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Safe Harbor Validation of Rollovers

“What responsibility does a plan sponsor have in validating whether an incoming rollover contribution is legitimate?”

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 and income plans, including nonqualified plans, 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 Texas is representative of a common inquiry related to rollover contributions.

Highlights of Discussion

A qualified retirement plan isn’t required to accept rollover contributions from other plans or IRAs, but if it does under the terms of its governing plan document, the incoming assets must consist of valid rollover amounts. In order for the plan to retain its tax-preferred status, the plan sponsor must reasonably conclude that an amount is a valid rollover contribution as defined in Treasury Regulation Section (Treas. Reg. §) 1.401(a)(31)–1, Q&A–14(b)(2) and retain documentation. The IRS has provided examples of what would constitute proof of a valid rollover, including safe harbor options detailed in IRS Revenue Ruling 2014-9 .

Historically, plan sponsors followed the guidance of Treas. Reg. 1.401(a)(31)-1, Q&A-14(b)(2) for acceptable forms of documentation, which include a participant providing the sponsor of the receiving plan with a letter from the plan sponsor of the distributing plan that states the distributing plan has received a determination letter from the IRS or that the plan, to the best of the sponsor’s knowledge, is qualified. Further guidance from IRS Form 5310, Application for Determination for Terminating Plan, states a sponsor  who is filing this form is required to “… submit proof that any rollovers or asset transfers received were from a qualified plan or IRA.” The instructions to the form indicate that a copy of the distributing plan’s determination letter and timely interim amendments is one example of acceptable proof.

For an indirect rollover where a plan participant has received the assets from a distributing plan or IRA and, within 60-days, rolls over the amount to the receiving plan the individual can certify that the distribution is eligible for rollover and was received not more than 60 days before the date of the rollover. Many plans use a type of standard rollover certification form for this purpose. If the rollover contribution is late, the plan sponsor can accept the contribution if the individual has a waiver from the IRS or self-certifies under Revenue Procedure 2016-47.

In addition to the methods listed in the regulations, IRS Revenue Ruling 2014-9 provides additional streamlined safe harbor due diligence procedures described below that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, will allow the sponsor of the plan receiving the rollover to reasonably conclude that the amount is a valid rollover contribution.

Plan-to-Plan Rollovers

The sponsor of the receiving plan can confirm the previous employer’s plan is intended to be qualified by looking up the plan on the DOL’s EFAST2 website. If Code 3C appears on the plan’s most recent Form 5500 filing, then the plan IS NOT intended to be qualified under IRC Code §§ 401, 403, or 408, indicating that a distribution from the plan would not be eligible for rollover.

If the receiving plan receives a check made payable to the trustee of the plan for the benefit of the participant from the trustee of another qualified plan, it is reasonable for the receiving plan sponsor to conclude that the plan that initiated the rollover determined the distribution is an eligible rollover distribution.

IRA-to-Plan Rollovers

When a receiving plan gets a check that is made payable to the trustee of the plan from the trustee of an IRA for the benefit of an employee, the recipient plan administrator may reasonably conclude that the source of the funds is a traditional IRA and not an inherited IRA and, therefore, eligible for rollover.

Keep copies of documentation

As proof rollover amounts were valid, plan sponsors should keep copies of the following items:

  • Checks or check stubs with identifying information;
  • Confirmations of wire or other electronic transfers; and
  • Participant certifications.

Special considerations for RMDs

Required minimum distributions (RMDs) are not eligible rollover distributions. A qualified plan is responsible for ensuring that any RMDs are paid to plan participants. Therefore, the IRS has indicated it is reasonable for the receiving plan to conclude that the distributing plan has already paid to the participant any RMDs and remaining amounts are eligible for rollover.

In contrast, IRA trustees and custodians are not responsible for automatically distributing RMDs to IRA owners. Therefore, a plan sponsor may not reasonably conclude that an IRA rollover consists only of eligible rollover funds. The plan administrator should seek additional documentation to confirm that the IRA owner has satisfied any RMD that may be due.


When rollovers to a qualified plan are permitted, plan sponsors must ensure such incoming amounts are, indeed, eligible for roll over. Validation can be done through employee certification of the source of the funds for a 60-day rollover; verification of the payment source (via information on the incoming rollover check or wire transfer) from the participant’s IRA or former plan; or, if the funds are from a plan, looking up that plan’s Form 5500 filing for assurance that the plan is intended to be a qualified plan.

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