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Contribution limits with combined DB/DC plans

“I am meeting with a new client who has a defined benefit (DB) plan and would like to add an “individual k” plan. Can he do this and, if so, what are the contribution limitations?”

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 Rhode Island is representative of a common inquiry related to an employee covered by two plans.

Highlights of the Discussion

There are several layers to consider in your client’s situation. First, keep in mind that an individual k plan is a type of 401(k) plan that is designed to cover only small business owners and their spouses, (i.e., businesses without eligible common-law employees).

To answer your question, yes, a business owner can have both a 401(k)/profit sharing plan and a DB plan. The question on contribution limitations depends on whether the DB plan is covered by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBCG—the governmental entity that insures private sector DB plans). If a sponsor has a question about coverage, it can ask the DOL to make the call: Requesting a coverage determination

The PBGC insures most private-sector (i.e., non-governmental) DB plans [ERISA 4021(a)]. There are some notable exceptions to coverage, however ([ERISA 4021(b)].

Among others, the PBGC does not insure the following types of plans:

  • Governmental plans;
  • Small professional service plans;
  • Substantial owner plans;
  • Certain Puerto Rico plans;
  • Certain church plans.

Please see the PBGC’s definitions for the above listed exemptions on the PBGC’s website at PBGC Insurance Coverage.    

Where a DC and DB plan are combined, and the DB plan is covered by the PBGC, then there is no combined contribution limit. The deduction limits for contributions to DC and DB plans apply separately. A business owner, in this case, can fully contribute to both a DC and a PBGC-covered DB plan within the prescribed limits for each.

In the case at hand, one must be mindful of the substantial owner exemption from PBGC coverage. A private-sector DB plan is exempt from PBGC coverage if it is established and maintained exclusively for substantial owners of the plan sponsor (i.e., if all participants are substantial owners).

A participant is a substantial owner if, at any time during the last 60 months, the participant:

  • Owned the entire interest in an unincorporated trade or business, or
  • In the case of a partnership, is a partner who owned, directly or indirectly, more than 10 percent of either the capital or profits interest in such partnership, or
  • In the case of a corporation, owned directly or indirectly more than 10 percent in value of either the voting stock or all the stock of that corporation.

Where a DC and DB plan are combined, and the DB plan is not covered by the PBGC, as would be the case in an owner-only situation, then there is a combined contribution limit as follows:

If there is an employer contribution to the DC plan, then the maximum deductible contribution to both types of plans combined is the greater of

  • 25 percent of the aggregate compensation of all participants; or
  • the amount necessary to meet the minimum funding standard for the defined benefit plan.

Consequently, the plan sponsor would fund the DB plan up to the required amount, then fund the DC plan if there is still room.

For this purpose, the IRS says the first six percent of deductible contributions made to the DC plan is ignored for the above limits; and salary deferrals to the 401(k) plan are not counted toward the deduction limit.

Conclusion

Determining the maximum deductible contribution that a plan sponsor can make to a DB and DC plan that are combined can be tricky. Business owners should always seek advice from their tax advisors when calculating plan contribution limits.

© Copyright 2019 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved
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Complete discontinuance of profit sharing plan contributions

“I came across a prospect that froze it’s profit sharing plan several years ago, and has not made contributions since. Are there any concerns regarding the 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 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 Colorado is representative of a common inquiry related to on going contributions to a profit sharing plan.

Highlights of Discussion

While contributions to profit sharing plans are generally discretionary, meaning a plan sponsor can decide from year to year whether to make a contribution or not, the IRS expects that contributions will be “recurring and substantial” over time in order for a plan to be considered ongoing and remain viable [Treas. Reg. § 1.401-1(b)(2)].

If contributions cease, a complete “discontinuance of contributions” has occurred in the IRS’s eyes, which triggers a plan termination and complete (100%) vesting of participants’ accounts [Treas. Reg. § 1.411(d)-2(a)(1)].  Contrast this with a “suspension of contributions” under the plan, which is merely a temporary cessation of contributions by the employer. A complete discontinuance of contributions still may occur even though the employer makes contributions if such contributions are not substantial enough to reflect the intent on the part of the employer to continue to maintain the plan (e.g., only forfeitures are allocated).

The IRS makes a determination as to whether a complete discontinuance of contributions under a plan has occurred by considering all the facts and circumstances in the particular case, and without regard to any employee contributions (i.e. pre-tax deferrals, designated Roth or after-tax contributions). According to the IRS’s exam guidelines at Part 7.12.1.4, examiners are to review IRS Form 5310, line 19a, which indicates employer contributions made for the current and the five prior plan years, to determine if the plan has had a complete discontinuance of contributions. In a profit sharing plan, if the plan sponsor has failed to make substantial contributions in three out of five years, there may be a discontinuance of contributions. Other considerations include whether the employer is calling an actual discontinuance of contributions a suspension of such contributions in order to avoid the requirement of full vesting, and whether there is a reasonable probability that the lack of contributions will continue indefinitely.

Under Treas. Reg. § 1.411(d)-2(d)(2) a complete discontinuance becomes effective for a single employer plan on the last day of the employer’s tax year after the tax year for which the employer last made a substantial contribution to the profit-sharing plan. For a plan maintained by more than one employer, a complete discontinuance becomes effective the last day of the plan year after the plan year within which any employer last made a substantial contribution.

If a plan suffers a complete discontinuance and the plan sponsor has made partially vested distributions, the plan’s qualified status is at risk. The plan sponsor can fix the error by using the Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System. The correction will require restoring previously forfeited accounts to affected participants, adjusted for lost earnings, and correcting IRS Form 5500 filings for the plan.

For additional information, please refer to the IRS guidance No Contributions to your Profit Sharing/401(k) Plan for a While? Complete Discontinuance of Contributions and What You Need to Know.

Conclusion

While employer contributions to a profit sharing or stock bonus plan are discretionary in most cases (check the document language), the IRS still expects them to be recurring and substantial to a certain extent. For example, if the plan sponsor has failed to make substantial contributions in three out of five years, there may be a discontinuance of contributions, which triggers plan termination and complete vesting of benefits.

© Copyright 2019 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved