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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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