Employee Benefits Update April/May 2018

This issue’s topics include:

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act gives ― and takes away

While early drafts of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act proposed significant changes to qualified retirement plans, the version that passed has minimal impact on them. However, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) did make some notable adjustments to the tax treatment of other types of employee compensation and benefits, for both employers and employees. Here’s a closer look at how corporate compensation and family and medical leave tax incentives are affected. A short sidebar discusses the TCJA’s impact on employee achievement awards, moving expenses and transportation fringe benefits.

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Green Tax Reform Binder with information on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017

Cash balance plans growing at a double-digit clip

The hybrid pension design known as the cash balance plan is on a roll. An analysis of the most recent IRS Form 5500 filings available reveals a 17% jump in the number of cash balance plans in 2015, while 401(k) plan formation growth was a meager 3%. This article examines which businesses may be interested in this type of plan.

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Interpretation or statutory violation?

Why it matters when deciding remedies
Do ERISA plan participants who believe a plan has treated them unjustly have to exhaust their administrative remedies before filing an action in court? Last year, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals joined all but two other circuits in finding that plan participants don’t have to do so. This article examines the split between the circuits and the Sixth Circuit’s conclusion.
Hitchcock, et al. v. Cumberland Univ., et al., No. 16-5942 (6th Cir. 2017).

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DOL increases scrutiny of defined benefit plans

Defined benefit plan sponsors might be facing tighter scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Last year the DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration ramped up pension audit operations in its Philadelphia office, and later decided to do so elsewhere, the agency announced at an ERISA Advisory Council meeting. This short article highlights what the DOL is focusing on in their audits.

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Compliance alert

This feature lists a few key tax reporting deadlines for April and May.

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As always, we hope you enjoy this edition of our newsletter and we look forward to receiving your feedback. Should you have any questions regarding the information contained in the attached materials or our Employee Benefit Plan Services, please feel free to contact me directly.

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Employee Benefits Update February/March 2018

This issue’s topics include:

Identity theft threat puts plan participants and sponsors at risk

News of commercial database hackings involving millions of people’s personal information seems commonplace. While many of these stories focus on bank and credit card accounts, many plan sponsors and participants don’t realize that 401(k) plan assets may be at risk — which can be a problem not only for participants, but sponsors as well. While no sponsor wants to see participants sustain financial hits, this article covers when, depending on how a cybertheft unfolds, sponsors could be left holding the bag. A sidebar offers tips for avoiding being a victim of fraud.

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Fiduciary rule’s tortured path to implementation

What this means for plan sponsors
Controversy, complicated legal wrangling and legislative maneuvering have been swirling around the Department of Labor’s “fiduciary rule” governing financial advice given to retirement plan participants. Delays, modifications, phased effective dates, and the involvement of the Securities and Exchange Commission have left confusion and headaches in their wake. This article briefly reviews what plan sponsors need to know.

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Tax cut law a mixed bag for retirement plan sponsors

Despite early indications that Congress was prepared to do much more, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) that was passed in December largely left retirement plans unscathed, save for changes pertaining to plan loans and IRA conversions. This article reviews areas that are affected, as well as what could be ahead.

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2017 vs. 2018 retirement plan limits

This chart contains updated retirement plan limits for 2018.

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Compliance alert

This feature lists a few key tax reporting deadlines for February through April.

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As always, we hope you enjoy this edition of our newsletter and we look forward to receiving your feedback. Should you have any questions regarding the information contained in the attached materials or our service offerings, please feel free to contact me directly.

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Employee Benefits Update: Year End 2017

This issue’s topics include:

Deciding what to do with orphaned 401(k) plan accounts

Sponsors of qualified retirement plans with orphan accounts need to consider whether such accounts are a problem. This article examines the state of orphan accounts and why the way plans charge administrative fees can help determine whether it’s beneficial to keep them in the plan. A short sidebar discusses the plan sponsor’s fiduciary duty to all plan participants, whether they’re active employees, former employees who have moved on to other jobs, retirees or beneficiaries.

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How high can you go?

Participants willing to accept higher default deferral rates

It’s generally accepted that a 3% deferral rate won’t get many employees where they need to be financially as they approach retirement. Most employees will need a figure closer to 10%, yet 3% has traditionally been the most common default deferral rate used by plans that auto-enroll participants. This article highlights why this is changing.

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Reimbursement road map for sponsor services

When retirement plan sponsors perform administrative services on behalf of the plan, they can be reimbursed by the plan for those services. This brief article examines why meticulous expense documentation is essential and reviews a recent case on the subject.

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Why adding a Roth 401(k) option could boost employee savings

A decade after they first became available, Roth 401(k) plans are now offered by many employers. Employees are also getting on board — particularly the younger ones — even without fully understanding how they work. This article looks at the pluses and minuses of Roth 401(k)s compared to traditional 401(k)s and Roth IRAs and reviews some data that highlights how employees are reacting to the Roth 401(k) option.

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Compliance alert

This feature lists a few key year-end tax reporting deadlines.

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As always, we hope you enjoy this edition of our newsletter and we look forward to receiving your feedback. Should you have any questions regarding the information contained in the attached materials or our service offerings, please feel free to contact me directly.

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Employee Benefits Update: October/November 2017

This issue’s topics include:

Staging a comeback

Stable value funds are back in the spotlight

It’s been awhile since stable value funds reigned as a top investment choice for 401(k) plan participants. Very low prevailing interest rates and a booming stock market have diminished their status. Although no one is predicting they’ll unseat target date funds as the top investment election for retirement investors, stable value funds have staged a bit of a comeback recently. This article explores just what’s behind the renewed interest.

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Are you going to file Form 5500 on time?

Play it safe and avoid penalties

Missing filing deadlines for Form 5500, Annual Return/Report of Employee Benefit Plan, for retirement and health and welfare plans can be extremely costly. The best way to avoid trouble is to ensure that meeting filing deadlines never falls between the cracks. This article summarizes the penalties for delinquent filing of Form 5500 and whether plan sponsors can use the DOL’s Delinquent Filer Voluntary Compliance Program.

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Target date fund labels can obscure their investment strategy

The proliferation of target date fund (TDF) varieties can bewilder many plan sponsors. One survey found that, while 65% of plan sponsors consider investment performance the most important selection criterion when choosing a TDF, 54% aren’t confident about how to benchmark the TDFs against others in the marketplace. This article examines how to compare competing TDFs by segmenting them into logical categories.

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GAO report: Some plan designs may reduce retirement savings

Retirement plan sponsors have ways to limit their outlays for very young employees, and those that move to other employers soon after coming on board. The General Accountability Office (GAO) recently analyzed those plan design opportunities, and is sounding alarm bells. This short article highlights the GAO’s concerns that these options can reduce employees’ ultimate retirement savings potential.

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Compliance alert

This feature lists a few key tax reporting deadlines for October and November.

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As always, we hope you enjoy this edition of our newsletter and we look forward to receiving your feedback. Should you have any questions regarding the information contained in the attached materials or our service offerings, please feel free to contact me directly.

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Employee Benefits Update: August/September 2017

This issue’s topics include:

Voluntary Correction Program

How to correct 401(k) plan loan “failures”

“To err is human; to forgive is divine,” as the familiar saying goes. But the IRS will forgive errors involving 401(k) plan loans only when retirement plans use the Voluntary Correction Program (VCP). One of the biggest areas that trip up plan sponsors is plan loans. This article summarizes the three primary “failures” involving plan loans that require an IRS remedy: loan defaults, loans exceeding prescribed loan limits, and loan terms that exceed repayment limits. A brief sidebar reviews the accounting implications of loan defaults.

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Making age a factor in choosing QDIA options

Target date funds (TDFs), the most popular 401(k) qualified default investment alternative, were designed to meet the investment needs of typical plan participants, no matter what their age. The theory is that employees can essentially “set it and forget it,” as TDF portfolios are automatically adjusted from aggressive to more conservative as employees approach and proceed through retirement. That theory, however, has been challenged by research pointing to participants’ failure to use TDFs as intended. This article examines why this is, and what employee benefit plans can do about it.

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Active vs. passive investment funds: Should you let participants decide?

According to a report from Casey Quirk by Deloitte and McLagan, 72% of money invested into funds went into passive funds in 2015. While some may see this as a strong case for passive investing, the issue for plan sponsors isn’t clear-cut. This article summarizes recent data on the trend and whether passive or active funds are right for participants.

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Consider your options with nonvested participant forfeitures

Employee benefit plans provide a combination of vested and nonvested assets. When employees leave a company before their matching 401(k) contributions have vested, they forfeit those amounts. This brief article reviews the options available to plan sponsors when dealing with these assets.

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Compliance alert

This feature lists a few key tax reporting deadlines for September.

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As always, we hope you enjoy this edition of our newsletter and we look forward to receiving your feedback. Should you have any questions regarding the information contained in the attached materials or our service offerings, please feel free to contact me directly.

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Employee Benefits Update: June/July 2017

This issue’s topics include:

Is a safe harbor plan the right move?

This alternate approach can save headaches, but at a price
Many qualified retirement plan sponsors worry each year about whether their highly compensated employees will have “excess” salary deferrals returned to them because the plan failed the actual deferral percentage / actual contribution percentage (ADP/ACP) discrimination tests. Most small plan sponsors take advantage of “safe harbor” rules that, nearly always, eliminate the need to worry about passing these tests. This article looks at the pros and cons of this approach.

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Avoid litigation with attention to common red flags

Any size retirement plan can run into serious trouble when sponsors aren’t careful. With some planning, though, a qualified retirement plan doesn’t have to be the target of ERISA litigation. This article reviews some of the most common red flags leading to litigation and reminds plan sponsors of the importance of regularly reviewing fees and expenses.

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Employees who are approaching retirement age may be unaware of their required minimum distribution (RMD) obligations, which begin at age 70½ for both individual

Helping soon-to-be retirees understand RMD rules

IRAs and 401(k)s. This article summarizes what they need to know for financial and tax-planning purposes.

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IRS simplifies process for avoiding rollover penalties

The IRS has made it a lot easier for retirement plan participants (and IRA owners) to avoid penalties when they botch a rollover. This brief article discusses new IRS Revenue Procedure 2016-47, which allows participants to “self-certify” valid reasons to the receiving financial institution.

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Compliance alert

This feature lists a few key tax reporting deadlines for April and May.

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As always, we hope you enjoy this edition of our newsletter and we look forward to receiving your feedback. Should you have any questions regarding the information contained in the attached materials or our service offerings, please feel free to contact me directly.

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Join our Employee Benefit Plan Resources group on LinkedIn for more frequent updates on recent developments and best practices and discuss related topics with your peers.

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Employee Benefits Update: October/November 2016

This issue’s topics include:

Small employers on notice
Fiduciary focus important for any size employer

One recent lawsuit alleging fiduciary duty violations caught the attention of many in the employee benefits business not because of the nature of the charges, but instead because it involved a small employer. A string of large employers have faced similar charges and ultimately compensated participants. Even though the plaintiffs later withdrew their complaint, this article examines why the filing of this case matters. A sidebar offers several methods of allocating recordkeeping fees equitably among participants.

Damberg et al v. LaMettry’s Collision Inc., 0:16-cv-01335 (Minn. D.C. 2016)

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IRS places high priority on retirement plan internal controls

When IRS examiners check under the hood of many retirement plans, they often find a lack of sufficient internal controls. The consequences can be severe — even if an IRS audit doesn’t turn up any other problems. The worst-case scenario? Theft of plan assets that is financially damaging to participants and your company, and can also lead to plan disqualification. This article highlights the importance of internal controls for both retirement plan sponsors and their service providers.

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Fair Labor Standards Act update
New employee exempt status threshold rules affect retirement plans

Changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that take effect December 1 could have implications for retirement plans. The changes affect what forms of compensation businesses use to calculate employer contributions to their qualified retirement plans and determine highly compensated employee (HCE) status. This article reviews the new exemption rules and how they affect retirement plans.

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Hybrid pension plan interest credit rule amendment deadline nears

The deadline for hybrid pension sponsors to adopt plan amendments bringing them into compliance with key provisions of final IRS hybrid plan regulations is fast approaching: January 1, 2017 (2019 for collectively bargained plans). This article reviews the deadline for transitional amendments to satisfy the regulations’ market rate-of-return rule.

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Compliance alert

This feature lists a few key tax reporting deadlines for October and November.

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As always, we hope you enjoy this edition of our newsletter and we look forward to receiving your feedback. Should you have any questions regarding the information contained in the attached materials or our service offerings, please feel free to contact me directly.

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Join our Employee Benefit Plan Resources group on LinkedIn for more frequent updates on recent developments and best practices and discuss related topics with your peers.

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What are you forgetting?

Reviewing commonly overlooked fiduciary duties

Although retirement plan fiduciaries take their jobs seriously, it can be hard to cover all the bases. That’s understandable, considering the broad scope of fiduciary responsibility as well as the dynamic nature of the retirement plan designs, investment management and legal interpretations of fiduciary duty. Some common pitfalls include failing to identify the plan’s fiduciaries, insufficiently training fiduciaries and spending too much time on inappropriate investments.

Don't forget!

Knowing your fiduciaries

Do you know the identities of all your plan fiduciaries? Fiduciaries should know who else carries the responsibilities. Having fiduciary status — and the liability associated with the role — is a powerful motivator to pay careful attention to the management of the retirement plan. However, the scope of your fiduciary duty varies according to the role taken. Let’s take a closer look at the types of plan fiduciaries:

Named fiduciaries. ERISA requires the existence of named fiduciaries. The plan document identifies the corporate entity or individual serving as the named fiduciary. If they aren’t immediately identified, the plan document will set the requirements for naming them. The named fiduciary can designate and give instructions to plan trustees.

Plan trustees. These are people who have exclusive authority and discretion to manage and control the plan assets. The trustee can be subject to the direction of a named fiduciary. These plan fiduciaries have a broad scope of responsibility.

Board of directors and committee members. ERISA considers individuals — typically the corporate board of directors, who choose plan trustees and administrative committee members — fiduciaries. The scope of their fiduciary duty focuses on how they fulfill that specific function, and not on everything that happens with the plan itself. The law also sees as fiduciaries people who exercise discretion in key decisions about plan administration, including members of an administrative committee, if such a committee exists.

Investment advisors. The named fiduciary can appoint one or more investment managers for the plan’s assets. People or firms who manage plan assets are plan fiduciaries. However, individuals employed by third party service providers can fall into different fiduciary categories. The investment manager who has complete discretion over plan asset investments (known as an ERISA 3(38) fiduciary) has the greatest fiduciary responsibility.

In contrast, a corporation or individual who offers investment advice, but doesn’t actually call the shots (an ERISA 3(21) fiduciary), has a lesser fiduciary responsibility. The advice can be about investments or the selection of the investment manager.

Service providers. If you use service providers, be sure the service agreement clearly specifies when a service provider is acting in a fiduciary capacity.

Anyone who exercises discretionary authority over any vital facet of plan operations falls under a catch-all category of a “functional fiduciary.”

Training your fiduciaries

Given the crucial role fiduciaries play, they must be properly trained for the role. This is a step that’s often neglected and can be of particular concern for company employees who don’t have full-time jobs related to running the plan.

Failing to properly train fiduciaries to carry out their roles may represent a fiduciary breach on the part of the other fiduciaries responsible for selecting them. The U.S. Department of Labor is known to focus on this when it reviews a plan’s operations. Also, have named fiduciaries (such as individually named trustees or members of plan committees) accept in writing their role as a fiduciary.

Providing proper insurance

A sometimes overlooked task includes properly protecting your plan’s fiduciaries against costly litigation and penalties with insurance designed for this purpose. Companies generally cover fiduciaries who also serve as corporate directors or officers through directors and officers or employment practices insurance policies. These generally don’t extend to fiduciary breaches.

And remember, ERISA fidelity bonds protect the plan’s assets from theft or fraud, not from fiduciary breaches. ERISA requires a fidelity bond, but not fiduciary liability insurance. However, given that anyone who is a fiduciary is personally liable for any violation of their fiduciary duties, you should have fiduciary liability coverage, often called an ERISA rider.

Focusing on the wrong investments

Stock market volatility and speculation about changes in Federal Reserve policies (and their resulting financial market impact) can lead plan fiduciaries to rely on retirement fund investment alternatives that focus on narrow sectors and strategies. This can divert fiduciaries’ attention from the investment options where most of their participants are parking the majority of their retirement savings: stable value and target date funds (TDFs).

Neglecting the big picture

Ultimately, retirement plans should prepare employees for retirement. How well that’s accomplished is often referred to as participant “outcomes.” Fiduciaries with broad responsibility for plans that ignore the big picture ultimately are failing participants, and possibly making themselves vulnerable to a charge of neglecting their fiduciary duties. Reviewing the common mistakes regularly can help you avoid making them.

Should you have any questions regarding the information contained in the attached materials or our service offerings, please feel free to contact me directly.

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Employee Benefits Update: August/September 2016

This issue’s topics include:

DOL fiduciary rule rocks plan investment advice landscape

When the final version of the U.S. Department of Labor’s fiduciary standards rule for advisors to retirement plans was issued in April, the wait for the long-anticipated regulatory package was over. With the benefit of the intervening months, the implications for plan sponsors have become clearer. This article highlights what plan sponsors need to know about the new rule. A sidebar looks at what constitutes investment “advice.”

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Seven Prominent Universities Sued Over 403(b) Plan Fees

The 403(b) community has become the target of retirement plan fee litigation. Lawsuits have been filed against Duke, Johns Hopkins, MIT, NYU, UPenn, Vanderbilt, and Yale on behalf of plan participants. The complaints allege that the plan sponsors failed to monitor excessive fees, did not replace expensive, poor-performing funds with cheaper ones, and generally failed to provide appropriate fiduciary oversight in the administration of their retirement plans. These complaints allege that these failures cost tens of millions of dollars in retirement funds. While 401(k) plan sponsors are more than familiar with these types of claims, this is the first time that nonprofit organizations have been targeted. Read more about the recent lawsuits here and here.

Prestigious Colleges and Universities Sued over Retirement Plan Fees

Are the services your plan receives reasonably priced? Knowing the answer is a vital fiduciary duty. ERISA expects more from plan fiduciaries than simply shopping around for plan providers offering rock bottom rates. Rather, the question turns on whether fees are reasonable in light of services provided. So, in addition to knowing how much the plan is paying, you must determine whether the level of service rendered is appropriate. As a plan sponsor, you should: (more…)

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