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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.

 

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© Copyright 2017 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved
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What is the Definition of Compensation for HCEs

What is the definition of compensation for determining HCEs?

“What definition of compensation is used to determine who is considered an HCE for nondiscrimination testing 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

A plan must use an Internal Revenue Code Section (IRC §) 415 definition of compensation when determining which employees are HCEs under IRC §414(q).

  • More specifically, according to  Temporary Treasury Regulation 1.414(q)-1T, Q&A 13, the term “compensation” for HCE determination means compensation within the meaning of IRC §415(c)(3) without regard to §§125, 402(a)(8), and 402(h)(1)(B) and, in the case of employer contributions made pursuant to a salary reduction agreement, without regard to § 403(b). Thus, compensation for this purpose includes elective or salary reduction contributions to a cafeteria plan, cash or deferred arrangement or tax-sheltered annuity.

 

  • Only compensation an employee received during the “applicable period” is considered in determining HCE status.  HCE status based on compensation (not on ownership) is determined using compensation earned during the preceding year or 12-month period, referred to as the “look-back year.” If the year for which HCE status is being determined is not a calendar year, the sponsor may make a calendar year election so that HCE status is determined based on compensation earned during the calendar year beginning with or within the look-back year.

 

  • A compensation threshold applies for determining HCE status. This amount is subject to indexing.  When the amount is indexed, the new dollar amount applies to the year in which the compensation is earned, not the year in which HCE status is determined.  For example, when determining HCE status for 2017 based on compensation, plans must use the indexed amount for 2016, which was $120,000.  When determining HCE status for 2018 based on compensation, plans must use the indexed amount for 2017, which is $120,000.

Conclusion

Plans must follow a specific definition of compensation as defined in the IRC and supporting Treasury regulations when determining whether an employee is or is not an HCE.

 

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