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Suspending Plan Loan Repayments

“Under what circumstances, if any, can a 401(k) plan participant with an outstanding plan loan suspend repayments?”

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 Massachusetts is representative of a common inquiry related to plan loans.

Highlights of Discussion

There are just two scenarios under which the IRS will allow a plan to suspend loan repayments of a participant with an outstanding loan: 1) in the case of a leave of absence of up to one year or 2) for the period during which an employee is performing military service [Treasury Regulation Section 1.72(p)-1, Q&A-9(a) and (b)]. Check the terms of the plan document and loan agreement regarding a participant’s ability to suspend loan repayments.

If a plan permits loan repayments to be suspended during a leave of absence, upon return, the participant must make up the missed payments either by increasing the amount of each monthly payment or by paying a lump sum at the end, so that the term of the loan does not exceed the original five-year term.

EXAMPLE: Leave of Absence

On July 1, 2018, Adrian borrows $40,000 from her 401(k) account balance under the agreement that it will be repaid in level monthly installments of $825 over five years (by June 30, 2023). Adrian makes nine payments and then starts a one-year, nonmilitary leave of absence. When Adrian resumes active employment, she also resumes making her loan repayments. However, the amount of monthly installment is increased to $1,130 in order to repay the loan by the end of the initial five-year term. Alternatively, she could have continued making the monthly $825 installment payment, provided she repaid the full balance due at the end of the five-year term (i.e., make a balloon payment).

A plan may permit a participant to suspend loan repayments during a leave of absence for military service (as defined in Chapter 43 of Title 38, United States Code). In such cases, the participant will not violate the level payment requirement provided loan repayments resume at the end of the military service, the frequency and amount of payments is not less than what was required under the terms of the original loan, and the loan is repaid in full (including interest that accrues during the period of military service) by the end of the loan term, which is five years, plus the period of military service.  Consequently, the suspension could exceed one year and the term of the loan could exceed five years.

Of additional note on suspensions due to military service, the plan is limited on the rate of interest it may charge on the loan during the period of military service to six percent. A loan is subject to the interest rate limitation if the following are true: 1) the loan was incurred prior to the military service; and 2) the participant provides the plan with a written notice and a copy of the military orders within 180 days after the date of the participant’s release or termination from military service [Service Members Civil Relief Act of 2003 (SCRA) Pub. L. No. 108-189]. The plan must forgive any interest that exceeds six percent. For this purpose, “interest” includes service charges, renewal charges, fees, and any other charges (except bona fide insurance).

EXAMPLE: Military Service

On July 1, 2018, Joshua borrows $40,000 from his 401(k) account balance under the agreement that he will repay it in level monthly installments of $825 over five years (by June 30, 2023). Joshua makes nine payments and then starts a two-year, military leave of absence. His service ends on April 2, 2021, and he resumes active employment on April 19, 2021, after which, he resumes making loan repayments in the amount of $825. On June 30, 2025, Joshua makes a balloon payment for the full remaining balance due.

Alternatively, Joshua could have increased the monthly repayment amounts so no remaining balance was due at the end of the term (i.e., June 30, 2025).

Conclusion

Under limited circumstance, plans may suspend loan repayments for participants. Be sure to check the terms of the plan document and loan agreement for specific procedures and requirements.

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Rollover of Plan Loan Offsets and 402(f) Notices

“Has the IRS issued an updated model plan distribution notice to reflect the changes related to rollovers of plan loan offset amounts?”

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 Illinois is representative of a common inquiry related to the special tax notice required for plan distributions under Internal Revenue Code 402(f).

Highlights of Discussion

The IRS periodically issues model plan distribution notices, also referred to as a “special tax notice,” “rollover notice” or the IRC Sec. “402(f) notice,” in order to incorporate any changes to the language as a result of law changes. As of this posting, the IRS had not issued updates to its model 402(f) notice to reflect changes in the information as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA-2017), effective January 1, 2018. The last model notice was issued in 2014 (Notice 2014-74).

Plan sponsors are required to provide up-to-date 402(f) notices to convey important tax information to plan participants and beneficiaries who have hit a distribution trigger under a qualified plan and may receive a payout that would be eligible for rollover (Treasury Regulation 1.402(f)-1). A 402(f) notice, in part, explains the rollover rules and describes the effects of rolling—or not rolling—an eligible rollover distribution to an IRA or another plan, including the automatic 20 percent federal tax withholding that the plan administrator must apply to an eligible rollover distribution that is not directly rolled over. Plan administrators must provide the 402(f) notice to plan participants no less than 30 days and no more than 180 days before the distribution is processed. A participant may waive the 30-day period and complete the rollover sooner.

A plan may provide that if a loan is not repaid (is in default) the participant’s account balance is reduced, or “offset,” by the unpaid portion of the loan. The value of the loan offset is treated as an actual distribution for rollover purposes and, therefore, may be eligible for rollover. In most cases, participants (or beneficiaries) who experience a loan offset can rollover an amount that equals the offset to an eligible retirement plan. Instead of the usual 60-day rollover deadline, effective January 1, 2018, as a result of TCJA-2017, if the plan loan offset is due to plan termination or severance from employment, participants have until the due date, including extensions, for filing their federal income tax returns for the year in which the offset occurs to complete a tax-free rollover (e.g., until October 15, 2019, for a 2018 plan loan offset).

Conclusion

Even though the IRS has not updated its model 402(f) to reflect the extended rollover period for certain loan offsets as a result of TCJA-2017, plan sponsors and administrators must ensure the distribution paperwork and 402(f) notices that they are currently using include language that reflects the new rollover timeframe. For those that rely on plan document providers, ask if the new 402(f) notice is available.

 

© Copyright 2018 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved
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Reasonable interest rate on plan loans

“What interest rate should a plan apply as part of its plan loan program?”

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 Ohio is representative of a common inquiry related to 401(k) plan loans.

Highlights of Discussion

Loans to 401(k) plan participants are generally prohibited unless they

  • Are available to all plan participants and beneficiaries on a reasonably equivalent basis;
  • Are not made more readily available to highly compensated employees, officers or shareholders than they are to other employees;
  • Are made in accordance with specific provisions set forth in the plan;
  • Are adequately secured; and
  • Bear a reasonable rate of interest [see DOL Reg. § 2550.408b-1].

The Department of Labor (DOL) gives us a guideline for what is reasonable, but with room for interpretation. According to DOL Reg. § 2550.408b-1(e), a plan’s loan interest rate is reasonable if it is equal to commercial lending interest rates under similar circumstances (see also DOL Advisory Opinion 81-12A). In an example, the DOL explained, “The trustees, prior to making the loan, contacted two local banks to determine under what terms the banks would make a similar loan taking into account the plan participant’s creditworthiness and the collateral offered.”

The IRS has similar requirements in order for a plan loan to avoid excise tax under Internal Revenue Code Section (IRC §) 4795(c) and (d)(1) for prohibited transactions. In a September 12, 2011 IRS phone forum, IRS personnel stated informally: “… as a general rule the Service generally considers prime plus 2% as a reasonable interest rate for participant loans.”

The prime rate is an interest rate determined by individual banks, and is often based on a review of the Federal Reserve Boards’ H.15 Selected Interest Rates release of prime rates posted by the majority of the largest 25 banks in the U.S.  Prime is often used as a reference rate (also called the base rate) for many types of loans.[1] Conceivably, adding one or two percentage points to the prime rate makes the interest rate charged to a participant more consistent with general consumer rates, as individuals can rarely get a loan at the going prime rate.

In its Winter 2012 publication, “Retirement News for Employers,” the IRS suggests asking the following questions to determine if a loan interest rate meets the reasonable standard:

  • What current rates are local banks charging for similar loans (amount and duration) to individuals with similar creditworthiness and collateral?
  • Is the plan rate consistent with the local rates?

According to Internal Revenue Manuals, Part 4, Section 4.72.11.4.2.1.1, IRS examination steps related to verifying a reasonable rate of interest include

  • Determining whether the plan loans’ interest rates and other conditions are comparable to the terms of similar commercial loans in the relevant community; and
  • Checking the overall rate of return on plan assets when a large percent of the plan’s assets are invested in participant loans.

On the second point above, even if the interest rate on the loans is reasonable, the overall rate of return might be unreasonable. This could occur if it is determined that a plan’s substantial investment in participant loans is causing the overall rate of return to be materially less than what could have been earned in other investment options under the plan. The DOL has opined that a participant loan as an investment would not be prudent if it provided the plan with less return, relative to risk, than comparable investments available to the plan.

Conclusion

Determining reasonableness is a question of fact and circumstances, and there is no DOL or IRS “safe harbor” rate. Plan sponsors’ must 1) take into consideration relevant current market conditions, and 2) conduct periodic reviews of the interest rate to ensure it continues to reflect current market conditions. Anytime a participant loan is refinanced, the interest rate should be reviewed and updated, if needed. Above all, plan sponsors must be able to document the process they used to determine reasonable interest rates for participant loans in order justify their selection.

[1] https://www.federalreserve.gov/faqs/credit_12846.htm

 

© Copyright 2018 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved