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401(k)s, the 2020 RMD Waiver and Rollovers

“My client was told by his human resources representative that the 401(k) plan from his former place of work will distribute his 2020 RMD from the plan this year as usual. I thought that under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, all RMDs were waived for 2020. Can you clarify, please?”

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 required minimum distributions (RMDs) from 401(k) plans.

Highlights of the Discussion

The application of the IRS’s waiver of 2020 RMDs can be confusing for qualified retirement plans, because the plan sponsor can choose whether it will suspend all RMDs for 2020 or continue to distribute RMDs as usual under the terms of the plan.[1] Plans have the ability to distribute a participant’s plan balance without his or her consent once the assets are no longer “immediately distributable,” which is the later of the time a participant attains normal retirement age or age 62  [Treasury Regulation 1.411(a)-11(c)(4)].  Consequently, despite the IRS not treating the distribution as an RMD for 2020, a plan may continue to force the payment for the year. A likely reason would be to maintain consistent distribution processing procedures from year to year.

There is good news, however, for your client. Although, typically, RMDs are ineligible for rollover [IRC Sec. 402(c)(4)(B)], in this case, because the IRS does not consider the distribution as an RMD for 2020 (as a result of the CARES Act waiver), your client may roll over the amount —if it is otherwise eligible. (Note that the plan does not have to offer a direct rollover of the amount, nor withhold 20 percent for federal tax purposes. A 60-day, indirect rollover would still remain an option.)


Despite the temporary waiver of RMDs for 2020 allowed under the CARES Act, qualified plans may still choose to distribute such amounts. Therefore, it is imperative for participants and their financial advisors to know how their plans intend to address the optional 2020 RMD waiver and plan accordingly.

[1] The 2020 RMD waiver does not apply to defined benefit plans.

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