In 2018, the 401(k) plan celebrated its 40th birthday! Though extremely popular today, 401(k) plans came about almost by accident. IRC Section 401(k) was passed into law as part of the Revenue Act of 1978 and was included to limit executive compensation. However, in 1980, Ted Benna of the Johnson Companies used the provision to create and get IRS approval of the first 401(k) plan for his company. For this he is often referred to as the father of the 401(k).
Earlier this year, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 was passed by Congress and signed into law. While this law made several changes that impact retirement plans, one provision changing the rules around hardship distributions is particularly notable.
Maintaining a retirement plan for your employees is no easy task. At various points during the year, employers and HR departments field participant questions, help with enrollments, deliver notices and statements, and participate in the distribution process. However, an additional responsibility, and one of the most important, is the collection of data that is used for compliance testing and government reporting. Though all these duties are important, one task drastically affects the outcome of your compliance testing; accurate reporting of all employee information to your third-party administrator. Sound onerous? Not really.
There has been a large amount of upheaval in the retirement world as of late and it centers around the "F" word. And by "f" word, I mean "fiduciary." The New Fiduciary Rule means that many professionals in the finance world that weren't previously considered fiduciaries will now have to take on that title. So, why is that such a bad thing? Well, it's not per se, but the implications of how this may change the way the retirement financial business and its institutions function may have many cursing its name for a myriad of reasons. But before we get too bent out of shape, let's break it down and see what we're truly looking at.
Times can get tough for people. With the onset of Hurricane Harvey having decimated parts of the Gulf Coast and Hurricane Irma following its destructive lead, we are reminded that at any point we may find ourselves in hardship. Companies make layoffs, natural disasters occur, emergencies… well, emerge. With nowhere else to turn, some will look to their 401k for their own disaster relief. A withdrawal in the form of a "hardship distribution" is one of the tools that participants may use in this situation.
For many years, plan sponsors have wrestled with the decision to offer loans to their plan participants. Some consider them to be a benefit and even promote them as a legal way to use tax free money while participating in the plan. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 87% of plan participants can take a loan against their retirement account. Of those employees with access to take a loan, about one-fifth borrow against the retirement account. Come retirement, what are the effects of loans taken from pension funds on an employee's account?
The latest news regarding retirement plans has centered around service provider fees. While fees are a highly important aspect of managing an employer-sponsored retirement plan, they are not the only metric of your overall retirement plan's health. A low-cost retirement plan does not necessarily parallel a fruitful pension program for employees. Studies show that since Social Security was never designed to fully fund an individual's retirement, employer-sponsored retirement plans have become an integral part of employees' overall financial plan for their future. Relying so heavily on this one component should prompt any plan sponsor to ask one very straightforward question… How healthy is my company's retirement program?