A financial advisor asked: “Prohibited Transaction Exemption (PTE) 2002-51 exempts certain transactions that are corrected under the DOL’s VFC Program from the 15 percent IRS penalty pursuant to IRC §4795. What is the definition of transaction?”
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 an advisor in California is representative of a common question on the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) Voluntary Fiduciary Correction (VCP) Program.
Highlights of the Discussion
The DOL’s VFC Program  allows plan officials to voluntarily correct 19 specific transactions that are prohibited under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). These 19 prohibited transactions are typically subject to an IRS excise tax under IRC §4975 of 15 percent. Prohibited Transaction Exemption (PTE) 2002-51  provides relief from the IRS excise tax for six of the 19 transactions.
The six transactions that can be exempt from the IRS penalty are
- The failure to timely transmit participant contributions to a plan and/or loan repayments to a plan within a reasonable time after withholding or receipt by the employer;
- The making of a loan by a plan at a fair market interest rate to a party in interest with respect to the plan;
- The purchase or sale of an asset (including real property) between a plan and a party in interest at fair market value;
- The sale of real property to a plan by the employer and the leaseback of such property to the employer at fair market value and fair market rental value, respectively;
- The purchase of an asset (including real property) by a plan where the asset has later been determined to be illiquid as described under the Program in a transaction which was a prohibited transaction, and/or the subsequent sale of such asset to a party in interest; and
- Use of plan assets to pay expenses, including commissions or fees, to a service provider for services provided in connection with the establishment, design or termination of the plan (settlor expenses), provided that the payment of the settlor expense was not expressly prohibited by a plan provision relating to the payment of expenses by the plan.
There is an important time constraint associated with utilizing the PTE. A business can only take advantage of the relief for a transaction once every three years. Assume a business has multiple failures to transmit participant contributions. The DOL has informally commented that multiple occurrences of delinquent deposits over more than one pay period can be treated as one transaction if the pay periods are close together in time and the delinquencies are related to the same cause.
The employee responsible for payroll at Better Late Than Never, Inc., resigned, and the company is having a hard time replacing her. As a result, over the next few pay periods Better Late Than Never is late in depositing employee contributions to its 401(k) plan. The DOL would count the multiple delinquencies as one transaction because they all are related to the same cause.
Random, LLC, misses the deferral deposit deadline in December 2020, and in March and June of 2021. Each delinquency is for a different reason (e.g., power outage, switching payroll providers, sick employee). Because there is no common cause, the missed deposit deadlines cannot be treated as one transaction for purposes of the three-year timeframe.
The DOL’s VFC Program allows plan officials to voluntarily correct 19 specific prohibited transactions. (PTE) 2002-51  provides relief from the IRS excise tax for six of the 19 transactions. A business can only take advantage of the IRS excise tax relief for a transaction once every three years.
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