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American Depositary Receipts and Shares

“My client is asking me about ADRs and whether he can invest in them through his 401(k) plan. Can you explain, 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 Indiana is representative of a common inquiry related to 401(k) plan investments.

Highlights of the Discussion

Think of an ADR as similar to a stock certificate that represents ownership of a share in a company. An ADR, which stands for American Depositary Receipt, is a negotiable certificate that represents an ownership interest in American Depositary Shares (ADSs). ADSs are shares of a non-U.S. company that are held by a U.S. depository bank or custodian outside the US, and made available for sale on a US stock exchange or over-the-counter market.

ADRs are registered in the US with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), trade in US dollars and clear through US settlement systems, allowing ADR holders to avoid transacting in a foreign currency. Transactions are generally performed by brokers and other types of investors who are active in foreign securities markets. According to the SEC, the stocks of most foreign companies that trade in the US markets are traded as ADRs.

It is possible that a 401(k) plan could offer the ability to invest in ADRs, however, a plan sponsor must first decide whether such an investment option would be prudent from a fiduciary stand point to offer in the plan and, if so, make sure there is accommodating plan language.

Investors who may be interested in ADRs should learn all they can and consult with a financial advisor regarding specific questions. The SEC has introductory information on ADRs in its Investor Bulletin: American Depositary Receipts.

Conclusion

ADRs represent shares of foreign companies traded in US dollars on US exchanges. It is a popular and streamlined way to invest in non-US companies. For additional background information, please see the following material:

SEC Regulation of American Depositary Receipts

 

 

 

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Oops … How to fix switched contributions

“My client initially elected to make designated Roth contributions to her 401(k) plan and a few years later switched her election to pre-tax elective deferrals. We just discovered the employer is still treating her deferrals as designated Roth contributions. Is there a way to retroactively treat these amounts as pre-tax salary deferrals?”

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 Massachusetts is representative of a common inquiry related to designated Roth contributions in 401(k) plans.

Highlights of the Discussion

Yes, there is a way of correcting the situation where an employer has failed to make the correct type of salary deferral to a 401(k) plan (i.e., pre-tax/designated Roth, or vice versa) based on the participant’s deferral election. It will require some correcting of IRS tax forms and the employer’s participation in the IRS’s Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (EPCRS) program. Please refer to Fixing Common Mistakes-Correcting a Roth Contribution Failure and Revenue Procedure 2019-19.  

Generally speaking, an employer in this situation can correct the error by executing three steps.

Step 1: Transfer deferrals

The employer transfers the erroneously deposited deferrals, adjusted for earnings, from the designated Roth account to the pre-tax salary deferral account. The employer must ensure the information on IRS Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, for the participant is correct (i.e., reflecting the correct contribution type). That may involve the employer filing a corrected Form W-2 with the IRS showing the previously misidentified designated Roth contributions as pre-tax salary deferrals.

Step 2: Follow EPCRS or Audit CAP

Since the error represents an operational failure on the plan sponsor’s part, the sponsor should follow plan correction procedures outlined in the IRS’s EPCRS program. Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible for the employer to self-correct the error, without penalty or a formal filing with the IRS. Otherwise, a sponsor can file with the IRS under the IRS’s Voluntary Correction Program (VCP). If the error was discovered during an IRS audit, the only corrective option is to follow the Audit Closing Agreement Program (Audit CAP).

Step 3: Establish avoidance procedures

Part of correcting a plan error is to ensure that the error will not happen again. Plan sponsors should create, document and follow new policies and procedures that will prevent future failures such as these.

Conclusion

The IRS has identified the misclassification of employee salary deferrals as designated Roth contributions and vice versa by plan sponsors as a common plan mistake. Fortunately, there is a relatively painless IRS process to remedy the situation.

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Deadlines to deposit elective deferrals

“I get confused by the various deposit deadlines for employee salary deferrals. Can you summarize them for me, 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 North Carolina is representative of a common inquiry related to depositing employee salary deferrals.  

Highlights of the Discussion

The following table summarizes the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) deferral deposit deadlines for various plan types.

Plan Type Deadline Citation
Small 401(k) Plan

A plan with fewer than 100 participants

 

Safe Harbor Rule: The plan sponsor has seven business days following the day on which such amounts were withheld to deposit them to the plan. DOL Reg. 2510-3-102(a)(2)

 

Large 401(k) Plan

A plan with 100 or more participants

The plan sponsor must deposit deferrals as soon as they can be reasonably segregated from the employer’s assets, but not later than 15 business days following the month the deferrals are withheld from the participants’ pay. DOL Reg. 2510-3-102(a)(1) and (b)(1)

 

Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees of Small Employers (SIMPLE) IRA Deferrals must be deposited within 30 days after the end of the month in which the amounts would otherwise have been payable to the employee. DOL Reg. 2510.3-102(b)(2)

 

Salary Reduction Simplified Employee Pension (SAR-SEP)

An IRA-based plan with 25 or fewer employees.

Safe Harbor Rule: The plan sponsor has seven business days following the day on which such amounts were withheld to deposit them to the plan. DOL Reg. 2510-3-102(a)(2)

 

Conclusion

The DOL’s top compliance concern is the timely deposit of employee salary deferrals to their respective plans. Plan sponsors and service providers must ensure policies and procedures are in place to ensure deferral deposit deadlines are met.

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Deferral limit, multiple plans and excess deferrals

“What is a plan participant’s deferral limit if he or she participates in more than one 401(k) plan?”

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, 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 Connecticut is representative of a common inquiry related to contribution limits.

Highlights of the Discussion

The IRC § 402(g) annual limit on employee salary deferrals is an individual taxpayer limit—not a per plan limit. Consequently, an individual under age 50 for 2018 was limited to deferring 100 percent of compensation up to a maximum of $18,500 (or $24,500 if age 50 or more)—regardless of the number of plans in which he or she participated during the year. For 2019, the respective limits are $19,000 and $25,000.

This annual limit is inclusive of employee salary deferrals (pre-tax and designated Roth) an individual makes to all of the following plan types:

  • 401(k),
  • 403(b),
  • Savings incentive match plans for employees (SIMPLE) plans [both SIMPLE IRAs and SIMPLE 401(k) plans[1]] and
  • Salary reduction simplified employee pension (SARSEP) plans.[2]

(Note: A person who participates in a 457(b) plan has a separate deferral limit that includes both employee and employer contributions.)

If a taxpayer exceeds the annual limit—the result is an excess deferral that must be timely corrected. The IRS could disqualify a plan for violating the elective deferral limitation, resulting in adverse tax consequences to the employer and employees under the plan. But there are ways to correct the error. It is important to follow the correction procedures contained in the governing plan document.

Generally, if a participant has excess deferrals based on the elective deferrals made to a single 401(k) plan or plans maintained by the same employer, then the plan must return the excess deferrals and their earnings to the participant no later than April 15th of the year following the year the excess was created [Treas. Reg. § 1.402(g)-1(e)(1)].

In the case of an employee who participates in more than one salary deferral-type plan of unrelated employers, it may be difficult for the plan sponsor to recognize there is an excess deferral. Therefore, the onus is on the participant to notify the plan administrator of the amount of excess deferrals allocated to the plan prior to the April 15th correction deadline (usually a notification date is specified in the plan).

[1] The 2018 limit for deferrals to a SIMPLE IRA or 401(k) plan is $12,500 ($15,500 if age 50 or more).

[2] The 2018 limit for deferrals to a SARSEP plan is 25% of compensation up to $18,500 ($24,500 if age 50 or more).

document). The plan is then required to distribute the excess and earnings to the participant no later than the April 15th correction deadline [Treas. Reg. § 1.402(g)-1(e)(2)].

If the excess deferrals are timely withdrawn by the April 15th correction deadline, then

  • The excess deferrals are taxed in the calendar year deferred;
  • The associated earnings are taxed in the year distributed;
  • There is no 10% early distribution penalty tax; and
  • There is no 20% withholding (since the amounts are ineligible for rollover).

If the excess deferrals are withdrawn after the April 15th correction deadline, then

  • Each affected plan of the employer is subject to disqualification and would need to go through the IRS’s Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (EPCRS) to properly correct the error;
  • The excess deferrals are subject to double taxation—taxed in the year contributed and in the year distributed;
  • The associated earnings are taxed in the year distributed; and
  • The excess deferrals could also be subject to the 10% early distribution penalty tax if no exception applies.

EXAMPLE 1

Joe, a 45-year old worker, made his full salary deferral contribution of $18,500 to Company A’s 401(k) plan by October 2018. He then left Company A to go to work for Company B, an unaffiliated company, on November 1, 2018, and was immediately allowed to participate in the 401(k) plan. Not understanding how the 402(g) limit works, he begins making salary deferral contributions to Company B’s 401(k) plan. In December his financial advisor informed him that may have over contributed for 2018.

The onus is on Joe to report the excess salary deferrals to Company B. Company B is then required to distribute the excess deferrals and earnings by April 15, 2019.  The plan document also requires forfeiture of any matching contributions associated with the excess deferral.

Conclusion

Although the annual IRC §402(g) employee salary deferral limit is an individual employee limit, exceeding it can have consequences for both the employee and the plan sponsor. Timely correction of the excess is key to minimizing possible negative effects.  Plan sponsors should review the correction procedures outlined in their plan documents, and follow them carefully should they detect or be informed of an excess deferral. Also rely on the IRS’s EPCRS corrections program.

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401(k) Record Retention Rules

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401(k) After-Tax Contributions May Be Testy–But Worth It

“What are the limitations, if any, on making after-tax contributions to a 401(k) plan?” Read more

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Deferral election timing for the self employed

“Several of my clients are self-employed and have 401(k) plans. What is the date by which a self-employed individual must make his or her salary deferral election?”

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, 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 Nevada is representative of a common inquiry related to 401(k) plan salary deferral elections.

Highlights of the Discussion

Special rules regarding salary deferral elections apply to self-employed individuals (e.g., sole proprietors or partners). They must make their cash or deferred elections no later than the last day of their tax year (e.g., by December 31, 2018, for a 2018 calendar tax year). The timing is connected to when the individual’s compensation is “deemed currently available” [see Treasury Regulation Section (Treas. Reg. §) 1.401(k)-1(a)(6)(iii)].

Often a self-employed individual’s actual compensation for the year is not determined until he or she completes his or her tax return, which, in most cases, is after the end of the partnership or individual’s taxable year. However, the IRS deems a partner’s compensation to be currently available on the last day of the partnership taxable year and a sole proprietor’s compensation to be currently available on the last day of the individual’s taxable year. Therefore, a self-employed individual must make a written election to defer compensation by the last day of the taxable year associated with the partnership or sole proprietorship.

EXAMPLE

A partner can make a cash or deferred election for a year’s compensation any time before (but not after) the last day of the year, even though the partner takes draws against his/her expected share of partnership income throughout the year.

There are also special rules that address when salary deferrals for self-employed individuals are treated as made to the plan (versus when they may actually be made). Treas. Reg. §1.401(k)-2(a)(4)(ii) states that an elective contribution made on behalf of a partner or sole proprietor is treated as allocated to the individual’s plan account as of the last day of the partnership or sole proprietorship’s taxable year.

With respect to the DOL’s deferral deposit deadline, deferrals for self-employed individuals must be deposited as soon as they can be reasonably segregated from the business’s general assets. The DOL’s safe harbor for plans with fewer than 100 employees also applies. Therefore, as long as the deferrals are transmitted within seven business days after the amounts are separated from the business’s assets, the contributions are deemed timely made.

From the IRS’ tax perspective, in no event can the deferrals be deposited after the deadline for filing the business’s tax return, plus extensions.

Conclusion

With respect to making a salary deferral election, a self-employed individual must do so no later than the last day of his or her tax year. The election should be documented in writing for proof in the event the plan later undergoes an audit. Therefore, those self-employed individuals following a calendar tax year must be sure to execute their written deferral elections by December 31, 2018!

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Discretionary plan trustee vs. directed trustee

“What defines a discretionary plan trustee vs. a directed plan trustee?”

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, 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 Kentucky is representative of a common inquiry related to retirement plan trustees.

Highlights of the Discussion

ERISA Section 403(a) (see page 207 of linked information) provides that the assets of a qualified retirement plan must be held in trust by one or more trustees. The trustee will be either named in the plan document or appointed by a person who is a named fiduciary. The appointment of a plan’s trustee(s) is an important fiduciary decision that must be undertaken in a prudent manner by the plan sponsor or retirement plan committee with the proper authority.

Not all trustees, however, have the same authority or discretion to manage or control the assets of a plan. A trustee that has exclusive authority and discretion to manage and control the assets of the plan is a discretionary trustee. A discretionary trustee may be an employee of the company, but, more than likely, this role is outsourced to a third party.

However, a plan can expressly provide that the trustee is subject to the direction of a named fiduciary who is not a trustee. This is a directed trustee. The scope of a directed trustee’s duties is “significantly narrower than the duties generally ascribed to a discretionary trustee …” (Field Assistance Bulletin 2004-03). While a directed trustee is still a plan fiduciary, his or her fiduciary liability is limited, because he or she is required to act upon the direction of another plan fiduciary. The use of a directed trustee is a common plan model in the retirement industry. Many organizations serve as directed trustees.

“Direction” of the trustee is proper only if it is “made in accordance with the terms of the plan” and “not contrary to the Act [ERISA].” Accordingly, when a directed trustee knows or should know that a direction from a named fiduciary of the plan is not made in accordance with the terms of the plan or is contrary to ERISA, the directed trustee should not, consistent with its fiduciary responsibilities, follow the direction.

Conclusion

There are two basic flavors of qualified retirement plan trustee: discretionary and directed. Check the terms of the governing plan document and trust agreement for a particular plan to determine which applies.

 

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Retirement Savings Tax Credit

“What contributions are eligible for the retirement savings tax credit?”

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, 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 Oklahoma is representative of a common inquiry regarding available tax credits for retirement contributions.

Highlights of Discussion

IRA owners and retirement plan participants (including self-employed individuals) may qualify for a retirement savings contribution tax credit. Details of the credit appear in IRS Publication 590-A and here Saver’s Credit.

The credit

  • Equals an amount up to 50%, 20% or 10% of the taxpayer’s retirement plan or IRA contributions up to $2,000 ($4,000 if married filing jointly), depending on adjusted gross income (as reported on Form 1040, 1040A or 1040NR);
  • Relates to contributions taxpayers make to their traditional and/or Roth IRAs, or elective deferrals to a 401(k) or similar workplace retirement plan; and
  • Is claimed by a taxpayer on Form 8880, Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions.

Contributors can claim the Saver’s Credit for personal contributions (including voluntary after-tax contributions) made to

  • A traditional or Roth IRA;
  • 401(k),
  • Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) IRA,
  • Salary Reduction Simplified Employee Pension (SARSEP) IRA,
  • 403(b) or
  • Governmental 457(b) plan.

In general, the contribution tax credit is available to individuals who

1) Are age 18 or older;

2) Not a full-time student;

3) Not claimed as a dependent on another person’s return; and

4) Have income below a certain level.

2018 Saver’s Credit Income Levels

Credit Rate Married Filing Jointly Head of Household All Other Filers*
50% of your contribution AGI not more than $38,000 AGI not more than $28,500 AGI not more than $19,000
20% of your contribution $38,001 – $41,000 $28,501 – $30,750 $19,001 – $20,500
10% of your contribution $41,001 – $63,000 $30,751 – $47,250 $20,501 – $31,500

*Single, married filing separately, or qualifying widow(er)

The IRS has a handy on-line “interview” that taxpayers may use to determine whether they are eligible for the credit.

Conclusion

Every deduction and tax credit counts these days. Many IRA owners and plan participants may be unaware of the retirement plan related tax credits for which they may qualify.

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Deadlines for Adopting 401(k) Safe Harbor Provisions

Is it too late to establish as 401(k) safe harbor plan for 2018?”

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 New York is representative of a common inquiry related to adopting 401(k) safe harbor provisions.

Highlights of the Discussion

The answer is highly dependent on your client’s current plan situation. Generally, a plan sponsor that intends to use the standard 401(k) safe harbor provisions[1] for a plan year must adopt those provisions before the first day of that plan year (i.e., adopt safe harbor provisions in 2017, effective for 2018). However, there are some exceptions for 1) newly established 401(k) plans, 2) newly established employers, 3) businesses that already have a profit sharing plan in place and 4) sponsors who follow the “maybe provisions” (see Treasury Regulation  1.401(k)-3(e)(2), IRS Notice 98-52, Section X  and IRS Notice 2000-3).

Employer With No 401(k) Plan

The IRS requires the first plan year of a newly established safe harbor 401(k) plan (other than a successor plan) to be at least three months long. For example, No Plan, Inc., has been around as a business for several years, but does not have a 401(k) plan. As long as No Plan, Inc., sets up a safe harbor 401(k) plan by October 1, 2018, and satisfies the notice requirements, the business can operate the safe harbor 401(k) plan during the last three months of 2018.

Employer Created Within Last Three Months of the Year

The initial year of a safe harbor 401(k) plan can be shorter than three months in the case of a newly established employer, as long as the business establishes the plan as soon as administratively feasible after the employer comes into existence. For example, New Biz is incorporated on November 1, 2018. New Biz can establish a safe harbor 401(k) plan that operates for the last two months of 2018.

Employer With a Profit Sharing Plan

An employer can convert an existing profit sharing plan to a safe harbor 401(k) plan during the current year as long as the plan will function as a safe harbor 401(k) plan for at least three months. For example, PSP, LLC, has had a profit sharing plan since 2016. As long as PSP amends its current profit sharing plan to add the 401(k) safe harbor features by October 1, 2018, and satisfies the notice requirements, the business can operate the safe harbor 401(k) features during the last three months of 2018.

Employer That Follows the “Maybe” Provisions

A 401(k) plan can be amended as late as 30 days prior to the end of a plan year to use a safe harbor nonelective contribution method for that plan year, provided that a regular safe harbor notice (with modified content) was given to eligible employees before the beginning of the plan year and a supplemental notice is given no later than 30 days before the end of the plan year. For example, Maybe So, Inc., maintains a calendar-year 401(k) plan for 2018. Maybe So wanted to have the flexibility to decide toward the end of 2018 whether or not to adopt a 401(k) safe harbor nonelective contribution method, so it provided an initial safe harbor notice with the appropriately altered information before the beginning of the plan year (i.e., in 2017). Consequently, Maybe So can decide no later than December 1 of 2018 to 1) amend the 401(k) plan accordingly and 2) provide a supplemental notice to all eligible employees stating that a three-percent safe harbor nonelective contribution will be made for the plan year.

Conclusion

Generally, in order to use 401(k) safe harbor provisions, a plan sponsor must adopt them before the beginning of the plan year. However, even though it is late in 2018, it may not be too late to take advantage of 401(k) safe harbor provisions for 2018 in certain circumstances.

[1] Mandatory employer matching contribution or nonelective contribution

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