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401(k)s, 403(b)s and MEPs

“One of my clients is a health care association, the members of which offer both 401(k) plans and 403(b) plans to employees. The association is considering offering a multiple employer plan (MEP). Would there be any issues in creating one MEP that would include both the 401(k) plans and the ERISA 403(b) plans?”

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 Illinois involved a case related to multiple employer plans (MEPs).

Highlights of Discussion

  • Under Section 106 of SECURE Act 2.0 of 2022 (SECURE 2.0), we now have certainty that 403(b) plans have access to MEPs and Pooled Employer Plans (PEPs) on par with 401(k) plans. A MEP is a single plan that covers two or more associated employers that are not part of the same controlled group of employers. A PEP covers two or more unrelated employers under a single plan.
  • However, existing treasury regulations do not allow mergers or transfers of assets between 403(b) and 401(k) plans [Treasury Regulation 1.403(b)-10(b)(1)(i)]. Further, the IRS has stated in at least one private letter ruling (PLR) (e.g., PLR 200317022) that if a 403(b) plan is merged with a plan that is qualified under IRC Sec. 401(a), the assets of the 403(b) plan will be taxable to the employees. Combining 401(k) and 403(b) assets in one trust could also jeopardize the tax-qualified status of the 401(k) plan.
  • Therefore, it would not be possible to maintain one MEP that covers both 403(b) and 401(k) plans. The association could use one 401(k) MEP to cover the 401(k) plans and a separate MEP for 403(b) plans.



While the law permits both 403(b) MEPs and 401(k) MEPs, it is not possible to have one MEP that covers both types of plans. The IRS treats 403(b)s and 401(k)s as unlike plans and, therefore, incompatible, for the purpose of plan-to-plan transfers or mergers.



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