In the waning days of 2019, President Trump signed into law the most significant retirement legislation in more than a decade. The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement – or “SECURE” – Act includes far-reaching changes that affect qualified retirement plans, 403(b) and 457(b) plans, IRAs, and other employee benefits. In a series of articles, we will describe key provisions of the Act. Our first article provides an overview of the Act’s key provisions and their effective dates. Some of the changes under the SECURE Act are effective immediately, while others are effective for plan or tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2020. Although the Act generally provides sufficient time to amend plan documents, employers must modify certain aspects of plan administration (and potentially financial planning decisions) now to align with the SECURE Act’s more immediate requirements.
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.
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.
The IRS issued Revenue Ruling 2019-19 to describe the tax and reporting treatment of uncashed distribution checks from tax-qualified retirement plans. The ruling describes a situation in which a plan is required to make a distribution and the participant receives the distribution check, but does not cash it. The ruling makes clear that, regardless of why the participant does not cash the check (or even if the participant cashes the check in a later year), the distribution is subject to applicable tax withholding and reporting in the year in which the distribution is made. In addition, the participant must include the distribution in his or her gross income for that same year.
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).
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.
Cyberattacks have managed to invade all walks of life, and employee benefit plans are no exception. When a plan is attacked, the fallout can be overwhelmingly expensive and burdensome to correct. Many plan sponsors are purchasing cyber liability insurance coverage to supplement their data security measures. Understanding those policies – and their exclusions – is important for sponsors who are exploring such coverage.
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.
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.
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.