Spencer Fane LLP Logo

Robert A. (Rob) Browning

Of Counsel

Robert A. Browning square image

T 816.292.8375
F 816.474.3216
rbrowning@spencerfane.com

DOL Finalizes Electronic Disclosure Safe Harbor for Retirement Plans

The Department of Labor (DOL) has now finalized its October 2019 proposal (described in our previous blog) to create a new “safe harbor” for the electronic distribution of ERISA-required notices and disclosures.  The final regulation establishes a new, voluntary safe harbor for retirement plan administrators who want to use electronic media, as a default, to furnish covered documents to participants and beneficiaries, rather than providing paper documents through mail or hand delivery.  The new safe harbor permits electronic delivery by either (i) posting covered documents on the plan sponsor’s website, if appropriate notification of internet availability is furnished to the participant’s electronic address, or (ii) sending the documents directly to the participant’s electronic address, with the covered document either in the body of the e-mail or as an attachment thereto.  Although the final rule is not effective until 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register, the DOL has indicated that it will not take any enforcement action against a plan administrator that relies on the safe harbor before that date.

IRS Provides More COVID-19 Relief: This Time for Cafeteria Plans

As part of its ongoing response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the IRS has released new guidance (Notice 2020-29) providing increased flexibility with respect to mid-year election changes under Section 125 cafeteria plans during the 2020 calendar year. The Notice also provides increased flexibility with respect to grace periods that will allow participants with unused amounts in their health or dependent care flexible spending accounts (FSAs) to apply those amounts to expenses incurred through December 31, 2020. Generally, employers may adopt the changes immediately (in some cases retroactive to January 1, 2020), so long as the plan is amended by December 31, 2021.

IRS Posts Initial Guidance Re: Coronavirus-Related Loans and Distributions under the CARES Act

On May 4, 2020, the IRS posted 14 Questions and Answers (Q&As) on its website regarding the special retirement plan distribution options and loan provisions made available to certain qualified participants under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (hereinafter, the “CARES Act”).  These Q&As answer many, but not all, of the questions that plan sponsors and third-party administrators have been grappling with since the CARES Act was enacted on March 27, 2020.  Perhaps most importantly, the Q&As confirm that each of the distribution and loan provisions are optional for employers to adopt (or not adopt).  They also indicate that the IRS intends to issue formal guidance regarding the CARES Act distribution and loan provisions in the near future, and that it anticipates that the guidance will generally apply the principles set forth in its prior guidance (Notice 2005-92) regarding the Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Act of 2005 (“KETRA”).

SECURE ACT – Provisions Unique to
403(b) Plans, Governmental 457(b) Plans, and IRAs

On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed into law the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, which includes the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (the “SECURE” Act).   The SECURE Act represents the most significant retirement legislation in more than a decade (i.e., since the Pension Protection Act of 2006).

This is the third in a series of articles describing key provisions of the SECURE Act.  Our focus in this article is on the provisions that are unique to Section 403(b) tax-sheltered annuity plans, governmental Section 457(b) plans, and Individual Retirement Accounts/Annuities (IRAs).  Many of the SECURE Act provisions that are broadly applicable to retirement plans (such as the increase in the age at which required minimum distributions must begin, and the new rules curtailing the ability to “stretch” post-death minimum distributions under defined contribution plans over the life expectancy of the participant’s designated beneficiary) also apply to 403(b) plans, 457(b) plans, and IRAs.  Because we addressed those provisions in the second article in this series, we will not do so again here.

2020 Inflation Adjustments

Following announcements by both the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration, we know most of the dollar amounts that employers will need in order to administer their benefit plans for 2020.  The key dollar amounts for retirement plans and individual retirement accounts (“IRAs”) are shown on the front side of our 2020 limits card.

The reverse side of the card shows a number of dollar amounts that employers will need to know in order to administer health flexible spending accounts (“FSAs”), health savings accounts (“HSAs”), and high-deductible health plans (“HDHPs”), as well as health plans that are not grandfathered under the Affordable Care Act.

A laminated version of our 2020 limits card is available upon request.  To obtain one or more copies, please contact any member of our Employee Benefits Group.  You also can contact the Spencer Fane Marketing Department at 816-474-8100 or marketing@spencerfane.com.

Department of Labor Proposes New Safe Harbor for Electronic Disclosures

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has proposed a  new “safe harbor” rule to allow retirement plan disclosures to be posted online (assuming certain notice requirements are satisfied) to reduce printing and mailing expenses for plan sponsors and to make the disclosures more readily accessible and useful for plan participants.

IRS Finalizes Hardship Distribution Rules

The IRS has issued final regulations modifying and clarifying the rules for in-service hardship distributions from 401(k) and 403(b) plans.  The final regulations are substantially similar to the proposed regulations issued in November of 2018, but they contain a few changes of which plan sponsors should be aware.

2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Breathes New Life Into Old Trick For Dealing With Participant Loans in Corporate Transactions

One of the more difficult issues in corporate transactions that are structured as asset purchases is how to deal with outstanding participant loans.  In the typical asset purchase scenario – where the purchaser does not assume sponsorship of, or accept a transfer of assets from, the seller’s retirement plan – employees of the seller who become employed by the asset purchaser generally incur a termination of employment with the seller, and therefore a distributable event under the seller’s 401(k) plan.  If a participant has an outstanding loan at the time of the asset sale, then unless the distribution is paid in a direct rollover to another employer plan that is willing to accept a rollover of a participant loan, the participant must either (i) pay off the loan before taking the distribution, or (ii) incur a potentially taxable “plan-loan offset” (where the participant’s account balance is reduced, or offset, by the outstanding loan balance).

IRS (Finally) Answers Questions re: 2019 Hardship Distributions

On November 9, 2018, the IRS issued proposed amendments to the regulations under Code Section 401(k) that describe the circumstances under which participants may take an in-service distribution of elective deferrals (and contributions subject to similar withdrawal restrictions, such as QMACs, QNECs and safe-harbor contributions) on account of financial hardship. The proposed amendments to the regulations reflect several statutory changes to 401(k) plans since the Pension Protection Act of 2006, including the recent changes (that are scheduled to apply to hardship distributions in plan years beginning after December 31, 2018) under the Bipartisan Budget Act (“BBA”) of 2018. Most importantly, the amendments answer several questions that plan sponsors and plan administrators have had with respect to both the BBA and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“TCJA”) of 2017, and provide some much-needed transition relief for hardship distributions made in 2019.

IRS Updates Required Tax Notice to Address Plan Loan Offsets and Other Law Changes

The IRS has updated the model notice (sometimes referred to as the “402(f) Notice” or “Special Tax Notice”) that is required to be provided to participants before they receive an “eligible rollover distribution” from a qualified 401(a) plan, a 403(b) tax-sheltered annuity, or a governmental 457(b) plan.  Notice 2018-74, which was published on September 18, 2018, modifies the prior safe-harbor explanations (model notices) that were published in 2014. Like the 2014 guidance, the 2018 Notice includes two separate “model” notices that are deemed to satisfy the requirements of Code Section 402(f):  one for distributions that are not from a designated Roth account, and one for distributions from a designated Roth account. The 2018 Notice also includes an appendix that can be used to modify (rather than replace) existing safe-harbor 402(f) notices. 

Health Plans’ Anti-Assignment Clauses Upheld by Two More Federal Appellate Courts

Over the past two months, the United States Court of Appeals for both the Ninth Circuit and the Third Circuit have upheld “anti-assignment” clauses in ERISA-governed health plan documents.  These holdings – which adopt the same position previously taken by the First, Second, Fifth, Tenth, and Eleventh circuits – are a blow to healthcare providers that attempt to bring suits against employer-sponsored health plans (or the insurance companies funding benefits under those plans) as “assignees” of individual plan participants. 

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act – New Rules for Retirement Plans and IRAs

Although the main feature of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is a significant reduction in the corporate federal income tax rate, the Act also makes a number of significant changes to the rules governing employer-sponsored retirement plans and individual retirement accounts.  From plan loans to hardship withdrawals and Roth recharacterizations, employers should make sure that they understand how these new rules might affect them.

Trump Orders DOL to “Reconsider” Fiduciary Rule

On Friday, February, 3, 2017, President Trump issued a Memorandum directing the Secretary of Labor to “re-examine” the Department of Labor’s final regulation defining “fiduciary” investment advice (sometimes referred to as the “Fiduciary Rule” or the “Conflict of Interest Rule”), and to consider whether the Rule should be revised or rescinded. The Rule, which significantly expands the circumstances under which an individual becomes a “fiduciary” by reason of providing investment advice for a fee, was finalized in April of 2016, and technically became effective last July, but was drafted such that its provisions generally do not become “applicable” to financial advisers until April 10, 2017.

IRS Issues Long-Awaited Guidance Regarding (Nonqualified) Deferred Compensation Arrangements of Governmental and Tax-Exempt Employers

Deferred compensation arrangements that are not “tax-favored” retirement plans under Code Sections 401(a), 403(b), or (in the case of a governmental employer) 457(b) are generally referred to as “nonqualified” plans. So long as a nonqualified plan is “unfunded” (meaning the amounts deferred remain the property of the employer, and subject to the employer’s general creditors, until paid), the amounts deferred are generally not taxable until they are “paid or otherwise made available” to the employee.

Same-Sex Marriage Ruling Impacts Benefit Plans (Again)

On Friday, June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court published its ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, holding (by a 5 to 4 margin) that the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license marriages between two people of the same sex, and to recognize any such marriage that is lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state. As a result, all (remaining) state laws or constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage are now invalid.