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.

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