On Friday, the IRS released a private letter ruling (PLR) which will help clear the way for employers to provide a new type of student loan repayment benefit as part of their 401(k) plans. By issuing the PLR, the IRS gave its blessing to an employer-provided student loan repayment benefit offered through an employer’s 401(k) plan. Historically, many plan sponsors had questioned whether such an approach would be permissible under IRS rules. As a result, the PLR provides welcome confirmation that such an arrangement is permissible under certain circumstances.

Generally speaking, the PLR confirmed that, under certain circumstances, employers may be able to link the amount of employer contributions made on an employee’s behalf under a 401(k) plan to the amount of student loan repayments made by the employee outside the plan. More specifically, as explained in our On the Subject published on Friday, the IRS concluded that an employer could make a non-elective contribution to its 401(k) plan where the amount of the non-elective contribution would be based on an employee’s total student loan repayments and would be contributed to the plan in lieu of the matching contributions that would otherwise be made to the plan had the employee made pre-tax, Roth 401(k) or after-tax contributions.

Because student loan benefit programs are becoming an increasingly powerful way for employers to attract and retain key talent, particularly employers with a young and educated workforce, the PLR will very likely cause many employers to consider offering a student loan benefit as part of their retirement program. Importantly, employers who wish to do so should take care to review their 401(k) plans for special rules, features or design elements (outside those discussed in the PLR) that might create additional hurdles to linking the amount of employer contributions made on an employee’s behalf under a 401(k) plan to the amount of student loan repayments made by the employee outside the plan. For example, some of the special rules that apply to safe harbor plans could limit an employer’s ability to create a similar student loan benefit structure.

For more information about this groundbreaking ruling, including the key features of the student loan benefit program described in the PLR, the advantages of such programs and other important considerations, please see our On the Subject published on Friday.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently released “Issue Snapshots” on a number of topics related to tax-qualified retirement plans, including both pension and savings plans. Historically, the snapshots have explained new(er) laws and guidance, and have often included audit tips for IRS examiners. As a result, although the IRS has indicated that the snapshots are not official pronouncements of law or directives, the snapshots provide helpful insight into issues that the IRS thinks merit further discussion or clarification. Therefore, the snapshots can be instructive for plan sponsors and plan administrators.

Continue Reading IRS Issues “Snapshot” Guidance on Qualified Retirement Plan Issues

The Massachusetts legislature’s recent approval of a comprehensive non-competition reform bill includes significant restrictions for employers seeking to impose non-compete obligations on Massachusetts workers. The Massachusetts Noncompetition Agreement Act will become effective on October 1, 2018, leaving little time for employers to consider what actions to take to protect their business interests.

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The Internal Revenue Service recently released final regulations confirming that employers can use plan forfeitures to fund qualified non-elective contributions (QNECs), qualified matching contributions (QMACs) and safe harbor contributions.

As explained in our earlier On the Subject discussing this topic, IRS regulations historically provided that QNECs, QMACs and certain safe harbor contributions had to be 100 percent vested at the time the amounts were contributed to an employer’s plan. The IRS interpreted this requirement to prohibit employers from using forfeitures to fund QNECs, QMACs and certain safe harbor contributions. In particular, according to the IRS, using forfeitures for this purpose was impermissible because contributions allocated to a plan’s forfeiture account were subject to a vesting schedule when the contributions were first made to the plan (as employer matching or profit sharing contributions). Therefore, the IRS took the position that forfeitures could never be used to fund QNECs, QMACs or certain safe harbor contributions even if the forfeitures were fully vested at the time they were ultimately re-allocated to participant accounts as QNECs, QMACs or safe harbor contributions.

In response to numerous comments regarding this requirement, the IRS issued proposed regulations in January, 2017 clarifying that QNECs, QMACs and safe harbor contributions were only required to be fully vested at the time the contributions were allocated to participant accounts, rather than when first contributed to the plan. As a result, employers could use forfeitures to fund QNECs, QMACs and safe harbor contributions.

The final regulations issued late last month confirm the approach outlined in the proposed regulations. Importantly, employers were actually permitted to rely on those proposed regulations immediately. As a result, the final regulations simply confirm that plan sponsors can continue to use forfeitures to fund QNECs, QMACs and safe harbor contributions. Before doing so, however, plan sponsors should review their plan documents carefully to ensure that the plans allow forfeitures to be used for such purposes.

While momentum may be building for a single-payer health care system in New York, such a dramatic shift in the way health care is financed will have to overcome a number of significant obstacles. With ERISA preemption being one of those hurdles, Andrew Liazos comments, “There will be a challenge from somewhere. I don’t know who will lead the challenge, but I don’t think employer groups will just sit by idly.”

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Originally published in Bloomberg Law, August 2018.

During the previous quarter, the SEC acted to expand the number of companies that may rely on the “smaller reporting company” scaled disclosure regime and Congress directed revisions to the Regulation A+ and Rule 701 exemptions. The SEC also took enforcement action on a major cybersecurity breach, reinforcing its recent interpretive guidance on the subject. The director of the SEC Division of Corporation Finance also spoke on how blockchain assets may or may not constitute securities, and the 9th Circuit created a circuit split related to securities litigation after a tender offer.

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ERISA broadly preempts state laws that “relate to” ERISA-governed employee benefit plans to ensure a uniform federal regulatory scheme and to relieve ERISA plans from the burdens of satisfying a patchwork of state laws. Recently, however, several states have enacted legislation designed to regulate the prices that pharmacy benefit managers, as third-party administrators for ERISA-governed plans, agree to reimburse pharmacies for dispensing prescription drugs to ERISA plan members. These regulations run afoul of ERISA, as the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has twice held.

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Kevin Connelly said unions will face an adjustment period as they seek to implement more creative methods of trying to retain dues-paying members. “I wouldn’t underestimate the unions. If someone wants to say this is the end of the day for public-sector unions—nope, not true,” he said. “There will be consequences, but I think the unions that operate in that sector will be clever enough to make the appropriate adjustments.”

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Originally published by Law360, June 2018.

Andrew Liazos said that it makes sense for companies to consider Q-SERPs in response to the end of the performance-based pay deduction, but he questioned whether the plans would offer much “bang for your buck.” “You first have to deal with the obvious time and effort you have to spend to show it’s not discriminatory, and then take a certain level of risk that the rules aren’t going to change,” he said.

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Originally published in Tax Notes Today, July 2018.