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Here We Go Again… Fifth Circuit Strikes Down DOL’s Fiduciary Rule

In a significant blow to the Department of Labor’s controversial regulation re-defining what constitutes an investment-advice fiduciary, a split three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on March 15 that the DOL exceeded its authority when creating the rule.  The 2-1 decision of the appellate court strikes down the regulation and its associated prohibited transaction exemptions in their entirety.  (Chamber of Commerce v. U.S. Dept. of Labor (5th Cir. March 15, 2018)).  In its wake, the court’s decision leaves even more of the confusion that has plagued the DOL’s 2016 rulemaking.

Investment Advisers and Conflicts Of Interest

The Department of Labor and the Securities and Exchange Commission have expressed concerns regarding potential conflicts of interest that investment advisers do not explicitly disclosed.  Thus, plan fiduciaries may not be aware of such conflicts when they engage and monitor their plan’s investment consultant.  These concerns were recently highlighted when the SEC launched an initiative in connection with investment advisers’ selection or recommendation of a higher-cost mutual fund share class for their clients when a lower-cost share class of the same fund is available.  The SEC’s initiative reminds plan fiduciaries of the importance of obtaining appropriate information to fulfill their fiduciary obligations when engaging and monitoring investment advisers.

SEC Launches Share Class Selection Disclosure Initiative

The Securities and Exchange Commission recently announced a temporary program for investment advisers who may have inadequately disclosed potential conflicts of interest related to their selection or recommendation of mutual fund share classes. Participation in the program, however, is not without its drawbacks.

Congress Eases Restrictions on Hardship Withdrawals

Buried in Sections 41113 and 41114 of the recent Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 are provisions designed to facilitate hardship withdrawals from 401(k) and 403(b) plans.  Because these provisions take effect for plan years beginning after December 31, 2018, sponsors of these plans will want to consider whether to broaden their hardship withdrawal provisions – or even add such provisions.

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act – Modified Rules for UBTI

For many years tax exempt organizations and retirement plan trusts have been permitted to avoid tax on income generated by unrelated trades or businesses they hold by netting the gains, losses, and deductions among those trades or businesses.  The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act modifies those rules, increasing the likelihood that such entities must report, and pay tax on, UBTI.

New Disability Claims and Appeals Procedures Finally Take Effect

When the Department of Labor (“DOL”) delayed by 90 days the date by which ERISA plans were required to comply with a set of disability claims and appeals regulations issued in the waning days of the Obama Administration, we predicted that a further delay – or even a complete withdrawal – of the regulations could be in the works.  As it turns out, we were wrong.  Instead, the DOL announced in early January that the regulations will become fully applicable on April 1st – and without change.

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.

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act – Affordable Care Act Changes

Although the recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminates the ACA individual mandate, the employer mandate, ACA benefit mandates, and ACA reporting requirements remain in effect.  Thus, employers should continue to be mindful of and comply with their obligations under the ACA.

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act – New Executive Compensation Rules

This is the second in a series of articles by which the Spencer Fane LLP Employee Benefits Practice Team will explain key changes made in the employee benefits area by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (Public Law 115-97), which was signed into law on December 22, 2017.  In addition to establishing new rules for transportation fringe benefits (see our first article in this series), the Act makes a number of changes that may affect how employers structure their executive compensation programs.  This article describes the Act’s impact on for-profit employers, and outlines options that those employers should consider for their compensation arrangements.

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act – New Tax Rules For Transportation Fringe Benefits

Although the recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act largely retains the favorable tax treatment afforded employees who receive employer-provided transportation assistance, it denies employers any tax deduction for providing these tax-favored benefits. Moreover, tax-exempt employers will now be subject to unrelated business income tax on such benefits. Because the new rules took effect as of January 1, 2018, employers currently sponsoring such programs should promptly evaluate their options.

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