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403(b) Plans

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.

DOL Disaster Relief Notice Extends Deadlines, Enables COBRA Gamesmanship

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.

“CARES” Act Requires Immediate Decisions by Retirement Plan Sponsors

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.

ERISA Fiduciaries Must Monitor Market Turbulence

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.

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.

SECURE Act – Broad Implications for Retirement Plans

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.

SECURE Act Generates Changes and Opportunities for Retirement 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.

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.

Cyber Liability Insurance for Employee Benefit Plans: Hackers and Malware and Phishing – Oh My!

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.

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.

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.

Treatment of “Collateral” Employees Under Retirement Plans

It is common for employers to contract with one or more third parties (sometimes referred to as “leasing companies”) to provide individuals to perform services for the employer. Various issues may arise regarding the treatment of such individuals under a retirement plan maintained by the employer.

IRS Clarifies Permissible Substantiation Procedures for Hardship Withdrawals

In recent years, sponsors and administrators of 401(k) and 403(b) plans have received conflicting advice on the steps they should take to substantiate an employee’s entitlement to an in-service withdrawal on account of financial hardship. For instance, an April 2015 IRS newsletter seemed to require that plan sponsors obtain and retain documentary proof of an employee’s entitlement to a hardship withdrawal. However, two recent internal IRS memos outline a permissible approach to this substantiation requirement that need not involve conditioning a hardship withdrawal on an employee’s provision of supporting documents. Plan sponsors should thus consider this new alternative.

DOL Releases Final Regulation Defining Investment Fiduciaries

After years of effort, the Department of Labor released final rules on April 6, 2016, that will substantially alter the way investment advice is provided to ERISA plans, their participants, and even non-ERISA IRAs.

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.

It’s Unanimous: The Fiduciary Duty to Monitor Has Teeth

The United States Supreme Court gave considerable comfort to defined contribution plan participants – and their lawyers – who sue plan fiduciaries for failing to keep track of plan investment options. In a unanimous decision handed down on May 18, 2015, the Court held in Tibble v. Edison International that ERISA fiduciaries have a “continuing duty” to monitor investment options, and that plan participants have six years from the date of an alleged violation of that duty to file a lawsuit against the plan’s fiduciaries. This ruling significantly undercuts the utility of a statute of limitations defense that had been successfully deployed by plan fiduciaries in previous cases, and creates fertile ground for more litigation.

IRS Eases Correction Rules for Missed Elective Deferrals

The IRS has just given sponsors of 401(k) and 403(b) plans a number of additional options for correcting a failure to honor an employee’s election to defer a portion of his or her pay. These new options, as announced in Revenue Procedure 2015-28, will be particularly helpful to sponsors of plans that provide for automatic enrollment (including those with an automatic escalation feature).

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