401k
Print Friendly Version Print Friendly Version

Definition of Compensation in a 401 (k) Plan

“What is the definition of compensation used in a 401(k) plan?”

ERISA consultants at the Retirement Learning Center Resource Desk regularly receive calls from financial advisors on a broad array of technical topics related to IRAs and qualified retirement plans. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business.

Highlights of Discussion

  • Generally speaking, there are several definitions of compensation that may come into play for the purposes of administering qualified retirement plans, such as 401(k) plans. The definition can vary depending on the purpose for its application [e.g., nondiscrimination testing, annual additions testing, maximum deductible contribution, etc.].
  • Ultimately, plan administrators must carefully read the plan document, and follow the definition(s) of compensation as specified therein for the unique purpose.
  • Take nondiscrimination testing, for example. A plan must use a definition of compensation that satisfies Internal Revenue Code Section (IRC §) 414(s) in determining whether the plan has satisfied the nondiscrimination rules [e.g., actual deferral percentage (ADP) and actual contribution percentage (ACP) testing]. There are several definitions of compensation that qualify as IRC §414(s) compensation:
  1. The statutory definition of Treas. Reg. §1.415(c)-2(a)–2(c) (a.k.a., “415 compensation”)
  2. The simplified definition, which is defined at Treas. Reg. §1.415(c)-2(d)(2)
  3. W-2 wages, which is defined at Treas. Reg. §1.415(c)-2(d)(4)
  4. Wages for income tax withholding under IRC §3401(a), defined at Treas. Reg. §1.415(c)-2(d)(3)
  5. One of the above definitions with certain adjustments
  6. Any reasonable definition of compensation that does not favor highly compensated employees
  • The IRS has a helpful comparison table that illustrates what items of pay (e.g., nonstatutory stock options or tips) are included or excluded under the various definitions of compensation for nondiscrimination purposes.  It is part of “Exhibit B,” found on page 47 of the IRS’ CPE course on Compensation.
  • It warrants repeating that it is essential for plan administrators to understand 1) the particular plan purpose for which a definition of compensation is needed, 2) how the plan document defines compensation for that particular purpose, and 3) how to accurately apply the definition.
  • Failure to follow the correct definition of compensation for a plan is an operational failure that could affect its qualified status if not properly corrected.  The IRS has suggestions on Avoiding Compensation Errors in Retirement Plans and how to correct them if they occur.

 

Conclusion

Several definitions of compensation may come into play for the purposes of administering qualified retirement plans. It is essential for plan administrators to understand 1) the particular plan purpose for which a definition of compensation is needed, 2) how the plan document defines compensation for that particular purpose, and 3) how to accurately apply the definition.

 

© 2017 Retirement Learning Center, LLC

© Copyright 2017 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved
social ethics
Print Friendly Version Print Friendly Version

Standards for Form 5500 Plan Audits

“For qualified retirement plans that are subject to an audit by an independent qualified public accountant (IQPA) as part of Form 5500 filing requirements, what audit standards apply?”

ERISA consultants at the Retirement Learning Center Resource Desk regularly receive calls from financial advisors on a broad array of technical topics related to IRAs and qualified retirement plans. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business.

Highlights of Discussion

  • Sponsors of plans subject to a Form 5500 audit have a fiduciary responsibility to prudently select the IQPAs they use.1 Incomplete, inadequate, or untimely audit reports may result in penalties for the plan sponsor.  The DOL has a booklet sponsors can refer to, Selecting an Auditor for Your Employee Benefit Plan.
  • IQPAs must perform their ERISA plan audits using three sets of auditing standards:  the Generally Accepted Auditing Standards (GAAS), the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) reporting and disclosure requirements as defined by Department of Labor (DOL) regulations.
  • GAAP and GAAS standards are set by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).  The DOL plays no role in establishing GAAP and GAAS standards.
  • ERISA’s reporting and disclosure requirements are found at ERISA §103(a)(3)(A) and DOL regulation 29 CFR 2520.103-1(b).
  • In 2015, the DOL released a report, Assessing the Quality of Employee Benefit Plan Audits, in which it summarized the results of a study on the quality of IQPAs’ audits of ERISA-covered employee benefit plans. The study showed that 39 percent of the audits contained major deficiencies with respect to one or more relevant GAAS and/or GAAP requirements.  The leading GAAS and GAAP failures were
  • Inadequate footnote disclosures,
  • Inappropriate presentation of financial information on financial statements,
  • Lack of ASC 820 Fair Value Measurement disclosures,
  • Report not modified for lack of ERISA schedules,
  • Opinion does not extend to all financial statements and/or years presented and
  • Failure to refer to supplemental information (e.g., ERISA required schedules).
  • Furthermore, 17 percent of the audit reports failed to comply with one or more of ERISA’s reporting and disclosure requirements. The areas of ERISA noncompliance related to
  • Not attaching the supplemental schedule(s) required,
  • Incomplete or missing footnotes to the plan’s financial statements,
  • The IQPA did not manually sign the report and
  • Failure to report delinquent employee contributions.

Conclusion

The audit performed by a IQPA is an essential fiduciary element. Plan sponsors should pay keen attention and document their adherence to the DOL’s suggestions on selecting IQPAs for their plans.

© Copyright 2017 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved