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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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IRC §401(h) Plans

“Can you tell me what a 401(h) plan is?”

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 California is representative of a common inquiry related to plan types.

Highlights of Discussion

A “401(h) plan” is a retiree medical benefit account that is set up within a defined benefit pension plan[1] to provide for the payment of benefits for sickness, accident, hospitalization and medical expenses for retired employees, their spouses and dependents if the arrangement meets the requirements of Internal Revenue Code Section (IRC §) 401(h)(1) through (h)(6) (see page 1057 of link). A 401(h) account cannot discriminate in favor of officers, shareholders, supervisory employees, or highly compensated employees with respect to coverage or with respect to contributions and benefits.

401(h) plans are appealing because contributions to fund 401(h) benefits are deductible as contributions to a qualified plan; earnings on the account remain taxed deferred; and distributions are tax-free when used for qualified health care expenses. The amount contributed to the 401(h) account may not exceed the total cost of providing the benefits, and the cost must be spread over the future service.

According to Treasury Regulation § 1.401-14(c), a qualified 401(h) account must provide for the following:

  1. Retiree medical benefits must be “subordinate” to the pension benefits;
  2. Retiree medical benefits under the plan must be maintained in a separate account within the pension trust;
  3. For any key employee, a separate account must also be maintained for the benefits payable to that employee (or spouse or dependents) and, generally, medical benefits payable to that employee (or spouse or dependents) may come only from that separate account;
  4. Employer contributions to the account must be reasonable and ascertainable;
  5. All contributions (within the taxable year or thereafter) to the 401(h) account must be used to pay benefits provided under the medical plan and must not be diverted to any purpose other than the providing of such benefits;
  6. The terms of the plan must provide that, upon the satisfaction of all liabilities under the plan to provide the retiree medical benefits, all amounts remaining in the 401(h) account must be returned to the employer.

The subordinate requirement is not satisfied unless the plan provides that the aggregate contributions for retiree medical benefits, when added to the actual contributions for life insurance under the plan, are limited to 25 percent of the total contributions made to the plan (other than contributions to fund past service credits).

Aside from employer and/or employee contributions to a 401(h) account, plan sponsors may make tax-free “qualified transfers” of excess pension assets within their defined benefit plans to related 401(h) accounts. A plan is deemed to have excess assets for this purpose if assets exceed 125 percent[2] of the plan’s liability (IRC §420).  The requirements of a qualified transfer include the following:

  1. The transferred amount can be used to pay medical benefits for either the year of the transfer or the year of transfer and the future transfer period (i.e., a qualified future transfer);
  2. The transferred amount must approximate the amount of medical expenses anticipated for the year of transfer or the year of transfer and future years during the transfer period;
  3. An employer can make only one such transfer in a year;
  4. All accrued benefits of participants in the defined benefit plan must be fully vested; and
  5. The employer must commit to a minimum cost requirement with respect to the medical benefits.

Conclusion

Pension plan sponsors may find 401(h) accounts appealing as one way to provide for the payment of retiree medical benefits. Depending on the terms of the plan, a 401(h) account can receive employer and/or employee contributions as well as transfers of excess pension benefits, provided certain requirements are met. 401(h) account contributions are tax deductible; earnings are tax-deferred; and distributions can be tax free.

[1] Or money purchase pension plan or annuity plan

[2] For qualified future transfers, substitute 120 percent

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Correcting IRC §409A Plan Compliance Errors

“Is there a correction program for Internal Revenue Code Section (IRC §) 409A nonqualified plans, similar to the Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (EPCRS) for qualified retirement plans?”

ERISA consultants at the Retirement Learning Center Resource Desk regularly receive calls from financial advisors on a broad array of technical topics related to IRAs, 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 nonqualified deferred compensation plans.

Highlights of Discussion

While there is no one comprehensive program like EPCRS for the correction of failures for IRC § 409A nonqualified deferred compensation plans (409A plans), the IRS has issued a series of notices containing pre-approved correction methods for certain operational failures and document noncompliance issues for such plans [IRS Notices 2008-113, 2010-6, 2010-80 and 2007-100  (which employers can follow in lieu of Notice 2008-113 for pre-2009 operational errors)]. Following the correction methods can help participants reduce or delay early taxation of their deferred compensation and avoid penalties.

If a business with a 409A plan fails to operate the plan in accordance with the requirements of IRC §409A, affected participants may become subject to current income taxation of their deferred compensation, as well as have interest and penalties assessed. Generally, all amounts that are deferred under a noncompliant 409A plan for the taxable year and all preceding taxable years are includable in gross income for the taxable year, unless the amount is subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture or has previously been included in gross income. The IRS assesses interest on such amounts included in income at the IRS underpayment rate plus one percent, and applies a 20 percent penalty.  Moreover, state and local tax rules and penalties may apply. The IRS has issued proposed regulations [Treasury Regulations Section 1.409A-4(a)(1)(ii)(B)] on how to calculate the amount of income to include when a failure occurs.

IRS Notice 2008-113 covers corrections for 409A operational failures, including, but not limited to, failures to defer amounts, excess deferrals, incorrect payments, and the correction of exercise prices. The guidance of IRS Notice 2010-6 allows businesses to correct many types of 409A plan document errors, including impermissible definitions of separation of service, disability or change in control; impermissible payment events or payment schedules; impermissible payment periods following a permissible payment event; impermissible initial or subsequent deferral election procedures; and a failure to include the six-month delay of payment for specified employees of publicly traded companies.  Please note that IRS Notice 2010-80 modifies certain provisions of Notices 2008-113 and 2010-6, and should be referred to for the latest guidance.

Plan sponsors can refer to the IRS’ Nonqualified Deferred Compensation Audit Techniques Guide for issues the IRS focuses on when auditing businesses that offer 409A plans.

Conclusion

The IRS has issued a series of notices containing pre-approved correction methods for certain operational failures and document noncompliance issues for 409A plans. Following the correction methods can help participants reduce or delay early taxation of their deferred compensation and avoid penalties.

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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.

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