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Non Statutory Stock Options and 401(k) Deferrals

“My client has participants in his company’s 401(k) plan who are receiving cash as a result of exercising their stock options. The client is going to report the income on the participants’ IRS Form W-2 for the year. Is this eligible/included as compensation for purposes of withholding salary deferrals? ”

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

  • Whether income from the exercise of stock options is includable as W-2 income as defined in 1.415(c)-2(d)(4) income for purposes of making salary deferrals to a 401(k) plan depends on whether the stock options are statutory or nonstatutory.
  • W-2 income includes income from the exercise of nonstatutory stock options for the year the options are exercised.
  • In contrast, income from the exercise of statutory stock options is excludable from W-2 income.
  • Therefore, when a participant exercises nonstatutory stock options, he or she will have additional taxable income, reported on IRS Form W-2, which can increase the amount of money the individual has available for making 401(k) employee salary deferrals.
  • The IRS has several publications with helpful information regarding the taxation of stock options: Topic 27, Publication 525, IRS CPE Compensation, Instructions Form W-2.

Conclusion

  • Income from the exercise of nonstatutory stock options is included in W-2 income, and is eligible for deferral into a 401(k) plan up to the maximum annual limit.

 

© 2017 Retirement Learning Center, LLC, a subsidiary of Retirement Literacy Center

 

 

© Copyright 2017 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved
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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Copyright 2017 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved
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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
Compliance Rules Guidelines Regulations Laws
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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
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What does it take to be a QACA?

“Does the IRS have specific requirements that apply to an automatic escalation feature in a qualified automatic contribution arrangement (QACA) 401(k)?

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

  • Yes, in addition to other requirements for a QACA, the auto-enrollment and escalation features in a QACA must satisfy a minimum and maximum amount related to the percentage of compensation (“default percentage”) that, in the absence of an affirmative election, is automatically deducted from employees’ wages and contributed to the plan as elective contributions [Internal Revenue Code Section (IRC §) 401(k)(13)(C)(iii)].
  • Under Treasury Regulation 1.401(k)-3(j)(2), in general, a default contribution percentage is a qualified percentage only if it is “uniform” for all eligible employees, does not exceed 10%, and satisfies certain minimum percentage requirements. The default percentage must be at least
  • 3% during the “initial period;”
  • 4% during the first plan year following the initial period;
  • 5% during the second plan year following the initial period;
  • 6% during the third and subsequent plan years following the initial period.
  • The initial period is the date an employee is first covered by the QACA through the end of the following plan year. For example, if an employee is eligible under the QACA on 02/01/17, the initial period may run through 12/31/18
  • A uniform percentage, generally, means that the default percentage must be the same for every employee with the same number of years or portions of years since the beginning of the employee’s initial period. The percentage can vary to accommodate certain statutory restrictions, however. For example, the default election is not applied during the period an employee is not permitted to make elective contributions because of a six-month suspension following a hardship withdrawal under Treas. Reg. 1.401(k)-3(c)(6)(v)(B). (Please see Part 4 Examining Process Section 4.72.2.14.3 of the IRS’ Manual for further details and exceptions.)
  • A plan could avoid these automatic increases in the default percentage, often referred to as an “escalator,” by having just one default percentage of between 6 and 10% of compensation.
  • The IRS provides further clarification of QACAs in Revenue Rulings 2009-30.  Plan sponsors must be aware that the auto-enrollment and escalation features in a QACA must satisfy minimum and maximum contribution percentage requirements.

Conclusion

Plan sponsors must be aware that the auto-enrollment and escalation features in a QACA must satisfy minimum and maximum contribution percentage requirements.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Copyright 2017 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved
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Decrease in Employer Stock Value

“I’m familiar with employer stock and the special tax treatment for net unrealized appreciation (NUA), but what happens if the employer’s stock decreases in value?”

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

  • When distributed from the plan, if the value of the employer’s stock has decreased in value to an amount that is less than the plan participant’s cost basis (attributable to the participant’s after-tax contributions) in the shares, he or she may be able to claim a loss under Internal Revenue Code 165—but not until the year the stock is sold. For additional information, please see IRS Revenue Ruling 72-305. In order to claim the loss, the recipient would need to itemized deductions on his or her tax return.

 

  • There is an exception to the above rule in cases where the stock becomes worthless as a result of the employer’s bankruptcy.  A participant who receives a distribution of worthless stock of a bankrupt employer is entitled to an ordinary loss deduction in the year of the distribution for the total amount of his or her after-tax contributions used to purchase the stock.  For additional information, please see IRS Revenue Ruling 72-328.

Conclusion

Investing in employer stock within a qualified plan can subject the investor to losses, and so should be carefully considered before undertaking.  There are limited circumstances under which a plan participant may claim a loss in value to employer stocks distributed from a qualified retirement plan.

© Copyright 2017 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved
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Definition of Disability for Early Distribution Penalty

 

What is the definition of disability for purposes of the early distribution penalty tax?

“How does the IRS define disability for the purposes of allowing a 401(k) plan participant to take a distribution before the age of 59 ½ without a penalty tax?”  

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, amounts an individual withdraws from an IRA or retirement plan before reaching age 59½ are called ”early” or ”premature” distributions. Beyond including the pretax portion of an early distribution in taxable income for the year taken, the recipient must pay an additional 10% early withdrawal penalty tax, unless an exception applies [Internal Revenue Code Section (IRC §) 72(t)].
  • There are several exceptions to the early withdrawal penalty tax found in IRC §72(t)(2)(A)-(G), including an exception for disability (IRC §72(t)(2)(A)(iii).
  • The IRS defines disability for this purpose in IRC §72(m)(7),  and the definition is quite strict:

 

“… an individual shall be considered to be disabled if he is unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or to be of long-continued and indefinite duration. An individual shall not be considered to be disabled unless he furnishes proof of the existence thereof …”

 

  • Some disabled individuals file IRS Schedule R, Credit for the Elderly or Disabled, with their IRS Form 1040s.  The schedule requires a physician’s certification that a person meets the IRC §72(m)(7) definition of disabled. Alternatively, a physician’s signed statement attesting to an individual’s permanent and total disability can serve as proof of the condition.
  • See the IRS’ Retirement Topics – Exceptions to Tax on Early Distributions for other penalty exceptions.
  • It is important that plan administrators review their disability claims procedures, including acceptable forms of documentation. While the final disability claims regulations and accompanying FAQs (in particular Q&A 9) reference the Social Security Administration or the employer’s long-term disability plan benefit awards as two examples of disability documentation, the rules for pension plans do not seem to preclude other forms, as long as the disability finding is made by a party other than the plan for purposes other than making a benefit determination under the plan. Here is the wording from Q&A 9 of the DOL’s FAQs

 

“However, if a plan provides a benefit the availability of which is conditioned on a finding of disability, and that finding is made by a party other than the plan for purposes other than making a benefit determination under the plan, then the special rules for disability claims need not be applied to a claim for such benefits.”

 

Conclusion

While disability can qualify a distribution recipient for an exception to the early withdrawal penalty tax, the definition of disability for this purpose is rigorous and requires proof.

 

 

© Copyright 2017 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved
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Nonprofit with 401(k) and 403(b)

Can a 403(b) plan merge with a 401(k) plan?

“I have a tax-exempt client that currently offers a 401(k) plan. The group is taking over another IRC Sec. 501(c)(3) tax-exempt entity that has a 403(b) plan.  Can the acquiring entity merge the 403(b) plan into the 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

  • No, generally the IRS does not allow mergers or transfers of assets between 403(b) and 401(k) plans [Treasury Regulation 1.403(b)-10(b)(1)(i)]. The IRS has stated in private letter rulings (PLRs) that if a 403(b) plan is merged with a plan that is qualified under IRC Sec. 401(a), the assets of the 403(b) plan will be taxable to the employees PLR 200317022.
  • One option would be to terminate the 403(b) plan, which would allow its participants to receive distributions (See the IRS’ Terminating a 403(b) Plan for more information).
  • The participants in the terminated 403(b) plan who receive eligible rollover distributions from the 403(b) plan would have the option to roll the amounts to the 401(k), provided the 401(k) plan permits rollover contributions (Revenue Ruling 2011-7 and IRS Rollover Chart.)

Conclusion

IRC Sec. 501(c)(3) tax-exempt entities have the ability to maintain both 401(k) and 403(b) plans independently. The IRS does not allow a sponsor to merge the two plan types, however.   A plan termination followed by participant rollovers may be a viable alternative to merging the plans.

 

 

 

 

 

© Copyright 2017 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved
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Plan Participation and IRA Contributions

 Plan Participation and IRA Contributions

“A client of mine who participates in a 401(k) plan at work was told by his tax preparer that he cannot make an IRA contribution.  Is that correct?”

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.

  • If your client is under age 70 ½ and has earned income for the year of contribution, he is eligible to make a traditional IRA contribution, provided he does so by the contribution deadline.  But because he participates in a 401(k) plan, the contribution may not be fully tax deductible.
  • Deductibility of a traditional IRA contribution depends on whether the individual (or his or her spouse) is an active participant in an employer-sponsored plan, tax filing status and the amount of modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) for the year (IRC Sec. 219(g).

Deductibility of a 2016 traditional IRA contribution when the individual (or spouse) is covered by a workplace retirement plan

IF your filing
status is …
AND your modified adjusted gross income (modified AGI)
is …
THEN you can take …
single or
head of household
$61,000 or less a full deduction.
more than $61,000
but less than $71,000*
a partial deduction.
$71,000 or more no deduction.
married filing jointly or
qualifying widow(er)
$98,000 or less a full deduction.
more than $98,000
but less than $118,000**
a partial deduction.
$118,000 or more no deduction.
married filing separately2 less than $10,000 a partial deduction.
$10,000 or more no deduction.
Not covered by a plan, but married filing jointly with a spouse who is covered by a plan  $184,000 or less a full deduction.
more than $184,000
but less than $194,000***
a partial deduction.
Source:  IRS 2016 IRA Contribution and Deduction Limits $194,000 or more no deduction.

*$62,000-$72,000 for 2017; **$99,000-$119,000 for 2017; and ***$186,000-$196,000 for 2017

 

Conclusion

If a person meets the age and income requirements for a year, he or she is eligible to make a traditional IRA contribution by the deadline.  But the tax deductibility of the contribution will be affected by participation in a workplace retirement plan, tax filing status and MAGI.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Copyright 2017 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved
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Education Policy Statement

Education Policy Statement

“What is an Education Policy Statement for a 401(k) plan and does the Department of Labor (DOL) require a plan have one?”

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

  • While the DOL does not requirement qualified retirement plans to have an education policy statement (EPS), it can be a helpful fiduciary liability reduction tool for plan sponsors who offer plan participants the ability to self-direct their account balances. It is often viewed as an extension of a plan’s investment policy statement. The EPS is the blueprint for how the fiduciaries of the plan will implement, monitor and evaluate an employee education program with respect to the plan.

 

  • ERISA 404(c) provides a mechanism for plan sponsors to shift investment responsibility to participants, provided the plan meets certain requirements. Generally, to meet the requirements of ERISA 404(c), participants must have the opportunity to 1) exercise control over their individual account; and 2) choose from a broad range of investment alternatives (DOL Reg. 2550.404c-1). As part of the ability to exercise control participants must have “…the opportunity to obtain sufficient information to make informed investment decisions.” The EPS can be the means by which plan fiduciaries document how this requirement is met.

 

While there is no prescribed format for an EPS, answering the following questions may be helpful in designing the document:

What is the purpose of the EPS?

What are the objectives of the EPS?

What are the educational goals?

Who are the responsible parties and what are their duties?

How will the education be delivered?

How will results be measured?

 

Conclusion

An EPS is a blueprint for how plan fiduciaries will implement, monitor and evaluate an employee education program with respect to a retirement plan. Although not required, an EPS could be a prudent addition to a plan sponsor’s fiduciary fulfillment file.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Copyright 2017 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved