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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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Safe Harbor Validation of Rollovers

“What responsibility does a plan sponsor have in validating whether an incoming rollover contribution is legitimate?”

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 Texas is representative of a common inquiry related to rollover contributions.

Highlights of Discussion

A qualified retirement plan isn’t required to accept rollover contributions from other plans or IRAs, but if it does under the terms of its governing plan document, the incoming assets must consist of valid rollover amounts. In order for the plan to retain its tax-preferred status, the plan sponsor must reasonably conclude that an amount is a valid rollover contribution as defined in Treasury Regulation Section (Treas. Reg. §) 1.401(a)(31)–1, Q&A–14(b)(2) and retain documentation. The IRS has provided examples of what would constitute proof of a valid rollover, including safe harbor options detailed in IRS Revenue Ruling 2014-9 .

Historically, plan sponsors followed the guidance of Treas. Reg. 1.401(a)(31)-1, Q&A-14(b)(2) for acceptable forms of documentation, which include a participant providing the sponsor of the receiving plan with a letter from the plan sponsor of the distributing plan that states the distributing plan has received a determination letter from the IRS or that the plan, to the best of the sponsor’s knowledge, is qualified. Further guidance from IRS Form 5310, Application for Determination for Terminating Plan, states a sponsor  who is filing this form is required to “… submit proof that any rollovers or asset transfers received were from a qualified plan or IRA.” The instructions to the form indicate that a copy of the distributing plan’s determination letter and timely interim amendments is one example of acceptable proof.

For an indirect rollover where a plan participant has received the assets from a distributing plan or IRA and, within 60-days, rolls over the amount to the receiving plan the individual can certify that the distribution is eligible for rollover and was received not more than 60 days before the date of the rollover. Many plans use a type of standard rollover certification form for this purpose. If the rollover contribution is late, the plan sponsor can accept the contribution if the individual has a waiver from the IRS or self-certifies under Revenue Procedure 2016-47.

In addition to the methods listed in the regulations, IRS Revenue Ruling 2014-9 provides additional streamlined safe harbor due diligence procedures described below that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, will allow the sponsor of the plan receiving the rollover to reasonably conclude that the amount is a valid rollover contribution.

Plan-to-Plan Rollovers

The sponsor of the receiving plan can confirm the previous employer’s plan is intended to be qualified by looking up the plan on the DOL’s EFAST2 website. If Code 3C appears on the plan’s most recent Form 5500 filing, then the plan IS NOT intended to be qualified under IRC Code §§ 401, 403, or 408, indicating that a distribution from the plan would not be eligible for rollover.

If the receiving plan receives a check made payable to the trustee of the plan for the benefit of the participant from the trustee of another qualified plan, it is reasonable for the receiving plan sponsor to conclude that the plan that initiated the rollover determined the distribution is an eligible rollover distribution.

IRA-to-Plan Rollovers

When a receiving plan gets a check that is made payable to the trustee of the plan from the trustee of an IRA for the benefit of an employee, the recipient plan administrator may reasonably conclude that the source of the funds is a traditional IRA and not an inherited IRA and, therefore, eligible for rollover.

Keep copies of documentation

As proof rollover amounts were valid, plan sponsors should keep copies of the following items:

  • Checks or check stubs with identifying information;
  • Confirmations of wire or other electronic transfers; and
  • Participant certifications.

Special considerations for RMDs

Required minimum distributions (RMDs) are not eligible rollover distributions. A qualified plan is responsible for ensuring that any RMDs are paid to plan participants. Therefore, the IRS has indicated it is reasonable for the receiving plan to conclude that the distributing plan has already paid to the participant any RMDs and remaining amounts are eligible for rollover.

In contrast, IRA trustees and custodians are not responsible for automatically distributing RMDs to IRA owners. Therefore, a plan sponsor may not reasonably conclude that an IRA rollover consists only of eligible rollover funds. The plan administrator should seek additional documentation to confirm that the IRA owner has satisfied any RMD that may be due.

Conclusion

When rollovers to a qualified plan are permitted, plan sponsors must ensure such incoming amounts are, indeed, eligible for roll over. Validation can be done through employee certification of the source of the funds for a 60-day rollover; verification of the payment source (via information on the incoming rollover check or wire transfer) from the participant’s IRA or former plan; or, if the funds are from a plan, looking up that plan’s Form 5500 filing for assurance that the plan is intended to be a qualified plan.

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Mid-Year Changes to Safe-Harbor 401(k) Plans

“What changes, if any, can an employer make to a safe harbor 401(k) plan during the plan year, while maintaining safe harbor status?”

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 Washington D.C. is representative of a common inquiry related to making changes to a safe harbor 401(k) plan.

Highlights of Discussion

Sponsors of safe harbor 401(k) plans[1] have a limited ability to alter their plans mid-year without jeopardizing their safe harbor status. Any change must be one the IRS views as “permissible” and, oftentimes, employees must receive notification and have a new deferral election opportunity.

Notice 2016-16 provides that a mid-year change to a safe harbor plan or to a plan’s safe harbor notice does not violate the safe harbor rules merely because it is a mid-year change, if the

  • Plan satisfies the notice and election opportunity conditions, if applicable, and
  • Change is not a prohibited mid-year change as listed in Notice 2016-16.Permissible Changes
  • According to the notice, permissible mid-year changes include
  1. Increasing future safe harbor non-elective contributions from 3% to 4% for all eligible employees;
  2. Certain increases to matching contributions adopted at least three months before the end of the plan year;[2]
  3. Adding an age-59 ½, in-service withdrawal feature;
  4. Changing the plan’s default investment fund;
  5. Altering the plan rules on arbitration of disputes;
  6. Shifting the plan entry date for employees who meet the plan’s minimum age and service eligibility requirements from monthly to quarterly; and
  7. Adopting mid-year amendments required by applicable law (for example, newly effective laws).

Changes 1-4 require an updated notice and an additional election period as explained next.

Notice Requirements

When required, sponsors must provide an updated safe harbor notice that describes the mid-year change and its effective date within a reasonable period before the effective date of the change. Providing the notice 30-90 days before the effective date is deemed reasonable. If is it not possible for the plan sponsor to distribute the updated safe harbor notice before the effective date of the change, it must provide the notice as soon as practicable, but not later then 30 days after the date the changes is adopted.

Election Requirement

When required, sponsors must give each notified employee a reasonable period of time to change his or her cash or deferral election after receipt and before the effective date of the change. A 30-day election period is deemed reasonable. However, if it is not possible to provide the election opportunity before the effective date of the change (e.g., retroactive plan amendment), then the election opportunity must begin as soon as practicable after the notice date, but not later than 30 days after the date the change is adopted.

EXAMPLE Plan M:

  • Traditional 401(k) matching safe harbor plan
  • Operated on a calendar year
  • Match is calculated on a per payroll-period basis
  • A mid-year amendment is made August 31, 2018, to 1) increase the safe harbor matching contribution from 4% to 5%; and 2) change from a payroll-period match to a full-plan-year match
  • Both changes are retroactively effective to January 1, 2018

Due to the retroactive effective date of the change, the sponsor cannot provide an updated notice and give an additional election opportunity to employees prior to the January 1, 2018, effective date. On September 3, 2018, the first date that an updated notice and additional election opportunity can practicably be provided, the sponsor distributes an updated notice that describes the increased contribution percentage and gives an additional 30-day election period starting September 3, 2018. The mid-year change is a permissible change, and notice and election requirements are met.

Conclusion

Sponsors of safe harbor plans often wonder if they can make changes to their plans mid year. The answer is yes, provided any change is of the permissible variety, and notice and election requirements are met.

 

[1] IRC §§ 401(k)(12) or 401(k)(13) and/or 401(m)(11) or 401(m)(12), and 403(b) plans that apply the IRC § 401(m) safe harbor rules pursuant to IRC § 403(b)(12).

[2] Adopted at least three months before the end of the plan year, made retroactively effective, revocation of payroll period allocation, and new notice and election period apply.

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When are safe harbor 401(k) employer contributions distributable?

“My client is age 47. Can he take a distribution of his safe harbor 401(k) plan matching contributions while he is still working?”

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. A recent call with an advisor in Ohio is representative of a common inquiry involving safe harbor 401(k) employer contributions.

Highlights of discussion

  • No, safe harbor 401(k) employer contributions—either matching or nonelective—may not be distributed earlier than separation from service, death, disability, plan termination, or the attainment of age 59 ½ [IRC §§ 401(k)(12) and 401(k)(2)(B)]. This would include the earnings on such amounts as well.
  • IRS Notice 98-52, Section IV, H. provides further clarification on the distribution of safe harbor 401(k) employer contributions: “Pursuant to § 401(k)-(2)(B) and § 1.401(k)-1(d)(2)(ii), hardship is not a distributable event for 401(k) safe harbor contributions other than elective contributions.”
  • The distribution rules for safe harbor 401(k) employer contributions are different (more restrictive) than those for non-safe harbor 401(k) plans, where it may be possible, under the terms of the plan, to take an in-service withdrawal of employer matching or profit sharing contributions prior to age 59 ½.
  • Safe harbor 401(k) employer contributions must be fully vested when made. They cannot be subject to a vesting schedule as is the case with non-safe harbor 401(k) employer matching or profit sharing contributions.
  • The bottom line is to always refer to the provisions of the plan document or summary plan description for a definitive answer on when plan assets are distributable.

Conclusion

The IRS’ distribution rules for safe harbor 401(k) employer contributions are different (more restrictive) than those for non-safe harbor 401(k) plans. The soonest that a working participant would be able to request a withdrawal of safe harbor 401(k) employer  contributions would be age 59 ½.

© Copyright 2018 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved