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.
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.