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.
The Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration issued guidance on April 28, 2020, providing temporary, coronavirus-related relief from many deadlines and requirements under ERISA. Notably, the guidance relaxes the standards for employers to provide notices electronically, and affords significant latitude to COBRA qualified beneficiaries for electing, and paying for, COBRA continuation coverage.
A third round of relief from the coronavirus pandemic has made its way through the Senate and House and has been signed by President Trump. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (or “CARES”) Act provides over $2 trillion in relief for businesses and individuals. It also offers new avenues for defined contribution retirement plan participants to withdraw funds from their accounts in order to pay COVID-19-related expenses, if their employer elects to open those avenues. Some of the largest 401(k) and 403(b) plan record keepers are forcing employers to make that choice on just a few days’ notice.
The recent turmoil in the financial markets, while troubling for individual investors, also has potentially significant implications for ERISA fiduciaries. Individuals and committees who have investment authority over plan assets should reevaluate their portfolios in light of these developments. Circumstances may not require a change in investment strategy, but ERISA’s prudence requirement requires fiduciaries to give immediate, thoughtful consideration to how those circumstances have changed.
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 amounts to the most significant retirement legislation in more than a decade. Our focus in this article is on the legislation’s effect on retirement plans generally, including provisions broadly applicable to defined contribution, defined benefit, 401(k), 403(b), and certain 457(b) plans.
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).