement (EACA), and Qualified Automatic Contribution Arrangement (QACA).

Here’s a quick overview of each:

ACA – The most flexible design, where there is no minimum contribution rate or required auto-escalation. There is also no required employer contribution.  This design can be added to a plan at any time.

EACA – This design is like an ACA where there is no minimum contribution rate or required auto-escalation. There is also no required employer contribution.  However, an EACA must be in place as of the first day of a Plan year. Also, employees may have up to 90 days to request to receive the return of their employee deferrals, without incurring the tax penalty.

QACA – The least flexible design, where there is a minimum contribution rate, the employer must provide a specific matching contribution, and participants must be fully vested in this match within two years of service.  The QACA generally must be in place the entire year.  If done correctly, this design will automatically satisfy certain non-discrimination testing.  Also, employees may have up to 90 days to request to receive the return of their employee deferrals, without incurring the tax penalty.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Auto-Enrollment

The automatic enrollment feature isn’t a one size fits all and it isn’t the best choice for all companies and organizations, so look at these pros and cons before moving forward.

Benefits of auto-enrollment:

  • Employees will be more likely to participate, and contributions will increase – This can help when it is hard to get employees to take part in the enrollment process.
  • Employers may provide an automatic escalation feature where employees increase their contribution rate each year.
  • Employees will defer paying income tax on their contributions.
  • Employees are more likely to meet their retirement goals by participating immediately when they become eligible, rather than potentially waiting until later in their career.
  • Auto-enrollment may help the nondiscrimination testing results, while the QACA plan will exempt a plan from certain nondiscrimination testing requirements.

Possible drawbacks of auto-enrollment:

  • Setting the auto-enrollment contribution rate lower than a participant would have elected may negatively impact employee retirement savings goals, while setting it too high may cause employees to fully opt-out of the plan, negatively impacting both employee savings and overall participation.
  • Employees may become disengaged and wrongly believe their needed retirement savings will be taken care of with auto-enrollment. The defaulted investment option may not be appropriate for the employee based on their specific situation. As Plan Sponsors, companies should continue to provide retirement education programs to their employees through their plan’s investment advisor to address this potential pitfall.
  • There may be some added administrative time to incorporate and explain the automatic enrollment feature to employees, including the notice requirements for both the default or increasing deferral rate and the default investment option chosen by the employer.
  • Employer matching contributions may increase with increased employee participation.
  • Payroll integration is a must! Missing the first deduction for a newly eligible employee or missing the automatic increase deadline for a plan offering auto-increase features, can result in penalties to the employer, and a required contribution equal to 25% of the missed deferral plus the full match that should have been contributed.
  • Small balances – since newly eligible participants are default enrolled, their initial account balances may reduce the average account balance of the plan overall. Some investment platforms may charge higher fees for plans with lower average account balances, so make sure to check with yours.

Still not sure if auto-enrollment is right for your organization?

While there is no blanket answer, we can help you understand how implementing an auto-enrollment feature might affect your company or organization – Contact us today!

Choosing an Auditor for your Retirement Plan

With summer upon us and fiscal deadlines approaching, you may be facing the daunting task of hiring an auditor. 

ERISA requires an annual audit on plans with more than 100 eligible participants. Choosing a qualified plan auditor helps insure that you meet your legal responsibility to file a complete and accurate annual report/return known as the Form 5500. This form must meet standards from both the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of Labor (DOL).

The fees charged by CPAs for retirement plan audits can range from $5,000 to $20,000. It may be tempting to shop for auditing services on price alone, but this approach can have long term consequences.

If your Form 5500 is considered incorrect or incomplete, it is subject to rejection and Plan Sponsors could be charged substantial civil penalties. In some cases, the penalties could even double the initial cost of your audit.

The IRS can charge you up to $25 per day, up to $15,000.

• The DOL can charge penalties of $300 per day until a complete Form 5500 is filed, up to $30,000 per year.

Full Scope Audits Are More Comprehensive Than Limited Scope Audits

The Limited Scope Audit option is available for retirement plans whose assets are prepared and certified by a bank or similar institution, or by an insurance carrier that is regulated, supervised, and subject to periodic examination by a state or federal agency that acts as a custodian or trustee. The Limited Scope option relies on the trustee or custodian holding the assets to provide certification that the investment information is accurate and complete. In a Full Scope Audit, everything in the plan, including the investments, is subject to audit testing. The Limited Scope Audit limits the information that is audited.

The Limited Scope Audit composes 65% of retirement plan audits, but it does not protect the participants, according to the former  Assistant Secretary of Labor Phyllis C. Borzi. Speaking at a recent conference of Certified Public Accountants, Borzi called the Limited Scope Audit “practically useless.” She also told the attendees that the primary auditors who are most likely to produce substandard audits are those who think their rate of compensation is inadequate.

Choosing a Retirement Plan Auditor

Here is a list of things you should review before choosing an auditor for your plan:

• Your auditor must be licensed/certified – Federal law requires that the auditor you engage must be licensed or certified as a public accountant by a State regulatory authority.• Your auditor must be independent – The auditor you choose should not have any financial interests in the Plan or the Plan Sponsor. The auditor must be able provide an objective, unbiased opinion about the financial condition of the Plan.

• Your auditor should be experienced – According to the Department of Labor (DOL) one of the most common reasons for deficient accountant’s report is the failure of the auditor to perform test in areas unique to qualified plans. Hiring an auditor with training and experience in performing qualified plan audits will make it more likely the auditor is aware of the special auditing standards and rules that apply to qualified plans. 

Check References Before Engaging an Auditor

• Ask about their work with other qualified plans.

• See if they are a member of AICPA’s Employee Benefit Plan Audit Quality Center. The Employee Benefit Plan Audit Quality Center helps auditors meet the challenges of performing quality audits in the complex areas of qualified plans.

• You may also wish to verify with the correct State regulatory authority that the auditor’s holds a valid, up-to-date license or certificate to perform auditing services.

When a Less Experienced Auditor Is Assigned to Your Plan

There will be some instances when a less experienced auditor may be assigned to perform the audit of your plan to reduce audit costs. When this happens, make sure that a more experienced manager or partner will be reviewing their work.

The Engagement Letter

Once you have chosen an auditor, a contract also known as an “engagement letter” will be provided by the auditor for review and approval.

The letter of engagement from your auditor should include:

• The work to be performed.

• The timing of the audit.

• The responsibilities of both parties.

Review the letter carefully and resolve any questions prior to engaging the auditor for a smoother auditing process. Many of our clients at EJReynolds, Inc. undergo an annual audit and we work with several quality audit firms. If this process is new to you, or if you are interested in speaking with a new auditor, please feel free to ask your plan’s administrator for a list of referrals.

Your fiduciary responsibility regarding payment of plan fees from plan assets

In general, the fees associated with on-going administration of a retirement plan may be paid from plan assets provided they are necessary and reasonable. Certain expenses known as “settlor” expenses, however, cannot be paid for from plan assets.

What is considered to be reasonable?

The Department of Labor (DOL) requires (1) the expense is reasonable in light of the services provided; (2) the service is necessary; (3) the arrangement can be terminated without penalty (this doesn’t mean there can be a termination fee, though); and (4) the service provider has provided certain required disclosures regarding their fees and services prior to entering into the arrangement.

What are “settlor” expenses?

These are expenses that must be paid for by the employer because they are associated with the employer’s functions as a settlor of the plan trust.

Is there a simple way to determine whether a particular expense is a settlor expense?

Not really. Unfortunately, the DOL has not issued comprehensive guidance on this front, but they have issued some guidance. That said, there are two basic questions that should be considered:

  1. Is the expense necessary for the on-going administration of the plan?
  2. Is the expense discretionary and who does it primarily benefit?

In other words, if the expense is reasonable and relates to the normal operation of the plan, the expense may be paid for by the plan. If, on the other hand, the expense is discretionary and primarily benefits the employer, it would generally be considered a settlor expense.

What are examples of expenses that can be paid for by a plan?

  • Annual administration, recordkeeping, compliance testing, and Form 5500 preparation
  • Annual plan audit fees (large plan filers)
  • Investment management, advisory, trustee and custodial fees
  • Participant education, enrollment materials and required notices and disclosures
  • Required plan amendments and restatements
  • Fidelity bond
  • IRS determination letter filing fee
  • Participant distribution and loan fees
  • QDRO review

What are examples of expenses that cannot be paid for by a plan?

  • Plan design studies and projections (these primarily benefit the employer and are viewed as a settlor expense by the DOL)
  • Initial plan document, discretionary amendments and discretionary restatements (the DOL appears to view these as settlor expenses, even though the plan document is required as a matter of plan qualification)
  • Fees associated with the decision by an employer to terminate a plan
  • Fees and expenses related to plan corrections made under available IRS and DOL programs
  • Fees and expenses related to filing a late Form 5500 under the delinquent filer program

Are the rules different if the fee will be paid from the forfeiture account?

No. Amounts held in a plan forfeiture account are plan assets; the same rules apply.

Note: Some plans use “ERISA budget accounts” or “revenue holding accounts” to accept revenue sharing payments from plan investment providers and pay plan expenses. It is our view that these accounts generally should be treated in the same manner as any other plan asset.

How can eligible expenses be charged to plan participants?

Plan-level expenses may be charged (1) in proportion to participant account balances, (2) as a flat fee to participant accounts, or (3) some combination of both methods. In addition, certain plan fees may be paid for by the plan through the plan’s investment vehicles and are reflected as a reduction in investment returns.

Participant-level fees (e.g. distribution and loan fees) are typically charged directly to participant accounts.

Does the plan document need to provide that expenses can be paid for from the plan?

Generally, yes, and most plans do allow for eligible expenses to be paid for from plan assets. The plan should also state that fees may be paid for from the forfeiture account, if desired.

Does it make sense to charge eligible expenses to a plan?

It really depends on the plan and the goals and objectives of the plan sponsor. If the plan pays (whether directly or indirectly through plan investments), overall investment performance is reduced, and this can make a big difference over time. For plans of closely-held businesses, it often makes more sense for the employer to pay the expenses (they are deductible). It is much more common in large plans for the plan participants to bear most (if not all) of the related costs.

If eligible expenses are paid for by the plan, are there any required disclosures?

Yes. There are disclosure rules that apply for both plan service providers and plan participants (in participant-directed plans).

Note: Whether a particular fee or expense may be paid for by a plan is a fiduciary decision. Plan fiduciaries are charged to act prudently and in the best interest of plan participants. If a fee is charged improperly, the fiduciary(s) may be held liable so plan sponsors should exercise due care when determining whether it is appropriate for a plan to pay for a given expense.

 

The 10 most frequently asked questions about Fidelity Bond

  1. What is a fidelity bond?

A fidelity bond is a special type of insurance that protects plan participants from the risk of loss due to acts of fraud or dishonesty by plan officials.

  1. Is a fidelity bond required for my plan?

Generally, yes. With limited exceptions, all qualified plans (i.e. 401(k) plans, profit sharing plans, ESOPs, certain 403(b) plans, etc.) are required by law to be covered by a fidelity bond.

 

  1. Which types of plans are not required to have a fidelity bond?

Plans that are exempt from certain provisions of ERISA are not required to be covered by a fidelity bond. These plans include “one-participant” plans (i.e. plans that only cover the owner of a business (or the owner and his or her spouse), or only the partners of a partnership (or the partners and their spouses)), governmental plans, most plans sponsored by churches, and 403(b) plans that meet certain requirements.

 

  1. Who must be covered by the fidelity bond?

The plan must be the named insured; however, each person who “handles” plan assets must be covered by the bond. A person is considered to “handle” plan assets if his or her responsibilities are such that plan participants could incur a loss if he or she were to commit an act of fraud or dishonesty with respect to the plan.

 

  1. How is the amount of required coverage determined?

In general, the fidelity bond must be equal to at least 10% of plan assets as the beginning of each plan year, subject to a minimum bond amount of $1,000 and a maximum of $500,000 ($1,000,000 for plans that hold employer securities).

 

Note: Plans that hold more than 5% of Plan assets in “non-qualifying assets” (e.g. limited partnerships, third-party notes, collectables, real estate, mortgages, etc.) are subject to additional requirements.

 

  1. Can the plan be covered under the company’s general policy?

Yes; this is permissible provided that all of the necessary conditions are satisfied. For example, the plan must be a named insured, and the policy may not have a deductible (at least with respect to the portion of the policy covering the plan).

 

  1. Can a fidelity bond cover more than one plan?

Yes; each plan must be a named insured and assets under each plan as of the beginning of the plan year must be considered when determining the required coverage amount.

 

  1. Is a fidelity bond the same thing as fiduciary insurance?

No; fiduciary insurance provides protection for fiduciaries individually (rather than plan participants) in the event a legal claim is made against a plan fiduciary for a breach (or alleged breach) of their fiduciary responsibilities.

 

  1. Can the cost for the fidelity bond be paid for from plan assets?

Yes; the plan can pay for the fidelity bond assuming the plan permits for payment of plan expenses (which most do).

 

  1. Is there a penalty or fine if a plan doesn’t have coverage?

There isn’t a specific penalty or fine under the regulations; however, the amount of the bond must be reported on the plan’s Form 5500 each year which is filed with the Department of Labor (DOL).

 

If the plan is not covered by a fidelity bond, or if coverage not sufficient, this could certainly raise a “red-flag” and prompt an unwanted plan audit by the DOL or Internal Revenue Service.

 

If you would like to learn more about these rules, please contact us and we will be happy to assist you.

 

 

The 11 most asked In-Service Distribution questions

An in-service withdrawal occurs when an employee takes a distribution from a qualified, employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k) account, without leaving the employ of their company.  Read the 11 FAQs below to ensure you are informed on these distributions next time you are asked.

  1. When can a participant receive a distribution from a retirement plan while still working?

It depends. A plan may (but is not required to) allow participants to receive in-service distributions. In addition, certain conditions must be satisfied which are set forth under the Internal Revenue Code and regulations.

  1. Are the rules different depending upon the type of contributions?

Yes. Elective deferrals (i.e. 401(k) and Roth contributions) can only be distributed while a participant is still working under limited circumstances. The following in-service distributions are permissible, if provided for under the plan document:

  • Hardship distributions
  • Distributions on or after the date a participant has attained age 59 ½
  • Qualified reservist distributions
  • Distributions after a participant has become disabled (as defined under the terms of the plan)

Safe harbor nonelective and matching contributions may only be distributed upon reaching age 59 ½, hardship or disability. This also holds true for QNEC and QMAC account balances.

Profit sharing and employer matching contribution account balances may be distributed upon attainment of a stated aged (which may be less than age 59 ½), after the contributions have accumulated (or “aged”) in the plan for at least 2 years, after an employee has been a plan participant for at least 5 years, or upon a stated event.

Rollover and voluntary after-tax (non-Roth) contribution account balances may be distributed at any time.

Different rules apply to pension plan balances, which generally may not be distributed to an active employee prior to attainment of age 62.

  1. Are in-service distributions eligible for rollover?

Generally, yes. With the exception of hardship distributions, any of the in-service distributions described above are eligible for rollover.

  1. Are in-service distributions subject to the additional 10% income tax for early withdrawals?

Yes. Unless the participant has attained age 59 ½, the taxable portion of the distribution is generally subject to the additional 10% income tax. There are exceptions to this rule if the participant is disabled (as defined under the Internal Revenue Code) or if the distribution is a qualified reservist distribution.

  1. What qualifies as a “hardship” distribution?

The regulations provide “safe harbor” rules, which most plans follow. Under these rules, hardship distributions may be made for the following reasons:

  • To prevent foreclosure or eviction from a participant’s principle residence
  • To purchase a participant’s principal residence (excluding mortgage payments)
  • To pay for post-secondary education for a participant, his spouse, children or dependents for the next 12 months
  • To pay for unreimbursed medical expenses that would otherwise be deductible (without consideration to the deduction limit) for a participant, his spouse, children or dependents
  • To pay for funeral expenses for a participant’s deceased parent, spouse, child or dependent
  • To pay for expenses necessary to repair a participant’s principle residence as a result of a casualty
  • Expenses incurred as a result of a natural disaster in a federally declared disaster area
  • Medical, post-secondary educational, and funeral expenses for a participant’s primary beneficiary
  1. Are in-service distributions from Roth accounts taxable?

It depends. Roth contributions are not taxed when distributed, but the related earnings may be unless the distribution is a “qualified distribution”. In general, a distribution is a qualified distribution only if the distribution is being made on account of death, disability or attainment of age 59 ½ and the participant has had a Roth account under the plan for at least 5 years.

Distributions that are rolled over to a Roth IRA are not taxable.

  1. What are “Qualified Reservist” distributions?

A plan can allow participants who have been called to active duty for a period of more than 179 days (or indefinitely) to receive a distribution of their elective deferrals.

  1. Are distributions from voluntary after-tax accounts taxable?

Like Roth contribution account balances, the after-tax contribution portion of the account is not taxable but the related earnings are unless the distribution is rolled over to a traditional IRA. If rolled over to a Roth IRA, the related earnings are taxed.

  1. If a plan allows in-service distributions, can the provisions be removed?

A plan can remove a hardship distribution feature at any time; it is not a protected benefit. The other types of in-service distribution options discussed above are protected under the law. What this means is that any of these provisions may be removed prospectively; however, the participant account balances as of the effective date of the change must continue to be eligible for in-service distribution under the plan’s prior provisions.

  1. If an employee terminates and then is rehired, can he still receive a “termination” distribution?

No. After an employee has been rehired, he or she is no longer eligible to receive a termination distribution and would have to qualify for an in-service distribution under the terms of the plan.

  1. What happens if a plan issues an in-service distribution to a participant who doesn’t qualify to receive one under the terms of the plan?

The bottom line is that the plan sponsor must take corrective actions; this is plan qualification issue. The good news is the IRS provides methods for correcting such mistakes under their Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (EPCRS). Generally, the employer must take steps to have the participant return the funds to the plan, along with related earnings, but there are other options as well.

To learn more about in-service distributions, please contact us and we will be happy to assist you.

What does it mean to be top-heavy?

In general, a plan is considered to be top-heavy when more than 60% of plan assets are attributable to “key employees” as of the “determination date”. Top-heavy plans are subject to certain minimum contribution and vesting requirements.

Who is a key employee?

A key employee is an employee who at any time during the plan year: (1) owned more than 5% of the company, (2) owned more than 1% of the company and had compensation in excess of $150,000, or (3) was an officer of the company with compensation in excess of a specified dollar amount ($180,000 for 2019). Note that stock attribution rules apply when determining ownership for this purpose.

What is the determination date?

For the first plan year, the determination date is the last day of the plan year. For subsequent years, the determination date is the last day of the prior plan year. Note that top-heavy status is measured annually and may change from year to year.

How is top-heavy status calculated?

The top-heavy ratio is calculated by comparing the account balances of key employees to non-key employees, after making certain adjustments. First, certain participant balances are excluded (i.e. rollover account balances from unrelated employers; account balances of terminated participants who did not work for the company during the year; and account balances of former key employees). Next, certain amounts are added back (i.e. distributions made on account of termination, death or retirement if the participant worked for the company during the year; and in-service distributions made within the 5-year period ending on the last day of the plan year).

 What are the minimum contribution requirements for top-heavy plans?

Generally, the employer must make a contribution on behalf of all non-key participants who were employed on the last day of the plan year equal to the lesser of 3% or the highest contribution rate of any key employee. Certain contributions count towards satisfying the top-heavy minimum requirement (e.g. employer matching contributions, profit sharing contributions, and forfeiture allocations). If a participant has already received an amount sufficient to satisfy the top-heavy minimum, no additional contributions must be made on their behalf.

Caution: Plans that allow for immediate entry for 401(k)/Roth purposes but have a longer eligibility period for employer contributions are still required to make top-heavy minimums for non-key participants who were only eligible for the 401(k)/Roth portion of the plan.

How is the highest contribution rate for key employees determined?

All contributions (other than rollover contributions) are considered when calculating the contribution rates for key employees. This means that 401(k) deferrals and Roth contributions are included.

What are the minimum vesting requirements?

Top-heavy plans must use either a 3-year cliff or 6-year graded vesting schedule. This requirement has little impact since most plans use vesting schedules that meet or exceed these standards.

Are safe harbor 401(k) plans exempt?

Safe harbor plans are generally not required to make top-heavy minimums if all non-highly compensated employees are eligible for the safe harbor contribution, and the employer makes no contributions to the plan other than (1) safe harbor matching contributions, (2) additional matching contributions that satisfy the safe harbor rules, or (3) safe harbor nonelective contributions.

Caution: Forfeiture allocations can trigger top-heavy minimums in safe harbor plans.

What happens if the employer doesn’t fund top-heavy minimums?

Failure to make top-heavy minimums is an operational failure that can jeopardize the qualified status of the plan. As a result, any “missed” top-heavy minimums must be funded along with related earnings.

If you have any questions regarding the top-heavy rules or would like to learn more, please contact us.

 

Most Common Mistake: Failure of Timely 401(k) Deposits

One of the most common mistakes made by 401(k) plan sponsors is failure to deposit participant contributions (i.e. 401(k) deferrals/Roth contributions) and loan payments in a timely manner. Having said that, it is worthwhile reviewing the rules and consequences of making late deposits.

What are the rules?

In general, the Department of Labor (DOL) requires that participant contributions and loan payments be deposited as soon as the amounts can be reasonably segregated from the general assets of the employer.  This is because the amounts are considered to become plan assets at this point in time. Under examinations, the DOL also reviews deposits for consistency to determine whether contributions were funded in a timely manner.

Safe Harbor for Sponsors of Small Plans

Under the regulations, there is a “safe harbor” for sponsors of small plans (generally, plans with less than 100 participants). Under this rule, participant contributions and loan payments will be deemed to have been funded in a timely manner provided that the contributions are deposited within seven business days following the date in which the amounts were withheld.

Sponsors of Large Plans

Since the 7-business day rule does not apply to large plans, these plan sponsors must abide by the general rule of making the deposits as soon as the amounts withheld can be reasonably segregated from the general assets of the employer. As a result, we generally recommend these employers make deposits within three business days on a consistent basis.

What are the consequences of making late deposits?

The employer has engaged in a prohibited transaction with the plan because the employer had “use” of plan assets.

  • The late deposit must be reported on Form 5500
  • The employer must pay a 15% excise tax on the amount involved by filing Form 5330
  • Participants must be credited with lost earnings (the DOL has an online calculator that may be used for this purpose in certain situations)

Is the employer required to file under the DOL’s Voluntary Fiduciary Correction Program (VFCP)?

No. Filing under VFCP is not required. Nevertheless, employers may want to file under this program to obtain relief from the DOL for penalties that may otherwise be imposed and agreement not to investigate the plan fiduciaries for failure to deposit the amounts in a timely manner.

If you have any questions regarding the deposit rules or would like to learn more, please contact us.

IRS Expands Self-Correction Programs

On April 19, 2019, the IRS issued guidance expanding the circumstances under which plan sponsors can make corrections for certain plan failures under the Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (EPCRS) without seeking IRS approval. This is welcome relief since filing under the Voluntary Correction Program (VCP) can be costly, especially for small employers.

What changed?

The new guidance expands the corrections that can be made under the Self-Correction Program (SCP) by permitting corrections for certain plan loan, operational and plan document failures which could previously only be made by filing an application under the VCP. Since the IRS User Fees on the VCP Filings increased substantially last year, filing a VCP Application can be a costly process.

Plan Loan Failures

Plan loan failures are common and often occur when an employer fails to withhold loan payments from an employee’s paycheck. If the payments are not caught up within a specific time frame (known as the “cure period”), the loan is defaulted and the outstanding loan balance is taxed to the participant.

Previously, if the mistake was found after the expiration of the plan’s cure period, the only way to make the correction (and avoid taxation to the participant) was to file under VCP. This could be quite costly, since the VCP filing fees are based on plan assets (and not the failure itself). For example, if a plan sponsor needed to make corrections for three participants and the plan had $1,000,000 in assets, the VCP filing fee would be $3,000 (not including service provider fees to prepare the filing).

Under the updated procedures, a plan sponsor is permitted to make the correction for a loan that has gone into default under SCP assuming certain conditions are satisfied. The correction methods, however, remain unchanged. In general, a defaulted loan can be corrected by (1) having the participant make a lump-sum payment for the late loan payments, including accrued interest; (2) reamortizing the outstanding loan balance, including accrued interest, over the remaining term of the loan; or (3) a combination of both methods.

Note: In order to correct a defaulted loan (under SCP or VCP), the maximum 5-year repayment term (or longer period in the case of a home loan) must not have expired.

The new procedures also provide additional correction options for other types of plan loan failures.

Operational Failures

An “operational failure” is simply defined as a failure to follow the terms of the plan document. Many plan mistakes fall within this category. While most operational failures were previously eligible to be corrected under SCP (assuming the timing and general requirements were satisfied), there were only limited and specific circumstances under which corrections could be made by amending a plan retroactively to conform its terms to the plan’s prior operations.

For example, if plan operationally allowed all participants to make Roth contributions (without amending the plan to permit Roth contributions), a VCP filing would have been required to amend the plan retroactively to correct the mistake. Under the new guidance, this generally could be done under SCP.

These changes should give plan sponsors much greater flexibility in making necessary plan corrections, since the rules have been relaxed for retroactive amendments used to correct operational failures. This doesn’t mean that any operational failure can be made by retroactive amendment under SCP, though. The IRS did impose specific restrictions, but this is still a huge win!

Plan Document Failures

Plan document failures happen when a plan contains a provision (or provisions) that, at face value, is not permissible under the Code or regulations. They also happen when a plan fails to adopt a required plan amendment (or document restatement). Previously, such corrections could only be made under VCP. Under the updated guidance, plan sponsors are now permitted to make the necessary corrections under SCP provided the corrections are made within a specific time frame and other conditions can be met.

The Bottom Line

Mistakes happen; the rules governing retirement plans are complex. This new guidance is great news for plan sponsors, making it much easier for them to work with their plan service providers to correct certain failures without a costly VCP filing.

To have questions answered about these new rules, please contact us.

Should your clients add a Safe Harbor 401(k) provision?

If your client has a traditional 401(k) plan that failed the 2018 ADP/ACP testing, it may be the perfect time to discuss the option of adding a safe harbor provision for the 2020 plan year.  The following provides a general overview of the rules applicable to safe harbor 401(k) plans.

What is a safe harbor 401(k) plan?

A safe harbor 401(k) plan is a type of retirement plan that is exempt from certain testing requirements. Specifically, a safe harbor plan is generally exempt from ADP/ACP testing enabling the plan’s highly compensated employees to maximize 401(k) deferrals/Roth contributions without limitation. Safe harbor plans may also be exempt from top-heavy requirements if certain conditions are met.

What are the contribution requirements?

The plan must make either a safe harbor matching or safe harbor non-elective contribution. These contributions cannot be subject to allocation conditions, e.g. employment on the last day of the plan year and/or 1,000 hours, and must be:

  • 100% vested
  • Subject to the same distribution restrictions as 401(k) contributions

 

What is the formula for safe harbor matching contributions?

There are two basic formulas that may be used:

  • 100% on the first 3% of deferrals, plus 50% on the next 2% (maximum of 4% match)
  • 100% on the first 4% of deferrals

 

What is a safe harbor non-elective contribution?

A safe harbor non-elective contribution is similar to a profit sharing contribution and must be made on behalf of all eligible employees, with limited exceptions. The contribution must be, at a minimum, 3% of eligible plan compensation regardless of whether the employee elects to defer.

Are there other requirements?

Yes; before the beginning of each plan year the employer must provide all eligible employees with a notice meeting specific requirements. The notice must also be provided to employees before they become eligible to participant in the plan on an ongoing basis throughout the year.

Can a plan make matching contributions in addition to safe harbor matching contributions?

Yes; however, depending upon the matching formula, ACP testing may be required.

If the plan allows for after-tax (non-Roth) contributions, is the plan still exempt from ACP testing?

No; voluntary after-tax contributions are always subject to ACP testing.

In order for additional matching contributions to be exempt from ACP testing, what conditions must be satisfied?

  • Discretionary matching contributions may not exceed 4% of compensation
  • Deferrals in excess of 6% may not be matched
  • The rate of match may not increase as deferrals increase
  • The plan may not impose allocation conditions on additional matching contributions

 

In order for the plan to be exempt from the top-heavy rules, what conditions must be satisfied?

  • No contributions may be allocated to participants for the plan year other than 401(k), Roth and safe harbor contributions
  • Forfeitures may not be allocated to participant accounts for the plan year
  • The plan may not have dual eligibility requirements, e.g. immediate eligibility for 401(k) and a one-year wait for safe harbor contributions

 

Can a safe harbor plan include an automatic enrollment feature?

Yes; as a matter a fact, a safe harbor plan can be designed in such a way that if it includes an automatic enrollment feature with an automatic escalation feature, the plan can take advantage of a lesser safe harbor matching contribution formula and a 2-year cliff vesting schedule.

Can a safe harbor plan provide profit sharing contributions?

Absolutely! The plan can provide for discretionary (or fixed) profit sharing contributions in addition to safe harbor contributions and can include any allowable allocation formula, such as an integrated or cross-tested formula. This just means the plan will not be exempt from the top-heavy rules in years in which the employer elects to make a profit sharing contribution.

When can a plan adopt safe harbor provisions?

An existing 401(k) plan can only adopt a safe harbor contribution feature effective as of the beginning of a plan year. Different rules apply to profit sharing only and new plans.

How can I learn more?

If you would like to learn more about safe harbor plans, please contact us. We would be happy to assist you with determining whether this type of design would be a good fit for any of your retirement plan clients.

Loans and Termination of Employment

When a participant terminates employment, what happens to their loan balance?

Most plans provide that the loan becomes payable in full upon termination of employment. If the loan is not repaid within a specified amount of time, the loan is “offset”. What this means is the outstanding loan balance is treated as being distributed from the plan to the participant.

A plan can, however, permit a participant to continue to make regularly scheduled loan payments after termination employment, so you will want to check the plan document and loan policy to determine which provisions apply.

Is a loan that has been offset taxed?

A loan that has been offset (which is an actual distribution) is taxable to the participant. Further, it is subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty unless an exception applies.

To avoid taxation, a participant can rollover the dollar amount of the loan balance that was offset to an IRA or other qualified plan (assuming the plan accepts such rollovers).

How long does a participant have to complete the rollover?

Effective January 1, 2018, a participant has until the extended due date of his or her individual income tax return (for the year the loan was offset) to complete the rollover.

It is important to note this extended rollover period only applies to the loan offset amount; the normal 60-day rollover window applies to any cash distributions.

Is the loan offset amount subject to 20% federal withholding?

It depends. If the participant receives a cash distribution, the outstanding loan balance is included when determining the 20% withholding requirement. If the participant doesn’t take a cash distribution, then withholding would not apply.

Can a participant rollover their actual loan balance to another employer’s plan?

Possibly. Assuming the loan has not been offset, it would be permissible to rollover the loan itself from one plan to another if permitted under the terms of both plans. However, this is not a very common feature.

What if a plan is terminated?

Generally, the rules described above also apply when a plan is terminated.

How can I learn more?

If you would like to learn more about these rules, please contact us.