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No More Age Restriction for Traditional IRA Contributions

“My client is 80 and still working. She wants to put some money aside for when she might retire; however, she doesn’t have access to a workplace retirement plan. Is an IRA an option?”

ERISA consultants at the Retirement Learning Center (RLC) 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 New York is representative of a common question related to making traditional IRA contributions.

Highlights of Discussion

More power to your client! You bet; an IRA is a great option. Of course, the most prudent course of action is to encourage your client to discuss her contribution options with her tax advisor.

Provided your client has the right amount of earned income to support it, she could contribute to a Roth IRA or—because of a key law change—she could contribute to a traditional IRA. She could even do a combination of Roth and traditional IRA contributions as long as she doesn’t exceed the maximum contribution of $7,000 for a person > age 50 between the two accounts. And, because the IRS has granted a special delay to the usual April 15th tax filing deadline,[1] she still could make a 2020 IRA contribution (Roth or traditional) up until May 17, 2021!

Prior to 2020, once a person reached age 70 ½, he or she could not contribute to a traditional IRA any longer. That rule changed for 2020 and later years as a result of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019 (the SECURE Act) (see TITLE I, section 107 of the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020). The SECURE Act removed the age restriction for eligibility to make a traditional IRA contribution.  Roth IRA contributions have never had a maximum age limit, but they are subject to a maximum earnings limit. Consequently, for 2020 and beyond, the only requirement to be able to make a traditional or Roth IRA relates to having modified adjust gross income (MAGI) for the year—enough to make either a traditional or Roth IRA contribution, but not too much in the case of a Roth IRA contribution.

As to the question of deductibility, since your client does not participate in a workplace retirement plan—any traditional IRA contribution she may choose to make would be tax deductible, potentially. Active participation in a retirement plan can affect whether a traditional IRA contribution is tax deductible.  For details, please see a prior case: Active Participation May Affect IRA Deductibility

Conclusion

Recognizing that more people are working passed their 70s and may want to continue to save for retirement, the Administration saw fit to do away with the age limit for making traditional IRA contributions, effective for 2020 and beyond.

[1] Tax Day for individuals extended to May 17

 

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401(k) Plans for Owner-Only Businesses

“Can an unincorporated, owner-only business have a 401(k) plan and, if so, are there any special considerations of which we need to be aware?”

ERISA consultants at the Retirement Learning Center (RLC) 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 North Carolina is representative of a common question related to owner-only businesses and retirement plans.

Highlights of Discussion

  • Yes, an unincorporated, owner-only business may have a 401(k) plan—commonly referred to as a(n) “individual (k)” or “solo (k)” plan.
  • Special considerations with respect to the solo (k) plan include, but would not be limited to, the
    • Deadline for establishing a 401(k) plan,
    • Deadline for making a salary deferral election, and
    • Owner’s compensation for contribution purposes.
  • The deadline for establishing a 401(k) plan for any eligible business changed beginning in 2021 to the business’s tax filing deadline plus applicable extensions.[1] The prior deadline was the last day of the business’s tax year (e.g., December 31 for a calendar year tax year). However, keep in mind the timing of when a salary deferral election must be made has not changed.
  • Salary deferrals can only be made on a prospective basis [Treasury Regulation (Treas. Reg.) 1.401(k)-1(a)(3)]. Therefore, the salary deferral election must be made prior to the receipt of compensation. For self-employed individuals (i.e., sole proprietors and partners), compensation is considered paid on the last day of the business owner’s taxable year. The timing is connected to when the individual’s compensation is “deemed currently available” [see Treas. Reg. § 401(k)-1(a)(6)(iii)]. Therefore, a self-employed person has until the end of his or her taxable year to execute a salary deferral election for the plan (e.g., December 31, 2020, for the 2020 tax year).
  • The definition of compensation for contribution purposes for an unincorporated business owner is unique [IRC 401(c)(2)(A)(I)]. It takes into consideration earned income or net profits from the business which then must be adjusted for self-employment taxes. Please refer to the worksheet for calculating compensation for and contributions to a solo (k) plan for a self-employed individual in Publication 560, Retirement Plans for Small Businesses. A business owner who wants to have a 401(k) plan should work with his or her CPA or tax advisor to determine his or her earned income and maximum contribution for plan purposes.
  • The 2020 contribution for an unincorporated business owner to a solo (k) plan with enough earned income could be as high as $57,000 (or $63,500 if he or she turned age 50 or older before the end of the year). For 2021, those limits are $58,000 and $64,500, respectively.

Example:

Ryan is a sole proprietor who would like to set up a solo k plan effective for 2020.  The IRS extended his tax filing deadline for 2020 to May 17, 2021, and if Ryan files for an extension, his extended tax deadline would be October 15, 2021. Therefore, the latest Ryan could potentially set up a solo k plan for 2020 would be October 15, 2021. Since Ryan is past the deadline for making a salary deferral election for 2020, however, his contribution would be limited to an employer profit sharing contribution based on his adjusted net business income for 2020. The sooner Ryan sets up the solo k for his business, the sooner he will be able to make employee salary deferrals for 2021.

Conclusion

For self-employed individuals and their tax advisors, there are several special considerations with respect to setting up and contributing to solo (k) plans, including, but not limited to, the deadline for establishing a 401(k) plan, the deadline for making a salary deferral election, and the owner’s compensation for contribution purposes.

[1] Section 201 of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2020

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Retirement Plan Benefits and Prenuptial Agreements Do Not Mix

“My client asked me what effect, if any, a prenuptial agreement would have on 401(k) plan assets?

ERISA consultants at the Retirement Learning Center (RLC) 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 California is representative of a common question related to spouses as retirement plan beneficiaries.

Highlights of Discussion

Generally, a prenuptial or antenuptial agreement  is an agreement made between a couple before they legally marry by which they forfeit future rights to each other’s property in the event of a divorce or death. The short answer is that a prenuptial agreement has no impact on a spouse’s claim to 401(k) plan assets because it does not satisfy the applicable spousal consent requirements of Internal Revenue Code Section (IRC §) 417(a)(2) and Treasury Regulation Section (Treas. Reg.) 1.401(a)-20, Q&A 28.

In most cases, spousal consent is required before a plan can pay out benefits in a form other than a Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity. The Retirement Equity Act of 1984 (REA) added the mandate to obtain spousal consent before a plan participant could take a distribution so that the nonemployee spouse would have some control over the form of benefit the participant chose, and would, at the very least, be aware that retirement benefits existed. There are exceptions to the spousal consent rule when

  1. The payable benefit is ≤ $5,000;
  2. There is no spouse or the spouse cannot be located;
  3. The spouse has been legal abandoned or the couple is legally separated;
  4. The spouse is incompetent; or
  5. The plan must satisfy requirement minimum distribution rules.

Even if a 401(k) plan is drafted as a “REA Safe Harbor Plan” (meaning it meets the criteria to be exempt from the QJSA requirements)[1], the spouse must generally consent in writing to the naming of anyone other than the spouse as primary beneficiary.

For its reasoning on antenuptial agreements, the IRS relied on several court cases, which found that the antenuptial agreements were not valid because, in part, they were signed by the participant’s fiancée (not spouse), and the agreements did not comply with REA since they did not specify the nonspouse beneficiary who would receive the benefit [See Hurwitz v. Sher, 982 F.2d 778 (2d Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 508 U.S. 912 (1993) and Nellis v. Boeing Co., No. 911011, 15 E.B.C. 1651 (D.Kan. 5/8/1992)].

Conclusion

Based on numerous court cases and Treasury Regulations, the IRS has made it clear that a prenuptial agreement has no impact on a spouse’s claim to 401(k) plan assets.

 

[1] Treas. Reg. 1.401(a)-20, Q&A 3

 

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Active Plan Participation May Affect IRA Deductibility

“Active participation in an employer’s retirement plan can affect whether an IRA contribution made by the participant is deductible on the tax return. What does ‘active participation’ mean?”

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 Minnesota is representative of a common inquiry involving a taxpayer’s ability to make a deductible IRA contribution.

Highlights of Discussion

This is an important tax question that can only be answered definitively by a person’s own tax advisor.  Generally speaking, for purposes of the IRA deduction rules, an individual is an “active participant” for a taxable year if either the individual or the individual’s spouse actively participates during any part of the year in a(n)[1]

  • Qualified plan described in Internal Revenue Code Section [IRC §401(a)], such as a defined benefit, profit sharing, 401(k) or stock bonus plan;
  • Qualified annuity plan described in IRC §403(a);
  • Simplified employee pension (SEP) plan under IRC §408(k);
  • Savings incentive match plan for employees (SIMPLE) IRA under IRC §408(p);
  • Governmental plan established for its employees by the federal, state or local government, or by an agency or instrumentality thereof (other than a plan described in IRC §457);
  • IRC §403(b) plan, either annuity or custodial account; or
  • Trust created before June 25, 1959, as described in IRC §501(c)(18).

When an individual is considered active depends on the type of employer-sponsored plan.

Profit Sharing or Stock Bonus Plan:   During the participant’s taxable year, if he or she receives a contribution or forfeiture allocation, he or she is an active participant for the taxable year.

Voluntary or Mandatory Employee Contributions:  During the participant’s taxable year, if he or she makes voluntary or mandatory employee contributions to a plan, he or she is an active participant for the taxable year.

Defined Benefit Plan: For the plan year ending with or within the individual’s taxable year, if an individual is not excluded under the eligibility provisions of the plan, he or she is an active participant for that taxable year.

Money Purchase Pension Plan: For the plan year ending with or within the individual’s taxable year, if the plan must allocate an employer contribution to an individual’s account he or she is an active participant for the taxable year.

Refer to IRS Notice 87-16 for specific examples of active participation.

As a quick check, Box 13 on an individual’s IRS Form W-2 should contain a check in the “Retirement plan” box if the person is an active participant for the taxable year.

If an individual is an active participant, then the following applies for IRA contribution deductibility.  The maximum traditional IRA contribution for 2020 and 2021 is $6,000 for those under age 50 and $7,000 for those age 50 0r greater.

IF your filing
status is …
AND your modified adjusted gross income (modified AGI)
is …
THEN you can take …
single or
head of household
$65,000 or less a full deduction.
more than $65,000
but less than $75,000*
a partial deduction.
$75,000 or more no deduction.
married filing jointly or
qualifying widow(er)
$104,000 or less a full deduction.
more than $104,000
but less than $124,000**
a partial deduction.
$124,000 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  $196,000 or less a full deduction.
  more than $196,000
but less than $206,000***
a partial deduction.
Source:  IRS 2020 IRA Deduction Limits

 

$206,000 or more no deduction.
*$66,000-$76,000 for 2021; **$105,000-$125,000 for 2021; and ***$198,000-$208,000 for 2021

 

Conclusion

Participating in certain employer-sponsored retirement plans can affect an individual’s ability to deduct a traditional IRA contribution on an individual’s tax return for the year. The IRS Form W-2 should indicate active participation in an employer-sponsored retirement plan. When in doubt, taxpayers should check with their employers.

 

 

[1] See www.legalbitstream.com for IRS Notice 87-16

 

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The Line Between Education and Fiduciary Advice

Does the industry have a clear definition of what the Department of Labor (DOL) would consider investment education (not advice) in a 401(k) plan so that a financial advisor would not have to follow the requirements of Prohibited Transaction Exemption (PTE) 2020-02?

ERISA consultants at the Retirement Learning Center (RLC) 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 Minnesota is representative of a common question related to investment education.

Highlights of Recommendations

The DOL believes it provides a clear roadmap for determining when financial advisors are, and are not, investment advice fiduciaries under Title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) in PTE 2020-02 and Interpretive Bulletin (IB) 96-1. 

“Oldie but goodie” DOL IB 96–1 identifies four categories (or “safe harbors”) of investment-related educational materials that advisors or others can provide to plan participants and beneficiaries without being considered to have provided fiduciary investment advice: 1) Plan information, 2) General Financial and Investment Information, 3) Asset Allocation Models and 4) Interactive Investment Materials.

Plan Information

Information about the benefits of plan participation, the benefits of increasing plan contributions, the impact of preretirement withdrawals on retirement income, the terms of the plan, the operation of the plan, or descriptions of investment alternatives under the plan would not constitute investment advice.

General Financial and Investment Information

General financial and investment concepts, such as risk and return, diversification, dollar cost averaging, compounded return, and tax-deferred investment; historic differences in rates of return between different asset classes (e.g., equities, bonds, or cash) based on standard market indices; effects of inflation; estimating future retirement income needs; determining investment time horizons; and assessing risk tolerance would not constitute investment advice.

Asset Allocation Models

Examples would include pie charts, graphs, or case studies that provide a participant or beneficiary with asset allocation portfolios of hypothetical individuals with different time horizons and risk profiles.  Such models must satisfy the following requirements.

  1. The models must be based on generally accepted investment theories that take into account the historic returns of different asset classes (e.g., equities, bonds, or cash) over define periods of time.
  2. All material facts and assumptions on which such models are based (e.g., retirement ages, life expectancies, income levels, financial resources, replacement income ratios, inflation rates, and rates of return) must accompany the models.
  3. To the extent that an asset allocation model identifies any specific investment alternative available under the plan, the model must be accompanied by a statement that
    • Indicates that other investment alternatives having similar risk and return characteristics may be available under the plan;
    • Identifies where information on those investment alternatives may be obtained; and
    • Discloses that, when applying particular asset allocation models to their individual situations, participants or beneficiaries should consider their other assets, income, and investments (e.g., equity in a home, IRA investments, savings accounts, and interests in other qualified and non-qualified plans) in addition to their interests in the plan.

Interactive Investment Materials

Examples in this category could include, but are not limited to, questionnaires, worksheets, software, and similar materials that provide a participant or beneficiary the means to estimate future retirement income needs and assess the impact of different asset allocations on retirement income.

Such materials must

  1. Be based on generally accepted investment theories that take into account the historic returns of different asset classes (e.g., equities, bonds, or cash) over defined periods of time;
  2. Contain an objective correlation between the asset allocations generated by the materials and the information and data supplied by the participant or beneficiary;
  3. Include all material facts and assumptions (e.g., retirement ages, life expectancies, income levels, financial resources, replacement income ratios, inflation rates, and rates of return) that may affect a participant’s or beneficiary’s assessment of the different asset allocations (Note: These facts and assumptions could be specified by the participant or beneficiary);
  4. (To the extent they include an asset allocation generated using any specific investment alternatives available under the plan), include a statement indicating other investment alternatives having similar risk and return characteristics may be available under the plan and where information on those investment alternatives may be obtained; and
  5. Take into account or are accompanied by a statement indicating that, in applying particular asset allocations to their individual situations, participants or beneficiaries should consider their other assets, income, and investments (e.g., equity in a home, IRA investments, savings accounts, and interests in other qualified and nonqualified plans) in addition to their interests in the plan.

While the provision of investment education is not a fiduciary act, the designation of a person or entity to provide investment educational services to plan participants and beneficiaries is a fiduciary act. Therefore, persons making this designation must act prudently and solely in the interest of the plan participants and beneficiaries.

Conclusion

The DOL provides examples of investment education in IB 96-1 that, when delivered, would not be considered investment advice, thereby helping the educator to avoid fiduciary liability for the information. However, the act of selecting the individual or entity to provide investment education to 401(k) plan participants and beneficiaries is a fiduciary act, subject to the standards of loyalty and prudence.

 

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