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Deferral election timing for the self employed

“Several of my clients are self-employed and have 401(k) plans. What is the date by which a self-employed individual must make his or her salary deferral election?”

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, qualified retirement plans and other types of retirement savings and income plans, including nonqualified plans, stock options, and Social Security and Medicare. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business.

A recent call with a financial advisor from Nevada is representative of a common inquiry related to 401(k) plan salary deferral elections.

Highlights of the Discussion

Special rules regarding salary deferral elections apply to self-employed individuals (e.g., sole proprietors or partners). They must make their cash or deferred elections no later than the last day of their tax year (e.g., by December 31, 2018, for a 2018 calendar tax year). The timing is connected to when the individual’s compensation is “deemed currently available” [see Treasury Regulation Section (Treas. Reg. §) 1.401(k)-1(a)(6)(iii)].

Often a self-employed individual’s actual compensation for the year is not determined until he or she completes his or her tax return, which, in most cases, is after the end of the partnership or individual’s taxable year. However, the IRS deems a partner’s compensation to be currently available on the last day of the partnership taxable year and a sole proprietor’s compensation to be currently available on the last day of the individual’s taxable year. Therefore, a self-employed individual must make a written election to defer compensation by the last day of the taxable year associated with the partnership or sole proprietorship.

EXAMPLE

A partner can make a cash or deferred election for a year’s compensation any time before (but not after) the last day of the year, even though the partner takes draws against his/her expected share of partnership income throughout the year.

There are also special rules that address when salary deferrals for self-employed individuals are treated as made to the plan (versus when they may actually be made). Treas. Reg. §1.401(k)-2(a)(4)(ii) states that an elective contribution made on behalf of a partner or sole proprietor is treated as allocated to the individual’s plan account as of the last day of the partnership or sole proprietorship’s taxable year.

With respect to the DOL’s deferral deposit deadline, deferrals for self-employed individuals must be deposited as soon as they can be reasonably segregated from the business’s general assets. The DOL’s safe harbor for plans with fewer than 100 employees also applies. Therefore, as long as the deferrals are transmitted within seven business days after the amounts are separated from the business’s assets, the contributions are deemed timely made.

From the IRS’ tax perspective, in no event can the deferrals be deposited after the deadline for filing the business’s tax return, plus extensions.

Conclusion

With respect to making a salary deferral election, a self-employed individual must do so no later than the last day of his or her tax year. The election should be documented in writing for proof in the event the plan later undergoes an audit. Therefore, those self-employed individuals following a calendar tax year must be sure to execute their written deferral elections by December 31, 2018!

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Discretionary plan trustee vs. directed trustee

“What defines a discretionary plan trustee vs. a directed plan trustee?”

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, qualified retirement plans and other types of retirement savings and income plans, including nonqualified plans, stock options, and Social Security and Medicare. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business. A recent call with a financial advisor from Kentucky is representative of a common inquiry related to retirement plan trustees.

Highlights of the Discussion

ERISA Section 403(a) (see page 207 of linked information) provides that the assets of a qualified retirement plan must be held in trust by one or more trustees. The trustee will be either named in the plan document or appointed by a person who is a named fiduciary. The appointment of a plan’s trustee(s) is an important fiduciary decision that must be undertaken in a prudent manner by the plan sponsor or retirement plan committee with the proper authority.

Not all trustees, however, have the same authority or discretion to manage or control the assets of a plan. A trustee that has exclusive authority and discretion to manage and control the assets of the plan is a discretionary trustee. A discretionary trustee may be an employee of the company, but, more than likely, this role is outsourced to a third party.

However, a plan can expressly provide that the trustee is subject to the direction of a named fiduciary who is not a trustee. This is a directed trustee. The scope of a directed trustee’s duties is “significantly narrower than the duties generally ascribed to a discretionary trustee …” (Field Assistance Bulletin 2004-03). While a directed trustee is still a plan fiduciary, his or her fiduciary liability is limited, because he or she is required to act upon the direction of another plan fiduciary. The use of a directed trustee is a common plan model in the retirement industry. Many organizations serve as directed trustees.

“Direction” of the trustee is proper only if it is “made in accordance with the terms of the plan” and “not contrary to the Act [ERISA].” Accordingly, when a directed trustee knows or should know that a direction from a named fiduciary of the plan is not made in accordance with the terms of the plan or is contrary to ERISA, the directed trustee should not, consistent with its fiduciary responsibilities, follow the direction.

Conclusion

There are two basic flavors of qualified retirement plan trustee: discretionary and directed. Check the terms of the governing plan document and trust agreement for a particular plan to determine which applies.

 

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Retirement Savings Tax Credit

“What contributions are eligible for the retirement savings tax credit?”

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, qualified retirement plans and other types of retirement savings and income plans, including nonqualified plans, stock options, and Social Security and Medicare. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business. A recent call with an advisor in Oklahoma is representative of a common inquiry regarding available tax credits for retirement contributions.

Highlights of Discussion

IRA owners and retirement plan participants (including self-employed individuals) may qualify for a retirement savings contribution tax credit. Details of the credit appear in IRS Publication 590-A and here Saver’s Credit.

The credit

  • Equals an amount up to 50%, 20% or 10% of the taxpayer’s retirement plan or IRA contributions up to $2,000 ($4,000 if married filing jointly), depending on adjusted gross income (as reported on Form 1040, 1040A or 1040NR);
  • Relates to contributions taxpayers make to their traditional and/or Roth IRAs, or elective deferrals to a 401(k) or similar workplace retirement plan; and
  • Is claimed by a taxpayer on Form 8880, Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions.

Contributors can claim the Saver’s Credit for personal contributions (including voluntary after-tax contributions) made to

  • A traditional or Roth IRA;
  • 401(k),
  • Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) IRA,
  • Salary Reduction Simplified Employee Pension (SARSEP) IRA,
  • 403(b) or
  • Governmental 457(b) plan.

In general, the contribution tax credit is available to individuals who

1) Are age 18 or older;

2) Not a full-time student;

3) Not claimed as a dependent on another person’s return; and

4) Have income below a certain level.

2018 Saver’s Credit Income Levels

Credit Rate Married Filing Jointly Head of Household All Other Filers*
50% of your contribution AGI not more than $38,000 AGI not more than $28,500 AGI not more than $19,000
20% of your contribution $38,001 – $41,000 $28,501 – $30,750 $19,001 – $20,500
10% of your contribution $41,001 – $63,000 $30,751 – $47,250 $20,501 – $31,500

*Single, married filing separately, or qualifying widow(er)

The IRS has a handy on-line “interview” that taxpayers may use to determine whether they are eligible for the credit.

Conclusion

Every deduction and tax credit counts these days. Many IRA owners and plan participants may be unaware of the retirement plan related tax credits for which they may qualify.

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Deadlines for Adopting 401(k) Safe Harbor Provisions

Is it too late to establish as 401(k) safe harbor plan for 2018?”

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, qualified retirement plans and other types of retirement savings and income plans, including nonqualified plans, Social Security and Medicare. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business. A recent call with a financial advisor from New York is representative of a common inquiry related to adopting 401(k) safe harbor provisions.

Highlights of the Discussion

The answer is highly dependent on your client’s current plan situation. Generally, a plan sponsor that intends to use the standard 401(k) safe harbor provisions[1] for a plan year must adopt those provisions before the first day of that plan year (i.e., adopt safe harbor provisions in 2017, effective for 2018). However, there are some exceptions for 1) newly established 401(k) plans, 2) newly established employers, 3) businesses that already have a profit sharing plan in place and 4) sponsors who follow the “maybe provisions” (see Treasury Regulation  1.401(k)-3(e)(2), IRS Notice 98-52, Section X  and IRS Notice 2000-3).

Employer With No 401(k) Plan

The IRS requires the first plan year of a newly established safe harbor 401(k) plan (other than a successor plan) to be at least three months long. For example, No Plan, Inc., has been around as a business for several years, but does not have a 401(k) plan. As long as No Plan, Inc., sets up a safe harbor 401(k) plan by October 1, 2018, and satisfies the notice requirements, the business can operate the safe harbor 401(k) plan during the last three months of 2018.

Employer Created Within Last Three Months of the Year

The initial year of a safe harbor 401(k) plan can be shorter than three months in the case of a newly established employer, as long as the business establishes the plan as soon as administratively feasible after the employer comes into existence. For example, New Biz is incorporated on November 1, 2018. New Biz can establish a safe harbor 401(k) plan that operates for the last two months of 2018.

Employer With a Profit Sharing Plan

An employer can convert an existing profit sharing plan to a safe harbor 401(k) plan during the current year as long as the plan will function as a safe harbor 401(k) plan for at least three months. For example, PSP, LLC, has had a profit sharing plan since 2016. As long as PSP amends its current profit sharing plan to add the 401(k) safe harbor features by October 1, 2018, and satisfies the notice requirements, the business can operate the safe harbor 401(k) features during the last three months of 2018.

Employer That Follows the “Maybe” Provisions

A 401(k) plan can be amended as late as 30 days prior to the end of a plan year to use a safe harbor nonelective contribution method for that plan year, provided that a regular safe harbor notice (with modified content) was given to eligible employees before the beginning of the plan year and a supplemental notice is given no later than 30 days before the end of the plan year. For example, Maybe So, Inc., maintains a calendar-year 401(k) plan for 2018. Maybe So wanted to have the flexibility to decide toward the end of 2018 whether or not to adopt a 401(k) safe harbor nonelective contribution method, so it provided an initial safe harbor notice with the appropriately altered information before the beginning of the plan year (i.e., in 2017). Consequently, Maybe So can decide no later than December 1 of 2018 to 1) amend the 401(k) plan accordingly and 2) provide a supplemental notice to all eligible employees stating that a three-percent safe harbor nonelective contribution will be made for the plan year.

Conclusion

Generally, in order to use 401(k) safe harbor provisions, a plan sponsor must adopt them before the beginning of the plan year. However, even though it is late in 2018, it may not be too late to take advantage of 401(k) safe harbor provisions for 2018 in certain circumstances.

[1] Mandatory employer matching contribution or nonelective contribution

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Changes to hardship distributions for 2019

“Are the rules for hardship distributions from 401(k) plans changing?”

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, qualified retirement plans and other types of retirement savings and income plans, including nonqualified plans, Social Security and Medicare. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business. A recent call with a financial advisor from Illinois is representative of a common inquiry related to hardship distributions.

Highlights of the Discussion

Yes, changes to the hardship distribution rules for 401(k) plans as a result of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 will take effect for the 2019 plan year (e.g., as of January 1, 2019, for calendar year plans). There are three primary changes to the current hardship distribution rules.

Participants will

  1. Not be required to take plan loans before a hardship distribution is granted;
  2. Not need to suspend their employee salary deferrals for six months following a hardship withdrawal; and
  3. Will be able to distribute other types of contributions beyond employee salary deferrals and grandfathered, pre-1989 earnings thereon as part of a hardship distribution, including qualified nonelective contributions (QNECs), qualified matching contributions (QMACs), safe harbor contributions, and earnings from all eligible sources (including post 1988 earnings on elective deferrals).

Items 1. and 2. are currently part of the IRS’s requirements for a hardship distribution to meet the safe harbor definition of “necessary to satisfy an immediate and heavy financial need.” [See Treasury Regulation Section 1.401(k)-1(d)(3)].

In order to implement the new provisions, plan sponsors will need to

  • Update their hardship distribution procedures,
  • Ensure plan record keepers are making necessary administrative changes, and
  • Review plan document language for necessary amendments.

We believe it was Congress’s intent to have the same changes apply to hardship distributions from 403(b) plans, but clarifying guidance from the IRS is needed. Treasury regulations under Section 403(b) of the Internal Revenue Code state that a hardship withdrawal from a 403(b) plan has the same meaning, and is subject to the same rules and restrictions, as a hardship withdrawal under the 401(k) regulations [see Treasury Regulation Section 1.403(b)-6(d)(2)]. The Treasury Secretary has until early 2019 to modify the current 401(k) regulations to reflect the new hardship distribution rules.

Conclusion

Come 2019, plan sponsors may incorporate softer hardship distribution rules into their plans, policies and procedures as a result of changes under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018.

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Suspending Plan Loan Repayments

“Under what circumstances, if any, can a 401(k) plan participant with an outstanding plan loan suspend repayments?”

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, qualified retirement plans and other types of retirement savings and income plans, including nonqualified plans, Social Security and Medicare. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business. A recent call with a financial advisor from Massachusetts is representative of a common inquiry related to plan loans.

Highlights of Discussion

There are just two scenarios under which the IRS will allow a plan to suspend loan repayments of a participant with an outstanding loan: 1) in the case of a leave of absence of up to one year or 2) for the period during which an employee is performing military service [Treasury Regulation Section 1.72(p)-1, Q&A-9(a) and (b)]. Check the terms of the plan document and loan agreement regarding a participant’s ability to suspend loan repayments.

If a plan permits loan repayments to be suspended during a leave of absence, upon return, the participant must make up the missed payments either by increasing the amount of each monthly payment or by paying a lump sum at the end, so that the term of the loan does not exceed the original five-year term.

EXAMPLE: Leave of Absence

On July 1, 2018, Adrian borrows $40,000 from her 401(k) account balance under the agreement that it will be repaid in level monthly installments of $825 over five years (by June 30, 2023). Adrian makes nine payments and then starts a one-year, nonmilitary leave of absence. When Adrian resumes active employment, she also resumes making her loan repayments. However, the amount of monthly installment is increased to $1,130 in order to repay the loan by the end of the initial five-year term. Alternatively, she could have continued making the monthly $825 installment payment, provided she repaid the full balance due at the end of the five-year term (i.e., make a balloon payment).

A plan may permit a participant to suspend loan repayments during a leave of absence for military service (as defined in Chapter 43 of Title 38, United States Code). In such cases, the participant will not violate the level payment requirement provided loan repayments resume at the end of the military service, the frequency and amount of payments is not less than what was required under the terms of the original loan, and the loan is repaid in full (including interest that accrues during the period of military service) by the end of the loan term, which is five years, plus the period of military service.  Consequently, the suspension could exceed one year and the term of the loan could exceed five years.

Of additional note on suspensions due to military service, the plan is limited on the rate of interest it may charge on the loan during the period of military service to six percent. A loan is subject to the interest rate limitation if the following are true: 1) the loan was incurred prior to the military service; and 2) the participant provides the plan with a written notice and a copy of the military orders within 180 days after the date of the participant’s release or termination from military service [Service Members Civil Relief Act of 2003 (SCRA) Pub. L. No. 108-189]. The plan must forgive any interest that exceeds six percent. For this purpose, “interest” includes service charges, renewal charges, fees, and any other charges (except bona fide insurance).

EXAMPLE: Military Service

On July 1, 2018, Joshua borrows $40,000 from his 401(k) account balance under the agreement that he will repay it in level monthly installments of $825 over five years (by June 30, 2023). Joshua makes nine payments and then starts a two-year, military leave of absence. His service ends on April 2, 2021, and he resumes active employment on April 19, 2021, after which, he resumes making loan repayments in the amount of $825. On June 30, 2025, Joshua makes a balloon payment for the full remaining balance due.

Alternatively, Joshua could have increased the monthly repayment amounts so no remaining balance was due at the end of the term (i.e., June 30, 2025).

Conclusion

Under limited circumstance, plans may suspend loan repayments for participants. Be sure to check the terms of the plan document and loan agreement for specific procedures and requirements.

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Rollover of Plan Loan Offsets and 402(f) Notices

“Has the IRS issued an updated model plan distribution notice to reflect the changes related to rollovers of plan loan offset amounts?”

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, qualified retirement plans and other types of retirement savings plans, including nonqualified plans. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business.

A recent call with a financial advisor from Illinois is representative of a common inquiry related to the special tax notice required for plan distributions under Internal Revenue Code 402(f).

Highlights of Discussion

The IRS periodically issues model plan distribution notices, also referred to as a “special tax notice,” “rollover notice” or the IRC Sec. “402(f) notice,” in order to incorporate any changes to the language as a result of law changes. As of this posting, the IRS had not issued updates to its model 402(f) notice to reflect changes in the information as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA-2017), effective January 1, 2018. The last model notice was issued in 2014 (Notice 2014-74).

Plan sponsors are required to provide up-to-date 402(f) notices to convey important tax information to plan participants and beneficiaries who have hit a distribution trigger under a qualified plan and may receive a payout that would be eligible for rollover (Treasury Regulation 1.402(f)-1). A 402(f) notice, in part, explains the rollover rules and describes the effects of rolling—or not rolling—an eligible rollover distribution to an IRA or another plan, including the automatic 20 percent federal tax withholding that the plan administrator must apply to an eligible rollover distribution that is not directly rolled over. Plan administrators must provide the 402(f) notice to plan participants no less than 30 days and no more than 180 days before the distribution is processed. A participant may waive the 30-day period and complete the rollover sooner.

A plan may provide that if a loan is not repaid (is in default) the participant’s account balance is reduced, or “offset,” by the unpaid portion of the loan. The value of the loan offset is treated as an actual distribution for rollover purposes and, therefore, may be eligible for rollover. In most cases, participants (or beneficiaries) who experience a loan offset can rollover an amount that equals the offset to an eligible retirement plan. Instead of the usual 60-day rollover deadline, effective January 1, 2018, as a result of TCJA-2017, if the plan loan offset is due to plan termination or severance from employment, participants have until the due date, including extensions, for filing their federal income tax returns for the year in which the offset occurs to complete a tax-free rollover (e.g., until October 15, 2019, for a 2018 plan loan offset).

Conclusion

Even though the IRS has not updated its model 402(f) to reflect the extended rollover period for certain loan offsets as a result of TCJA-2017, plan sponsors and administrators must ensure the distribution paperwork and 402(f) notices that they are currently using include language that reflects the new rollover timeframe. For those that rely on plan document providers, ask if the new 402(f) notice is available.

 

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Maximum contributions to 403(b), 401(k) and 457(b) plans

“One of my clients participates in a 401(k) plan [her own “solo (k)”], plus a 403(b) plan and a 457(b) plan (through the public school system). Her accountant is telling her that she, potentially, could contribute twice the $18,500 deferral limit for 2018. How can that be so?”

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, qualified retirement plans and other types of retirement savings plans, including nonqualified plans. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business.

A recent call with a financial advisor from Massachusetts is representative of a common inquiry related to the maximum annual limit on employee salary deferrals.

Highlights of Discussion

First off, kudos to your client for working with you and a tax advisor in order to determine what amounts she can contribute to her employer-sponsored retirement plans as this is an important tax question based on her personal situation that is best answered with the help of professionals. Generally speaking, it may be possible for her to contribute more than one would expect given the plan types she has and based on existing plan contribution rules, which are covered in the following paragraphs.

For 2018, 457(b) contributions (consisting of employee salary deferrals and/or employer contributions combined) cannot exceed $18,500, plus catch-up contribution amounts if eligible [Treasury Regulation Section (Treas. Reg. §1.457-5)]. Since 2002, contributions to 457(b) plans no longer reduce the amount of deferrals to other salary deferral plans, such as 401(k) plans. A participant’s 457(b) contributions need only be combined with contributions to other 457(b) plans when applying the annual contribution limit. Therefore, contributions to a 457(b) plan are not aggregated with deferrals an individual makes to other types of plans.

In contrast, the application of the maximum annual deferral limit under Internal Revenue Code Section (IRC §) 402(g) (the “402(g) limit”) for an individual who participates in both a 401(k) and a 403(b) plan requires the individual to aggregate deferrals between the two plans [Treas. Reg. §1.402(g)-1(b)]. Consequently, an individual who participates in both a 457(b) plan and one or more other deferral-type plans, such as a 403(b), 401(k), salary reduction simplified employee pension plan, or savings incentive match plan for employees has two separate annual deferral limits. Let’s look at an example.

Example #1:

For 2018, 32-year-old Erika has an individual 401(k) plan for her business as a self-employed tutor. She is also on the faculty at the local state university, and participates in its 457(b) and 403(b) plans. Assuming adequate levels of compensation, Erika can defer up to $18,500 between her 401(k) plan and her 403(b) plan, plus another $18,500 to her 457(b) plan.

Also, keep in mind the various special catch-up contribution options depending on the type of plan outlined next.

Catch-Up Contribution Options by Plan Type

401(k) 403(b) 457(b)
Age 50 or Over Option

 

Employees age 50 or over can make catch-up contributions of $6,000 beyond the basic 402(g) limit of $18,500.

 

15-Years of Service with Qualifying Entity Option:[1]

402(g) limit, plus the lesser of

1) $3,000 or

2) $15,000, reduced by the amount of additional elective deferrals made in prior years because of this rule, or

3) $5,000 times the number of the employee’s years of service for the organization, minus the total elective deferrals made for earlier years.

 

Age 50 or Over Option

 

Employees age 50 or over can make catch-up contributions of $6,000 beyond the basic 402(g) limit.

 

Note: Must apply the 15-year option first

Age 50 or Over Option

Employees age 50 or over can make catch-up contributions of $6,000 beyond the basic 457 deferral limit of $18,500.

Special “Last 3-Year” Option

 

In the three years before reaching the plan’s normal retirement age employees can contribute either:

•Twice the annual 457(b) limit (in 2018, $18,500 x 2 = $37,000),

 

Or

 

•The annual 457(b) limit, plus amounts allowed in prior years not contributed.

 

Note: If a governmental 457(b) allows both the age-50 catch-up and the 3-year catch-up, one or the other—but not both—can be used.

 

415 Annual Additions Limit

Another consideration when an individual participates in more than one plan is the annual additions limit under IRC Sec. 415(c),[2] which typically limits plan contributions (employer plus employee contributions for the person) for a limitation year [3] made on behalf of an individual to all plans maintained by the same employer. However, contributions to 457(b) plans are not included in a person’s annual additions (see 1.415(c)-1(a)(2). With respect to 403(b) plans and the 415 annual additions limit, there are special plan aggregation rules that apply.

Generally, the IRS considers 403(b) participants to have exclusive control over their own 403(b) plans [Treas. Reg. Section 1.415(f)-1(f)(1)]. Therefore, in many cases, contributions to a 403(b) plan are not aggregated with contributions to any other defined contribution plan of the individual (meaning two 415 annual additions limits in some cases). An exception to this rule, however, occurs when the participant is deemed to control the employer sponsoring the defined contribution plan in which he or she participates. In such case, a participant must aggregate his or her 403(b) contributions with contributions to any other defined contribution plans that he or she may control [see  IRC § 415(k)(4)].Regarding the treatment of catch-up contributions, the “Age 50 or Over” catch-up contributions [see 1.415(c)-1(b)(2)(ii)(B)] are not included as annual additions, regardless of plan type, whereas the 403(b) “15-Years of Service” catch-up contributions are included as annual additions (IRS 403(b) Fix-It Guide.)

Example #2

Adam is a non-owner, employee of an IRC 501(c)(3) organization that contributes to a 403(b) plan on his behalf. Adam is also a participant in the organization’s defined contribution plan. Because Adam is deemed to control his own 403(b) plan, he is not required to aggregate contributions under the qualified defined contribution plan with those made under the 403(b) plan for purposes of the 415 annual additions test.

 

Example #3

The facts are the same as in Example #2, except that Adam is also a participant in a defined contribution plan of a corporation in which he is more than a 50 percent owner. The defined contribution plan of Adam’s corporation must be combined with his 403(b) plan for purposes of applying the limit under IRC 415(c) because Adam controls his corporation and is deemed to control his 403(b) plan.

Example #4

Dr. U.R. Well is employed by a nonprofit hospital that provides him with a 403(b) annuity contract. Doctor Well also maintains a private practice as a shareholder owning more than 50% of a professional corporation. Any qualified defined contribution plan of the professional corporation must be aggregated with the IRC 403(b) annuity contract for purposes of applying the 415 annual additions limit.

For more examples, please see the IRS’ Issue Snapshot – 403(b) Plan – Plan Aggregation.

Conclusion

Sometimes individuals who are lucky enough to participate in multiple employer-sponsored retirement plan types are puzzled by what their maximum contribution limits are. This is especially true when a person participates in a 401(k), 403(b) and 457(b) plan. That is why it is important to work with a financial and/or tax professional to help determine the optimal amount based on the participant’s unique situation.

[1] A public school system, hospital, home health service agency, health and welfare service agency, church, or convention or association of churches (or associated organization)

[2] For 2018, the limit is 100% of compensation up to $55,000 (or $61,000 for those > age 50).

[3] Generally, the calendar year, unless the plan specifies otherwise

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Using unused PTO as 401(k) plan contributions

“My client has unused PTO with his employer and participates in the company’s 401(k) plan. Is there any way he can use the equivalent dollar amount of unused PTO to increase his 401(k) contributions?”

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, qualified retirement plans and other types of retirement savings plans, including nonqualified plans. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business.

A recent call with a financial advisor from Pennsylvania is representative of a common inquiry related to paid time off (PTO)[1] and 401(k) plans.

[1] Generally refers to a sick and vacation arrangement that provides for paid leave whether the leave is due to illness or incapacity.

Highlights of Discussion

Yes, it is possible that the equivalent dollar amount of unused PTO can be contributed to the 401(k) plan, provided 1) the 401(k) and PTO governing plan documents contain provisions to accommodate such conversions and contributions; 2) the contributions do not unduly discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees; and 3) the contributions do not exceed mandatory contribution limits (see Revenue Rulings 2009-31 regarding the conversion of annual unused PTO and 2009-32 for the conversion of unused PTO upon termination of employment).

Revenue Ruling 2009-31 outlines two possible PTO conversion-to-contribution scenarios that could be applied on an annual basis: 1) where the value of any unused PTO that would otherwise be forfeited is instead converted and contributed to a 401(k)/profit sharing plan as an employer nonelective contribution; and 2) where the value of any unused PTO that would otherwise be paid out in cash to the employee is instead converted to a salary deferral to the 401(k) plan at the employee’s election.

Scenario 1

Company Z maintains a PTO plan and a 401(k) plan. Under Company Z’s PTO plan, no unused PTO as of 12/31 may be carried over to the following year. Company Z amends its 401(k) plan and PTO plan to provide that the dollar equivalent of

1) Any unused PTO of an employee as of the close of business on 12/31 is forfeited under Company Z’s PTO plan and the dollar equivalent of the amount forfeited is allocated to the participant’s account under Company Z’s 401(k) plan as of 12/31 as a nonelective contribution up to the applicable annual additions limitation under IRC § 415(c) (the “415 limit”), and

2) Any remaining unused PTO is paid to the employee by 02/28 of the following year.

Nondiscrimination testing under IRC §401(a)(4) based on the contributions made for individual participants, generally, will be required, because the amount contributed and allocated for each participant will vary based on the amount of each participant’s unused PTO.

Example:

Sam works for Company Z and earns $25 per hour. He also participates in Company Z’s 401(k) and PTO plans with provisions as described in Scenario 1. As of 12/31/17, Sam had 20 hours of unused PTO. Therefore, the dollar equivalent of Sam’s unused PTO is $500. Because of the 415 limit, Company Z may contribute only $400 of unused PTO to Sam’s account under the 401(k) plan as an employer nonelective contribution.

Consequently, Company Z contributes $400 to its 401(k) plan on behalf of Sam as a nonelective contribution on 02/28/18, and allocates this amount to Sam’s account under Company Z’s 401(k) plan as of 12/31/2017. Company Z pays Sam the remaining $100 in cash on 02/28/2018.

Scenario 2

Company A maintains a PTO plan and a 401(k) plan. Under A’s PTO plan, at the end of the year employees may carry over to the following year an amount of unused PTO that does not exceed a specified number of hours (the carryover limit). The dollar equivalent of any unused PTO for a year in excess of the carryover limit is paid to the participant by 02/28 of the following year. Company A amends its 401(k) and PTO plans to provide that a participant may, prior to receipt, elect to treat all or part of the dollar equivalent of any unused PTO as an employee salary deferral to the 401(k) plan and have it allocated to the participant’s account as of the beginning of the third pay period of the following year as long as the amount does not exceed the 415 limit nor IRC §402(g) limit [the “402(g) limit”]. The dollar equivalent of any unused PTO that is not deferred to Company A’s 401(k) plan is paid to the participant by 02/28 of the following year.

Scenario 2

Company A maintains a PTO plan and a 401(k) plan. Under A’s PTO plan, at the end of the year employees may carry over to the following year an amount of unused PTO that does not exceed a specified number of hours (the carryover limit). The dollar equivalent of any unused PTO for a year in excess of the carryover limit is paid to the participant by 02/28 of the following year. Company A amends its 401(k) and PTO plans to provide that a participant may, prior to receipt, elect to treat all or part of the dollar equivalent of any unused PTO as an employee salary deferral to the 401(k) plan and have it allocated to the participant’s account as of the beginning of the third pay period of the following year as long as the amount does not exceed the 415 limit nor IRC §402(g) limit [the “402(g) limit”]. The dollar equivalent of any unused PTO that is not deferred to Company A’s 401(k) plan is paid to the participant by 02/28 of the following year.

Example:

Barb works for Company A and participates in its PTO and 401(k) plans under the terms described in Scenario 2. As of the close of business on 12/31/17, Barb had 15 hours of unused PTO in excess of the carryover limit and earns $30 per hour, so the dollar equivalent of Barb’s unused PTO in excess of the carryover limit is $450. Before receipt of the amount, Barb elects to have 60% of the dollar equivalent of the unused PTO, or $270, contributed to Company A’s 401(k) plan as an employee salary deferral. The contribution does not cause Barb’s deferrals to exceed the 402(g) limit nor the 415 limit. Company A allocates $270 to Barb’s account under the 401(k) plan as of 02/01/18. Under the terms of Company A’s 401(k) plan, this amount is treated as a contribution for the 2018 plan year. Company A pays Barb the remaining $180 on 02/01/18.

Conclusion

As a way for companies to increase their employees’ ability to save for retirement, a number of plan sponsors have amended or are considering amending their 401(k) and PTO plans to allow the equivalent dollar amount of unused PTO time to be converted to 401(k) plan contributions. The terms of the plan documents will dictate the process and treatment of the contributed amounts. Plan sponsors can refer to Rev. Ruls. 2009-31 and 2009-32 for specific guidance.

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Complete discontinuance of profit sharing plan contributions

“I came across a prospect that froze it’s profit sharing plan several years ago, and has not made contributions since. Are there any concerns regarding the 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, qualified retirement plans and other types of retirement savings plans. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business.

A recent call with a financial advisor from Colorado is representative of a common inquiry related to on going contributions to a profit sharing plan.

Highlights of Discussion

While contributions to profit sharing plans are generally discretionary, meaning a plan sponsor can decide from year to year whether to make a contribution or not, the IRS expects that contributions will be “recurring and substantial” over time in order for a plan to be considered ongoing and remain viable [Treas. Reg. § 1.401-1(b)(2)].

If contributions cease, a complete “discontinuance of contributions” has occurred in the IRS’s eyes, which triggers a plan termination and complete (100%) vesting of participants’ accounts [Treas. Reg. § 1.411(d)-2(a)(1)].  Contrast this with a “suspension of contributions” under the plan, which is merely a temporary cessation of contributions by the employer. A complete discontinuance of contributions still may occur even though the employer makes contributions if such contributions are not substantial enough to reflect the intent on the part of the employer to continue to maintain the plan (e.g., only forfeitures are allocated).

The IRS makes a determination as to whether a complete discontinuance of contributions under a plan has occurred by considering all the facts and circumstances in the particular case, and without regard to any employee contributions (i.e. pre-tax deferrals, designated Roth or after-tax contributions). According to the IRS’s exam guidelines at Part 7.12.1.4, examiners are to review IRS Form 5310, line 19a, which indicates employer contributions made for the current and the five prior plan years, to determine if the plan has had a complete discontinuance of contributions. In a profit sharing plan, if the plan sponsor has failed to make substantial contributions in three out of five years, there may be a discontinuance of contributions. Other considerations include whether the employer is calling an actual discontinuance of contributions a suspension of such contributions in order to avoid the requirement of full vesting, and whether there is a reasonable probability that the lack of contributions will continue indefinitely.

Under Treas. Reg. § 1.411(d)-2(d)(2) a complete discontinuance becomes effective for a single employer plan on the last day of the employer’s tax year after the tax year for which the employer last made a substantial contribution to the profit-sharing plan. For a plan maintained by more than one employer, a complete discontinuance becomes effective the last day of the plan year after the plan year within which any employer last made a substantial contribution.

If a plan suffers a complete discontinuance and the plan sponsor has made partially vested distributions, the plan’s qualified status is at risk. The plan sponsor can fix the error by using the Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System. The correction will require restoring previously forfeited accounts to affected participants, adjusted for lost earnings, and correcting IRS Form 5500 filings for the plan.

For additional information, please refer to the IRS guidance No Contributions to your Profit Sharing/401(k) Plan for a While? Complete Discontinuance of Contributions and What You Need to Know.

Conclusion

While employer contributions to a profit sharing or stock bonus plan are discretionary in most cases (check the document language), the IRS still expects them to be recurring and substantial to a certain extent. For example, if the plan sponsor has failed to make substantial contributions in three out of five years, there may be a discontinuance of contributions, which triggers plan termination and complete vesting of benefits.

© Copyright 2018 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved