Earlier this year, the US Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) issued a final rule, modifying PBGC regulations that apply to defined benefit pension plans. Among those changes were revisions to: (i) the reportable event notification requirements; (ii) annual financial and actuarial information (Form 4010) reporting; (iii) single-employer plan termination rules; and (iv) the premium rate calculation rules. The rule was generally effective on March 5, 2020, but some provisions have different applicability dates.
Much has been written about the new CARES Act distribution that allows impacted COVID-19 participants to access up to $100,000 in their tax-qualified defined contribution plan penalty-free and with income taxes spread over three years. However, the CARES Act legislation applies to all “eligible retirement plans” as defined in Code Section 402. So technically the CARES Act also applies to defined benefit plans.
Consider, the following examples.
- A cash balance plan permits lump sum distributions to terminated participants. If this cash balance plan decides to add CARES Act distributions, and if its record keeper will administer the provisions, terminated participants who meet the CARES Act conditions can access their funds penalty-free and spread the income tax consequences over three years.
- In addition, if a plan will offer a lump sum window during 2020, then participants who qualify under the CARES Act distribution rules could elect a lump sum and use the favorable tax treatment for the applicable portion of the distribution, up to $100,000.
Note that the $100,000 limit applies across all plans, so a participant in both a defined contribution plan and a defined benefit plan will need to ensure that the limit is applied to all plans in which he or she participates.
Given all the difficulties that both employees and retirees are experiencing with COVID-19, a plan sponsor may want to explore all available COVID-19 distributions under the CARES Act, including options for its defined benefit plan with its actuaries, record keepers, and attorneys.
A US Supreme Court case pitting pensioners against US Bank could have a wide-ranging impact on who can bring suit under ERISA, whether they participate in a defined benefit pension plan or a 401(k) plan.
Recently, on Law360, McDermott’s Richard J. Pearl weighed in on the impact of Thole v. US Bank, one of three ERISA cases that the US Supreme Court will decide this term. The case, discussed in greater detail in our On the Subject, will address whether defined benefit pension plan participants have standing to bring suit under ERISA if their plan is fully funded.
Although the case focuses on participants’ ability to bring suit on behalf of defined benefit pension plans, according to Pearl, the case seems to ask the high court to answer a question that often crops up in defined contribution plan litigation, as well: Whose injury matters, the plan’s or the person’s? As a result, the court’s decision could impact not only litigation involving defined benefit pension plans, but also defined contribution plans, where case law is still being developed around what gives a participant grounds to sue on behalf of a plan.
The US Supreme Court recently agreed to review the Eighth Circuit’s decision in Thole v. US Bank, in which the Eighth Circuit held that participants in an overfunded defined benefit pension plan lack standing to sue for fiduciary breaches under ERISA. The Supreme Court’s decision in this case—the third ERISA case accepted by the court this term—could have significant implications for plan sponsors and plan fiduciaries. Many believe that if the Supreme Court rules that the plaintiffs have standing to bring suit, it could encourage a proliferation of litigation against plans where there is no actual impact on participants’ benefits.
The IRS recently issued new mortality tables for 2018, which will likely increase pension funding liabilities for many plan sponsors. Plan sponsors should consider options to delay the use of the new mortality tables for funding purposes, while large plan sponsors should consider the option to utilize plan-specific mortality tables instead.