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.
This post was updated on June 26, 2015 to reflect the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage.
The Treasury Department and the IRS announced on August 29, 2013 that all legal same-sex marriages will be recognized for federal tax purposes. On September 18, 2013, the Department of Labor took the same position for purposes of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA“). The announcements and corresponding revenue ruling (Rev. Rul. 2013-17) apply only to marriages legal in the jurisdiction in which performed. They do not apply to civil unions or domestic partnerships. (Of course, parties to a civil union or domestic partnership could still obtain the benefits of the announcement and revenue ruling by getting legally married.) The Treasury and IRS position was later reinforced by the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage.
Because employee benefit plans are extensively regulated by federal law, this announcement means that all employers will be required to recognize such marriages for many employee benefits purposes. Conversely, employers in states that treat civil unions or domestic partnerships as if they were marriages will nevertheless be forbidden from treating such arrangements as marriages for certain employee benefits purposes. However, the precise impact will depend on whether the plan is subject to ERISA or whether it is a governmental or church plan exempt from ERISA. The chart below sets forth areas in which the announcement will affect the operation of different types of plans.
An article in Forbes magazine alleges that the Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island paid kickbacks to placement agents. As most are aware, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) does not apply to governmental plans. So, what kinds of protections are available in the case of kickbacks from public retirement systems? Read more
Section 657 of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (“EGTRRA”) amended Internal Revenue Code (“Code”) section 401(a)(31) to provide that a distribution from an “eligible plan” of more than $1,000 had to be directly rolled over to an individual retirement account unless a participant affirmatively elected another form of distribution (e.g., to receive the amount in cash). The term “eligible plan” was defined as follows:
a plan which provides that any nonforfeitable accrued benefit for which the present value (as determined under section 411(a)(11)) does not exceed $5,000 shall be immediately distributed to the participant.
The effective date of the provision was tied to the issuance of regulations by the Department of Labor. Thus, the question arose as to whether a plan that was not subject to either Department of Labor regulations or section 411 (a governmental plan or a nonelecting church plan) would be subject to the EGTRRA change. Read more
The outline of the speech, originally presented on October 12, 2004, at the 18th Annual Convention of the National Council on Teacher Retirement, is available by clicking here. Read more
You can click here to see a copy of the outline for the presentation, given at the 12th Annual Guns & Hoses, the Annual Reunion of the Nation’s Police & Fire Pension Fund Leaders and Their Advisors, on October 5, 2004. Read more
You can click here to see a copy of the outline for the presentation, given at the Eighteenth Annual Advanced ALI-ABA Course of Study: Retirement, Deferred Compensation, and Welfare Plans of Tax-Exempt and Governmental Employers, on September 10, 2004. Read more