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.
The increased popularity of automated digital investment advisory programs (often called “robo-advisers”) has drawn the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). On February 23, 2017, the SEC’s Division of Investment Management issued Guidance Update No. 2017-02 (the “Update”). That Update provides guidance to robo-advisers as they seek to satisfy their disclosure, suitability, and compliance obligations under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (“Advisers Act”). On the same day, the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy issued an Investor Bulletin to educate investors about robo-adviser programs.
After nearly a month of regulatory machinations and behind-the-scenes lobbying, the Department of Labor has released a proposed rule that would delay the “applicability date” of its recently enacted “conflict of interest” (or “fiduciary”) regulation (the “Fiduciary Rule”). The 60-day delay in the applicability of the Fiduciary Rule would have only an indirect effect on employers, but is of great interest to investment advisors and other service providers.
As explained in our December 19, 2016, article, the 21st Century Cures Act allows small employers (those that are not subject to the Affordable Care Act’s “play-or-pay” requirements because they have fewer than 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalents) to offer their employees a premium reimbursement arrangement that would otherwise violate the ACA. By establishing a “qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement” (or “QSEHRA”), such an employer may subsidize its employees’ purchase of individual health insurance coverage. In its recent Notice 2017-20, the IRS has granted these employers additional time to comply with the QSEHRA notification requirement.
A recent IRS Chief Counsel Memorandum (AM 2017-01) raises the stakes for employers that fail to apply the proper FICA taxation rules to nonqualified deferred compensation. An option previously available to those employers has been taken off the table. Under this option – which required a formal “Closing Agreement” with the IRS – both employer and employee FICA taxes could be minimized by voluntarily paying those taxes for years as to which IRS assessments were otherwise barred under the Tax Code’s three-year statute of limitations. Without this correction option, employers have an even greater incentive to apply the proper FICA taxation rules to their deferred compensation arrangements.
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.
The Department of Labor has issued final regulations under Section 503 of ERISA that purport to enhance the disability benefit claims and appeals process for plan participants. These regulations amend the DOL’s disability claims procedure regulations issued in 2002. The new regulations generally affect the procedures for filing disability benefit claims, providing notice of adverse benefit determinations, and appealing adverse benefit determinations.
In December, the Division of Investment Management of the Securities and Exchange Commission issued Guidance Update No. 2016-06. The Update provides disclosure and procedural guidance to address potential issues for mutual funds responding to the Department of Labor’s adoption of the Conflict of Interest Rule. To address concerns by financial intermediaries that variations in mutual fund sales loads may violate the Rule, Funds are exploring various options, including changing fee structures and creating new share classes. Such changes may impact fiduciary decisions regarding a plan’s investments and compensation arrangements.
Before leaving DC for the winter holidays, Congress and President Obama agreed on a provision granting small employers a bit of relief from the Affordable Care Act. Tucked at the very end of the 21st Century Cures Act is a provision allowing certain small employers to offer their employees a health reimbursement arrangement (“HRA”) that need not be “integrated” with a group health plan. Employees may then use their employer’s pre-tax contributions to such an HRA to pay premiums under individual health insurance policies.
The Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) imposed additional reporting requirements on health coverage providers (including self-funded employer plans) and “applicable large employers” (those with 50 or more full-time employees). In Notice 2016-70, the IRS has granted coverage providers and employers 30 more days to issue the appropriate ACA-reporting forms to their insureds and full-time employees for coverage provided during 2016. Rather than January 31, 2017, these Forms 1095-B and 1095-C will now be due by March 2, 2017. In addition, the IRS has extended by one year the period of “good-faith compliance” with these reporting rules. As of now, however, the IRS has not extended the deadline for coverage providers and employers to transmit these ACA-reporting forms to the IRS.