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Fully Discretionary Match Meets Definitely Determinable Benefit Rule

An advisor asked:  “I read recently in a TPA’s annual letter that there is a new mandate to provide a written disclosure of the match formula in years where a plan makes a discretionary match. Can you provide some details?”    

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 a financial advisor from California is representative of a common inquiry related to a discretionary matching contribution in a 401(k) plan.

Highlights of the Discussion

Sponsors of 401(k) plans that utilize pre-approved plan documents are facing an IRS-mandated, cyclical restatement process (“Cycle 3 Restatement”). Every six years, plan providers must update their 401(k) documents for recent law and regulatory changes and file them with the IRS for pre-approval (or re-approval). In turn, employers who use these documents must adopt an updated pre-approved plan, in this case, no later than July 31, 2022 (IRS Announcement 2020-07).

There are new requirements with this restatement for businesses that elect to apply a fully discretionary matching contribution formula (i.e., where the rate or period of the matching contribution is not pre-selected) in their pre-approved plans. With respect to these fully discretionary matching contributions, the IRS made it clear to document providers that their documents must satisfy the “definitely determinable benefits” requirement of Treasury Regulation Section 1.401-1(b)(1)(i), which states a plan must provide a definite predetermined formula for allocating the contributions made to the plan. Consequently, any pre-approved document with discretionary matching contributions will have to include language that complies with the definitely determinable mandate, and adopting employers will have to

  1. Provide the plan administrator or trustee written instructions no later than the date on which the discretionary match is made to the plan describing
  • How the discretionary match formula will be allocated to participants (e.g., a uniform percentage of elective deferrals or a flat dollar amount),
  • The computation period(s) to which the discretionary matching formula applies; and, if applicable,
  • A description of each business location or business classification subject to separate discretionary match formulas.
  1. Provide a summary of these instructions to plan participants who receive an allocation of the discretionary match no later than 60 days following the date on which the last discretionary match is made to the plan for the plan year.

The first year for which this communication is required is the plan year following the year the employer signs the restatement.

Example:

ABC, Inc., restates its calendar year 401(k) plan in 2021—even though it could wait until as late as July 31, 2022. Based on this timing, the communication is first due for the 2022 plan year.  If ABC Inc., completes making the 2022 matching contribution April 1, 2023, then the deadline to provide the participant communication is May 30, 2023.

As part of a prudent governance process, plan sponsors should work with their pre-approved document providers and recordkeepers to review their procedures surrounding their plans’ matching contributions to ensure compliance with these new requirements. Some pre-approved document providers have sample communication language available for plan sponsors who give discretionary matching contributions.

Conclusion

Pre-approved defined contribution plans are in a restatement cycle that must be completed by July 31, 2022. Employers that use a pre-approved plan and give a fully discretionary matching contribution must satisfy additional participant communication requirements to satisfy the definitely determinable benefit requirement of treasury regulations.

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Foreign Corporations and Controlled Groups

An advisor asked: “I just discovered that two U.S. companies that I work with are owned by a common parent company that is foreign. Should I be concerned?”    

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 a financial advisor from Pennsylvania is representative of a common inquiry related to a controlled group of employers.

Highlights of the Discussion

It is possible that because of the common parent company (despite being a foreign entity), the two U.S. subsidiaries could be part of a controlled group of businesses, which would impact the operation of their retirement plans. It would be prudent for the owners of the companies to seek a legal determination on controlled group status.

Under Internal Revenue Code Section (IRC §) 414(b) a controlled group of businesses exists when any two or more entities are connected through common ownership in a parent-subsidiary, a brother-sister, or a combination of the two controlled groups. For this purpose, entities could be foreign. The code section references the definition of controlled group that appears in IRC §1563(a) alone (and not subsection (b), which would have allowed the exclusion of foreign corporations). Tax court case Fujinon Optical, Inc., v. Commissioner, 76 T.C. 499 (1981) and others support the finding that U.S. businesses related only through a common foreign parent could be a single employer for purposes of IRC §414(b).

It is important to determine whether a group of businesses is a “controlled group” because the IRS requires that all employees of companies in a controlled group be treated as employed by a single employer for qualification requirements of IRC §§ 401 (general qualifications), 408(k) (simplified employee pension or SEP plans), 408(p) (saving incentive match plan for employees or SIMPLE plans], 410 (minimum participation standards), 411 (minimum vesting standards), 415 (limits on benefits and contributions), and 416 (top-heavy determination).

Conclusion

The IRS’s controlled group rules pull in foreign entities with common ownership in U.S. businesses. This may catch some U.S. subsidiaries off guard. Controlled group status has several ramifications for the involved businesses’ retirement plans. Because an accurate controlled group determination is critical, businesses should seek guidance from their legal advisors.

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Are Plan Committee Members Fiduciaries?

An advisor asked: “Can an individual member of a 401(k) plan committee have personal fiduciary liability?”

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 Indiana is representative of a common question on plan committee members.

Highlights of the Discussion

  • A plan committee member may be a plan fiduciary and, consequently, held personally liable to the plan if he or she is granted or exercises discretion in the operation or administration of a retirement plan that is subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).
  • According to the Department of Labor (DOL) Interpretive Bulletin 75-5, if the governing plan documents state the plan committee controls and manages the operation and administration of the plan and specifies who shall constitute the plan committee (either by position or by naming individuals to the committee), then such individuals are named fiduciaries of the plan pursuant to ERISA §402(a) (see page 212 of linked document).
  • A number of court cases have found that a plan committee member may be a functional fiduciary of the plan because of his or her actions and subject to personal liability if he or she exercises discretion in the administration of the plan Gaunt v. CSX Transp., Inc., 759 F. Supp. 1313 (N.D. Ind. 1991).
  • Pursuant to ERISA §409 (see page 250 of linked document):

Any person who is a fiduciary with respect to a plan who breaches any of the responsibilities, obligations, or duties imposed upon fiduciaries … shall be personally liable to make good to such plan any losses to the plan resulting from each such breach, and to restore to such plan any profits of such fiduciary which have been made through use of assets of the plan by the fiduciary, and shall be subject to such other equitable or remedial relief as the court may deem appropriate, including removal of such fiduciary.

  • Having a committee charter may help mitigate fiduciary liability for the committee members by carefully outline the members roles and responsibilities. Please see our Case of the Week 401(k) Plan Committee Charter for best practices.

Conclusion

A plan committee member may be a plan fiduciary and, consequently held personally liable to the plan for losses resulting from fiduciary breaches.  Having a committee charter may help mitigate fiduciary liability for the committee members.

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Voluntary Fiduciary Correction Program and PTE 2002-51

A financial advisor asked:  “Prohibited Transaction Exemption (PTE) 2002-51 exempts certain transactions that are corrected under the DOL’s VFC Program from the 15 percent IRS penalty pursuant to IRC §4795.  What is the definition of transaction?”

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 on the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) Voluntary Fiduciary Correction (VCP) Program.

Highlights of the Discussion

The DOL’s VFC Program allows plan officials to voluntarily correct 19 specific transactions that are prohibited under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). These 19 prohibited transactions are typically subject to an IRS excise tax under IRC §4975 of 15 percent. Prohibited Transaction Exemption (PTE) 2002-51 provides relief from the IRS excise tax for six of the 19 transactions.

The six transactions that can be exempt from the IRS penalty are

  1. The failure to timely transmit participant contributions to a plan and/or loan repayments to a plan within a reasonable time after withholding or receipt by the employer;
  2. The making of a loan by a plan at a fair market interest rate to a party in interest with respect to the plan;
  3. The purchase or sale of an asset (including real property) between a plan and a party in interest at fair market value;
  4. The sale of real property to a plan by the employer and the leaseback of such property to the employer at fair market value and fair market rental value, respectively;
  5. The purchase of an asset (including real property) by a plan where the asset has later been determined to be illiquid as described under the Program in a transaction which was a prohibited transaction, and/or the subsequent sale of such asset to a party in interest; and
  6. Use of plan assets to pay expenses, including commissions or fees, to a service provider for services provided in connection with the establishment, design or termination of the plan (settlor expenses), provided that the payment of the settlor expense was not expressly prohibited by a plan provision relating to the payment of expenses by the plan.

There is an important time constraint associated with utilizing the PTE. A business can only take advantage of the relief for a transaction once every three years. Assume a business has multiple failures to transmit participant contributions. The DOL has informally commented that multiple occurrences of delinquent deposits over more than one pay period can be treated as one transaction if the pay periods are close together in time and the delinquencies are related to the same cause.

EXAMPLE 1:

The employee responsible for payroll at Better Late Than Never, Inc., resigned, and the company is having a hard time replacing her. As a result, over the next few pay periods Better Late Than Never is late in depositing employee contributions to its 401(k) plan. The DOL would count the multiple delinquencies as one transaction because they all are related to the same cause.

Example 2:

Random, LLC, misses the deferral deposit deadline in December 2020, and in March and June of 2021. Each delinquency is for a different reason (e.g., power outage, switching payroll providers, sick employee). Because there is no common cause, the missed deposit deadlines cannot be treated as one transaction for purposes of the three-year timeframe.

Conclusion

The DOL’s VFC Program allows plan officials to voluntarily correct 19 specific prohibited transactions. (PTE) 2002-51 provides relief from the IRS excise tax for six of the 19 transactions. A business can only take advantage of the IRS excise tax relief for a transaction once every three years.

For more information, please refer to the following

Frequently Asked Questions of the VFC Program

VFC Program Class Exemption

 

 

 

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