The US Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued guidance for the first time on the investment of retirement plan assets in cryptocurrencies. Compliance Assistance Release No. 2022-01 cautions 401(k) plan fiduciaries to “exercise extreme care” before allowing participants to invest plan assets in cryptocurrencies because cryptocurrencies “present significant risks and challenges to participants’ retirement accounts, including significant risks of fraud, theft, and loss.” In this Intellectual Property & Technology Law Journal article, McDermott Partners Andrea S. Kramer and Brian J. Tiemann outline what retirement plan fiduciaries need to know about cryptocurrency investments in the current market.
Earlier this spring, McDermott Partner Erin Turley delivered a presentation about the impacts of recent Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) litigation. Lawsuits now target both large and small employee benefit plans; plan sponsors are being sued and dragged into complex and lengthy litigation, thus changing the basic economics of the provision of fiduciary liability insurance. In response to these lawsuits, plan sponsors are looking to outsource as much of this fiduciary responsibility and potential liability and exposure as possible.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is strategically working to execute the statutory changes that were outlined by the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (SECURE Act) of 2019. However, the IRS’s efforts to streamline the required minimum distribution (RMD) requirements for Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 403(b) plans with Section 401(a) qualified plans, such as 401(k) plans, may have unforeseen challenges and risks.
A proposed rule was published on February 24, 2022, in the Federal Register. The preamble of the rule indicates that the IRS and US Department of the Treasury are considering changes to conform the treatment of Section 403(b) plans more closely with that of Section 401(a) qualified plans for RMDs. Section 403(b) plans are currently treated the same as individual retirement accounts (IRAs) for purposes of applying the RMD rules. As a result, RMDs are not required to be automatically made from Section 403(b) plans like they are from Section 401(a) retirement plans. The IRS’s proposed rule would require any nonprofit organized under IRC Section 501(c)(3) (i.e., hospitals, public schools and churches) with retirement plans to make RMDs going forward.
Though the proposed rule presents the opportunity to simplify and align the treatment of Section 403(b) plans and Section 401(a) qualified plans, it poses administrative difficulties and potential conflicts with state law. Section 403(b) plans can be invested in a variety of funds, including annuity contracts—group and individual contracts—with insurance companies, custodial accounts or retirement income accounts for certain church workers. For individual annuity contracts, this could create a contractual issue. Employers are not a party to individual contracts between plan participants and investment firms, which would limit the ability of employers to compel RMDs. (Note that distributions could still be forced from group annuity contracts between employers and investment firms.) Regardless of the type of annuity contract, every contract will have to be reviewed to ensure it can comply with the proposed rule. To the extent any changes need to be made to these contracts, state-level approval may be required as insurance companies are governed by state law requirements.
In addition, the proposed rule does not take into consideration the effect of the prospective changes on Section 403(b) plans that are exempt from ERISA because of the safe harbor offered by the US Department of Labor (DOL) in 1979 (29 C.F.R. § 2510.3-2(f)). One of the conditions for meeting the safe harbor is that the employer involvement be limited to certain specific activities. If an employer is required to actively negotiate with insurance providers or choose a provider to administer the RMD requirement for participants, it might be violating this restriction and inadvertently subject its program to ERISA. The IRS and DOL will need to coordinate on the impact of this rule in such cases.
The IRS is taking this proposed rule under review and has asked for feedback specifically related to administrative concerns, notable differences in the structure or administration of Section 403(b) plans compared to qualified plans that might affect RMDs, and [...]
The Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 2015 directs the US Department of Labor (DOL) to make annual inflation adjustments to specified Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) violations. The increased penalties generally apply to reporting and disclosure failures if the penalty is assessed after January 15, 2022, and if the violation occurred after November 2, 2015.
The US Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued guidance concerning a new exemption under the prohibited transaction provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) in connection with the provision of investment advice. PTE 2020-02, Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees (the Exemption), became effective on February 16, 2021. On April 13, 2021, the DOL issued additional guidance, in FAQ format, to further explain the Exemption.
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.
Coronavirus National Emergency Declaration Permits Employers to Offer Tax-Favored Financial Assistance to Employees
On March 13, 2020, President Trump declared a national emergency under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the “Declaration”) due to extraordinary circumstances resulting from Coronavirus. This Declaration opens up new methods for employers to provide tax-favored financial assistance to employees who are affected, directly or indirectly, by the virus.
An increasing number of jurisdictions around the country, including parts of California, New Jersey and Washington, DC, are mandating that employers provide commuter benefit programs that allow employees to pay for commuting costs on a pre-tax basis. While the requirements are similar across most jurisdictions, there are specific rules for which employees are covered under the different laws and other key distinctions. When budgeting and developing these programs, employers should be mindful of the different conditions under state and local law to ensure that commuter benefits meet all applicable requirements.
For 2020, legislation enacted in December of 2019 dramatically increases penalties imposed by the Internal Revenue Code (the Code) for late filing of certain employee benefit plan notices and reports. In addition, a final rule published by the Department of Labor (DOL) makes inflation adjustments to a wide range of penalties. Learn the penalty amounts that apply beginning in 2020.
The Department of Labor (DOL) issued a proposed rule that, if finalized, would expand its existing guidance and liberalize rules for electronic disclosure of retirement plan notices under ERISA. The proposed rule, which sets forth a notice and access safe harbor, would permit electronic disclosure as the default method of delivery while permitting participants to opt out and continue to receive paper disclosures.