It is estimated that uncashed checks account for billions of dollars, representing a fortune of uncollected funds belonging to plan participants or beneficiaries that they are not able to use and also represent serious issues for fiduciaries.
A 401(k) plan permits employees to defer a portion of their salaries on a pre-tax basis with the objective of accumulating assets for retirement. Additional assets are accumulated if the employer makes contributions to the participant's account.
If you have a 401(k) plan, you've likely had participants ask about taking loans from their accounts. If you haven't yet, it is only a matter of time. While the concept of taking a loan is pretty straightforward—you borrow money, you repay it with interest—there are some pretty detailed rules that govern loans in the retirement plan world.
On April 8, 2016 the Department of Labor (DOL) issued final guidance that greatly expands the types of retirement investment advice that will be subject to the fiduciary duty rules under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The so-called "conflict of interest" rule for retirement investments will have a significant effect on those who provide investment advice and sell investment products and services to retirement plans and IRAs. The central focus of the DOL guidance is to protect plan participants from conflicts of interest that could threaten their retirement savings.
Sooner or later, almost all 401(k) plans will face the "fun" of dealing with forfeitures. Just like every other plan-related operational item, there are specific rules that provide guidance on the "who, what, why, when and where" of using forfeitures.
If your firm has a profit sharing plan, a 401(k) plan or some other tax-qualified retirement plan, then you have been given a Form 5500 to sign and file every year since your business adopted the plan. While the form looks like most other IRS forms, the information reported on the filing is automatically provided to the Department of Labor (DOL), the IRS and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) by the electronic system that captures the data. This system is known as the ERISA Filing Acceptance System (EFAST2) and is funded and managed by the DOL.
More and more businesses are hiring part-time, seasonal or temporary employees (collectively referred to in this newsletter as "part-time employees"). Employers believe the advantages to using this alternative workforce include lower wages and significant savings in terms of not providing employee benefits to these individuals. Unfortunately, many 401(k) plan sponsors are under the misconception that all part-time employees can automatically be excluded from participation in their plans when, in fact, the Internal Revenue Code does not permit a plan to include a blanket exclusion of part-time employees. A qualified plan may be drafted to require that an employee work a minimum number of hours to enter the plan, but the maximum number of hours that can be required in a twelve-month period is 1,000. This maximum translates into an average of a little over 19 hours a week, making many part-time employees eligible for plan participation. This newsletter will describe the minimum service requirements for 401(k) plans and the effects of improperly excluding part-time employees.
When it comes to operating your retirement plan, determining the compensation that should be used for each participant can be really confusing. It seems like it should be simple, but the reality is quite different. In fact, the rules can be so confusing that using an incorrect definition of compensation is on the top ten list of mistakes the IRS sees in voluntary correction filings. Since compensation is used not only to calculate contributions but also to apply limits, conduct nondiscrimination testing and determine tax deductions, the IRS is especially concerned that it be correct. While an exhaustive discussion of all the rules and exceptions would take up far more space than we have here, this article will cover some of the more common points of confusion.
Many employers establish retirement plans without being fully aware of their fiduciary responsibilities. It is imperative to know whether you are a fiduciary and, if so, what your responsibilities are because there are risks for the unwary. A fiduciary that breaches any obligation or duty can be held personally liable to make good any losses incurred by the plan resulting from the breach, even if the breach was made unknowingly. Pleading ignorance or inexperience will not be adequate defense.
Let's face it. Finding out that the IRS wants to poke around is not going to be the highlight of anyone's day. Voluntarily admitting a mistake to the IRS and asking for forgiveness is probably even lower on the wish list! So hearing about new voluntary corrections from our friends at the Service might seem like a waste of time. Not so fast! Believe it or not, the division of the IRS responsible for qualified retirement plans actually does not want to find problems and hand out sanctions. Their goal is to help preserve tax-favored retirement benefits that exist within retirement plans. Of course, if someone doesn't play by the rules, they shouldn't then be able to claim the same benefits as someone who does satisfy the various requirements.