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Change in Plan Blackout Ending Date

 

“My client is changing his 401(k) plan to a new record keeper and is under a blackout. We anticipate the blackout may go longer than what he initially disclosed to the participants. What are the participant notification requirements when the end of a blackout period is extended?”

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.

Highlights of discussion

  • Pursuant to DOL Reg. Sec. 2520.101(b)(4), if a plan’s blackout period will run for a longer period than was initially disclosed to the participants, the plan sponsor must furnish a new notice to indicate the change.
  • The updated notice must
    • 1. Explain the reasons for the change; and
    • 2. Identify all material changes in the information contained in the prior notice.
  • The plan sponsor must furnish the updated notice to all affected participants and beneficiaries as soon as reasonably possible, unless such notice in advance of the termination of the blackout period is impracticable.
  • The DOL also expects that where a plan administrator has the ability to provide notice to some participants earlier than others, the administrator should provide the notice even if notice to other participants would not be practicable.

Conclusion

If a 401(k) plan’s blackout period will run past the previously disclosed end date, the plan sponsor has the obligation to issue a second updated notice to affected participants and beneficiaries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Golden Age of Pensions: Another Fairy Tale

By W. Andrew Larson, CPC

Retirement Learning Center

 

Independent thought leadership—it’s not just a lame tagline to us.  At the Retirement Learning Center, we believe thought leadership must go beyond simply parroting the common media narrative. That’s why in this and future blog posts, as well as elsewhere, we strive to rise above the inane chatter to explore and challenge the real retirement-related issues and trends facing consumers and the industry in general.

“We are in a retirement crisis!” “401(k) plans have failed!” Media outlets frequently chant both of these mantras. Often underlying these assertions is the subtext that we need to return to the good old, defined benefit pension plan days when retirees lived happily ever after, supported by their generous pension checks.  Images of contented pensioners enjoying their golden years with golf, gardening, shuffleboard and an occasional game of bingo may warm the heart—but are not accurate.

Sadly, this vision of a blissful, pension-supported retirement world is—for the most part—a fantasy. Very few, lucky individuals actually experienced the good old pension days. It’s time to face reality and dispel some long-held myths associated with defined benefit plans so that we can get on to real-world solutions.  

Myth #1. Once upon a time most people retired with a pension.

  • Reality check: As with many myths, this one contains a grain of truth. Until the late 1970s, a larger percentage of the workforce was, in fact, participating in defined benefit plans over other types of retirement savings arrangements. According to the Employee Benefits Research Institute, the high-water mark of defined benefit plan coverage in the private sector probably occurred in 1980 when nearly 35 million workers were covered by defined benefit pension plans. This represented 46 percent of the private sector workforce. Since that time the overall pension coverage rate has declined. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports fewer than 18 percent of private sector workers are currently covered by pension plans.
  • The important take away is the misleading nature of the pension coverage statistic. Pension coverage does not necessarily equate to ultimately receiving a pension benefit. Many workers may have been covered by pensions in the past, but few ever received a benefit.

Why?

One simple answer is the pension rules were different back in the 70s and 80s than they are today.  Let me illustrate with a personal example.

In the 1970s, I worked at a grocery store stocking shelves and carrying out groceries. Despite the part-time status of the job I participated in the Amalgamated Meat Cutters Pension Plan. I was one of the 46 percent of workers covered by a pension plan. However, after I left employment at the store I received no pension benefit. I didn’t work there long enough and had to leave my benefit behind. My former employer used this “left behind” amount to help pay for benefits of participants with 30 years of service. These amounts became what are now called forfeitures.

Under the old defined benefit plan rules, in some cases, eligibility to receive a benefit required 30 years of service and employment with the plan sponsor through the retirement age of 65. Workers leaving before retirement usually got nothing, and their accruals were used to fund benefits for those who retired and earned a benefit. In fact, only about 10 percent of the covered workers ever stayed long enough to receive a benefit. If you made it to age 65, and had enough service—congratulations—you got a monthly check!

The forfeitures helped control plan costs by reducing the size of employer contributions. So, while fewer people received benefits in the old days, the dollars left behind helped keep plans more affordable for employers. As a result of modern-day vesting and accrual rules, many more employees who separate early—even before retirement age—still receive at least some benefit.  Consequently, with fewer forfeitures today plan sponsors need to increase their contributions. Do you see the trade off? Under the modern rules, because less money is left behind, the plan is more expensive for the plan sponsor (and less appealing). There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Myth #2. Pension benefits were generous back in the good old days.

Actually, benefits were quite modest. According to study by Walter Kolodrubetz, published in the Social Security Journal, the average pension benefit was about $137 a month up until 1970. The Pension Rights Center’s research indicates the current monthly benefit today is approximately $781 a month.

Adding insult to injury, most pre-1970s retirees lost half their purchasing power during the inflationary surge of the 70s and early 80s. As an example, a retiree with a $1,000 monthly pension check in 1970, by the early 80s had about $160 of inflation-adjusted buying power. In other words, during this period, inflation eroded about 86 percent of retirees’ buying power.

This brings us back to reality. There never really was a golden age for pension plans.  And, today, defined benefit plans are becoming too expensive for employers to continue. Pensions are not coming back. So, what should be done?

First of all, we need to challenge proponents of the “let’s bring back pensions” notion. Demographics and economics make that idea a nonstarter.

Next, we should propose and advocate modern 401(k)/IRA enticements, designs and products to enhance retirement readiness, such as

  • Automatic enrollment,
  • Automatic escalation,
  • Automatic investment,
  • Lifetime income options,
  • Availability of saver’s credits,
  • Expansion of multiple employer plans (MEPs), and
  • Incorporating HSAs into retirement planning.

So let’s focus on developing strategies and policies that fit in the real world.

© Copyright 2017 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved
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Cyber Security and Retirement Plans

“With so many examples of data hacking in the news, I’m curious about what cybersecurity standards apply for qualified retirement plans?”

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

  • Great question! There is an understanding under Department of Labor (DOL) Regulation Section 2520.104b-1(c) and other pronouncements related to the electronic delivery of plan information that a plan sponsor must ensure the electronic system it uses keeps participants’ personal information relating to their accounts and benefits confidential. However, presently, there is no comprehensive federal regulatory regime covering cybersecurity for retirement plans.
  • Each state has different laws governing cybersecurity concerns that may come into play. Unfortunately, many retirement plans cover multiple states or retirees who have moved out of state.
  • At the end of 2016, the ERISA Advisory Council issued a report entitled, Cybersecurity Considerations for Benefit Plans. “The Report” puts forth considerations for the industry for navigating cybersecurity risks. The considerations relate to the following three key areas. Please refer to the report for more details.

1. Establish a strategy

  • Identify the data (e.g., how it is accessed, shared, stored, controlled, transmitted, secured and maintained).
  • Consider following existing security frameworks available through organizations such as the Nation Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Health Information Trust Alliance (HITRUST), the SAFETY Act, and industry-based initiatives.
  • Establish process considerations (e.g., protocols and policies covering testing, updating, reporting, training, data retention, third party risks, etc.).
  • Customize a strategy taking into account resources, integration, cost, cyber insurance, etc.
  • Strike the right balance based on size, complexity and overall risk exposure.
  • Consider applicable state and federal laws.

2. Contracts with service providers

  • Define security obligations.
  • Identify reporting and monitoring responsibilities.
  • Conduct periodic risk assessments.
  • Establish due diligence standards for vetting and tiering providers based on the sensitivity of data being shared.
  • Consider whether the service provider has a cyber security program, how data is encrypted, liability for breaches, etc.

3. Insurance

  • Understand overall insurance programs covering plans and service providers.
  • Evaluate whether cyber insurance has a role in a cyber risk management strategy.
  • Consider the need for first party coverage.
  • The ERISA Advisory Council has suggested that the DOL raise awareness about cybersecurity risks and provide information for developing a cybersecurity strategy specifically focused on benefit plans.
  • The Report concludes with an appendix entitled, Employee Benefit Plans: Considerations for Managing Cybersecurity Risks (A Resource for Plan Sponsors and Service Providers).  At this time, no comprehensive cybersecurity protocol for retirement plan administration exists at the federal level. The ERISA Advisory Council has provided suggested materials for plan sponsors, fiduciaries and service providers to utilize when developing a cybersecurity strategy and program.

Conclusion 

At this time, no comprehensive cybersecurity protocol for retirement plan administration exists at the federal level. The ERISA Advisory Council has provided suggested materials for plan sponsors, fiduciaries and service providers to utilize when developing a cybersecurity strategy and program.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2016 10 30 2017 COLA Increases

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Federal Withholding on an In-Plan Roth Conversion

“How do the federal withholding rules apply to an in-plan Roth conversion 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

  • The federal withholding rules for in-plan conversions to a designated Roth account in a 401(k) plan are similar to the rules that generally apply for eligible rollover distributions that are rolled over directly to another eligible plan versus rolled over indirectly (i.e., within 60 days) (Internal Revenue Code Section 3405). The IRS has provided specific guidance for in-plan Roth conversions in Notice 2013-74 Q&A 4.
  • If the conversion of assets in-plan is done as a direct rollover to the designated Roth account, and the participant does not receive any of the assets, the plan sponsor should not withhold taxes. Neither can a participant request voluntary withholding under IRC Sec. 3402(p). Since a conversion is generally a taxable event, a plan participant making a direct in-plan Roth conversion may need to increase his or her withholding or make estimated tax payments to avoid an underpayment penalty from the IRS.
  • In contrast, if a plan participant receives a distribution in cash from the plan, the plan sponsor must withhold 20 percent federal income tax even if the participant later rolls over the distribution to a designated Roth account within 60 days. Because plan sponsors do not apply federal income tax withholding to a direct in-plan Roth conversion, a plan participant may need to increase his or her withholding or make estimated tax payments to avoid an underpayment penalty from the IRS.

Conclusion

Because plan sponsors do not apply federal income tax withholding to a direct in-plan Roth conversion, a plan participant may need to increase his or her withholding or make estimated tax payments to avoid an underpayment penalty from the IRS.

 

 

© Copyright 2017 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved