The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of Labor (DOL) conduct different types of benefit plan audits, such as retirement plans and health and welfare plans, and for various reasons. In a presentation, Jeffrey Holdvogt and Maggie McTigue discuss IRS and DOL audit triggers, the process for each and what to do if your plan is audited. They also discuss the top audit issues and actionable steps companies can take to avoid audits and compliance issues.
In early 2017, the IRS updated its Golden Parachute Payments Audit Technique Guide for the first time since its 2005 issuance. While intended as an internal reference for IRS agents conducting golden parachute examinations, the Audit Technique Guide offers valuable insight for both public and private companies, and recipients of golden parachute payments, into how IRS agents are likely to approach golden parachutes when conducting an audit.
In a recent webinar, Jake Mattinson and Sarah Raaii discussed the practices that benefits professionals can adopt to add value to their organizations and avoid common mistakes. Jake and Sarah discussed recommended practices for ERISA benefit claims and inquiries, how to review plan compensation definitions and payroll codes, best practices for corrections using the Voluntary Fiduciary Correction Program (VFCP), and the importance of document retention. The webinar is part of the larger Benefits Emerging Leaders Working Group, a group that meets to discuss key benefit issues and trends and provides networking opportunities aimed at connecting tomorrow’s benefit leaders with a broad network of professionals.
In a major victory for church-affiliated hospitals, the US Supreme Court overturned three appellate court rulings and decided unanimously that church-affiliated hospitals can maintain their pension plans as “church plans” exempt from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA), regardless of whether a church actually established the plan. Impacted health systems, and especially their management, should evaluate how best to document and demonstrate their common religious bonds and convictions with the church.
CMS recently released a final rule with the goal of stabilizing Exchange markets for 2018. The agency also issued several significant guidance documents where CMS extended the deadlines for 2018 rate and Exchange qualified health plan application submissions, adopted a good faith compliance standard for 2018 and delegated additional plan certification responsibilities to states. While these steps may provide some comfort for issuers, the agency did not address the most significant areas of issuer concern when it comes to 2018 Exchange participation. Namely, the Final Rule and guidance documents do not resolve ongoing uncertainty regarding cost-sharing reduction funding, the enforcement of the individual mandate or ongoing efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Recent reports show that the number of retirement plan audits by government agencies is increasing. A survey released by Willis Towers Watson indicates that one in every three plan sponsors has experienced a retirement plan audit by a government agency in the past two years. Unofficial reports also indicate that the US Department of Labor (DOL) has added staff to conduct more retirement plan audits.
The increase in audit activity is not surprising after the DOL released its report last year on the quality of audit work performed by independent qualified public accountants. That report—“Assessing the Quality of Employee Benefit Plan Audits”—found that nearly four out of 10 (39 percent) employee benefit plan audits completed by independent qualified public accountants for the 2011 filing year contained “major deficiencies with respect to one or more relevant GAAS requirements” which “would lead to rejection of a Form 5500 filing.” Common audit deficiencies cited in the DOL report include insufficient review of plan documents and administration, failure to obtain evidence of required communications to participants, inadequate review of employee eligibility, participant accruals and non-discrimination testing, and failure to obtain evidence of adequate internal controls.
The reports of increased audit activity and the DOL findings on the quality of plan audits illustrate the importance for plan sponsors to continually monitor their employee benefit plans for compliance with the requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code. Plan sponsors and fiduciaries may erroneously assume that once the independent audit is complete they can rest assured that the plan complies with legal requirements. However, an independent audit is not enough—plan sponsors have a fiduciary obligation to ensure their plans are properly maintained and administered beyond what is required to complete the annual audit.
For a summary of the most common issues under audit examination, please see our article on the “Top IRS and DOL Audit Issues for Retirement Plans.” The article describes numerous steps plan sponsors should take to review their plans to identify problems that come up on Internal Revenue Service and DOL audits, and to make sure they have proper internal controls to avoid those problems in the future. Regular review of these issues and proper focus on internal controls can help prevent costly fines and fees when a government agency audits a plan.
On July 11, 2016, the Department of Labor (DOL) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced a proposal to implement significant changes to the forms and regulations that govern annual employee benefit plan reporting on Form 5500. The proposed changes, which were published in the Federal Register on July 21, 2016, would considerably increase the annual reporting obligations for nearly all health and welfare plans. The changes would also have a considerable impact on annual retirement plan reporting obligations. For more information about the effect of the proposed changes on retirement plan sponsors, see Proposed Changes to Form 5500 Reporting Requirements May Have Significant Impact on Retirement Plan Sponsors.
The DOL is seeking written comments on the proposed changes, which must be provided by October 4, 2016. The revised reporting requirements, if adopted, generally would apply for plan years beginning on and after January 1, 2019.
Read the full article here.
On July 11, 2016, the Department of Labor (DOL), Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) announced a proposal to implement sweeping changes to the forms and regulations that govern annual employee benefit plan reporting on Form 5500. The proposed changes, which were published in the Federal Register on July 21, 2016, would significantly increase the annual reporting obligations for nearly all retirement plans. The changes also would have a considerable impact on employer-sponsored group health plans. For more information about the effect of the proposed changes on health and welfare plan sponsors, see Proposed Changes to Form 5500 Would Significantly Increase Reporting Obligations for Health and Welfare Plan Sponsors.
The DOL is seeking written comments on the proposed changes, which must be provided by October 4, 2016. The revised reporting requirements, if adopted, generally would apply for plan years beginning on and after January 1, 2019. Certain compliance questions will, however, be effective for Form 5500 series returns filed for the 2016 plan year.
Read the full article here.
On June 29, 2016, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officially sounded the death knell for the five-year remedial amendment cycle with its release of Revenue Procedure 2016-37. Effective January 1, 2017, employers that sponsor an individually designed qualified retirement plan—a group that includes most large retirement plans—may no longer request periodic determination letters. Instead, the IRS will continue to conduct random audits to assess plan compliance with plan document operational requirements.
The IRS will continue to conduct random audits to assess plan compliance with plan document operational requirements. Beginning in 2017, the IRS expects plan sponsors to amend written plan documents in accordance with Revenue Procedure 2016‑37 and without reliance on a determination letter. In the context of an audit, a plan sponsor may rely on a plan’s last favorable determination letter, but only with respect to provisions that have not been amended since the last issued determination letter. Sponsors of individually designed plans must develop new means for assuring they comply with the qualification requirements in the wake of Revenue Procedure 2016-37.
The IRS and US Department of Treasury have issued final and temporary regulations which address benefit and self-employment tax issues regarding partners in a partnership which is the sole owner of a second, wholly owned legal entity. The regulations are intended to clarify that where the partners are separately working for the second legal entity, such individuals may not be treated as employees, and must be treated as self-employed individuals for both self-employment and employee benefit plan purposes. As a result, the partners may not be provided the tax benefits provided employees with respect to benefit plans such as cafeteria plans, parking and transit benefits, health benefits and health insurance.