On April 6, 2016, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued final guidance dealing with investment advice to ERISA plans and their participants. The guidance is scheduled to appear in the Federal Register of April 8, 2016. While this guidance does not by its terms apply to governmental and church plans (which are not subject to ERISA), such plans often use DOL guidance as an indication of best practices which they will follow. Moreover, the DOL suggests that a breach of contract claim may be available to enforce the standards with respect to individual retirement accounts (“IRAs”), which are not subject to ERISA. While the DOL has no authority to regulate governmental and church plans, it has laid out a road map which state courts may use to impose liability on governmental and church plans under a breach of contract theory.
The article, dealing with the proposed IRS regulations dealing with the definition of normal retirement age for governmental plans, is subscription only. However, in relevant part, it said:
The proposed rules generally were favorable, allowing plans to maintain the status quo in most cases,
Carol V. Calhoun,president of the Bethesda, Md.-based Calhoun Law Group,[now Counsel at Venable LLP, Washington, DC] told Bloomberg BNA on Feb. 4.
“They say a governmental plan does not have to define normal retirement age, that it will be at whatever point you can receive a normal retirement benefit under the plan that is not reduced actuarially,” Calhoun said. For instance, the rules said that if a governmental plan says that normal retirement age is 25 years of service, then that will be considered the normal retirement age, she said.
Qualified Government Plan
A qualified governmental plan is one that is established and maintained for its employees by the federal government, a state government or political subdivision thereof, or by any agency or instrumentality of the federal or state government. The proposed rules “basically took all of the normal retirement ages that any state-wide plan has and they said all of those were going to be acceptable,” Calhoun said.
On January 27, 2016, the IRS issued proposed regulations governing the extent to which governmental pension plans must comply with the rules governing normal retirement ages. In general, the rules are a positive step from the perspective of governmental plan sponsors, but they contain a few potential pitfalls.
The qualification rules of the Internal Revenue Code (“Code”) provide for several rules that are based on a plan’s normal retirement age. For example, a pension plan cannot pay in-service benefits before the earlier of age 62 or normal retirement age. Benefits must be fully vested at normal retirement age. Benefits under the plan must be definitely determinable (i.e., subject to calculation, rather than at an employer’s discretion) as of normal retirement age. Read more.
On October 22, 2015, the Department of Labor issued new guidance, Interpretive Bulletin 2015-01, relating to the fiduciary standards under ERISA in considering economically targeted investments (“ETIs”), or investments chosen to foster specific social goals, such as economic development and/or home ownership in a particular state or area. What does this guidance mean for fund fiduciaries?
In a case that has obvious implications for employee benefit plans, the Veterans’ Administration (“VA”) has just provided survivor benefits to the partner of a service member, even though the partners were not married before the service member’s death.
As previously discussed, faced with substantial budget cuts, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) has announced that it is eliminating most determination letters (letters concerning the qualified status of retirement plans, which gives rise to numerous tax benefits), effective December 31, 2016. (Announcement 2015-19.) In the past, individually designed retirement plans were able to obtain a determination letter once every five years, during a cycle provided by the IRS. The most likely new regime will involve making determination letters on individually designed plans available only when a plan is first adopted, or when it is terminated. Between those dates, the only way to ensure qualification other than filing a declaratory judgment action with the Tax Court is likely to be to adopt annual updates put out by the IRS that will include model wording for amendments.
For entities that maintain a retirement plan, the new regime may mean that they discover qualification issues only on audit, when it is too late to fix the issue. And the potential penalties on audit (for the employer, the trust under the plan, and the employees) are, as set forth in a prior article, huge. What steps should a plan administrator take to ensure the qualification of a plan after that point? Read more.
On July 21, 2015, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) issued Announcement 2015-19, in which it announced that it would be making substantial changes to the determination letter program intended to allow retirement plan sponsors to ensure that their plans are qualified (eligible for tax benefits). This announcement will affect all retirement plans intended to be qualified, but will create particular issues for plans maintained by governmental employers (“governmental plans”). Read more.
On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges. For employers, this decision raises the issue of what changes must be made in employee benefits to reflect the decision.
For this purpose, we will look at three categories of employers: those that have already been offering benefits to same-sex spouses, those that have not previously offered benefits to same-sex spouses, and those that have been offering benefits to domestic partners.
In light of the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, employers that maintain plans covering employees in same-sex marriages who live in any of the states that previously did not recognize same-sex marriage will have to adjust state tax withholding and reporting for such employees. State Taxes and Married Same-Sex Couples Before Obergefell provides a handy chart for determining which states are affected.