Presence Not Required – IRS Extends Remote Signature Procedures for Qualified Plans

The IRS has extended temporary relief allowing plan representatives to witness participant elections or spousal waivers via videoconference until June 30, 2021. 

The IRS initially provided relief from the physical presence requirement from January 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020 in IRS Notice 2020-42 in response to the COVID-19 related social distancing restrictions. On December 22, 2020, the IRS extended that relief through June 30, 2020 through IRS Notice 2021-03.

The relief provides that participant elections required to be witnessed by a plan representative or notary public, including spousal consent, may be satisfied using alternative procedures that do not require physical presence. For a participant election witnessed by a notary public, the physical presence requirement is deemed satisfied with remote notarization using live audio-video technology that satisfies certain requirements. For a participant or spousal election witnessed by a plan representative, the physical presence requirement is deemed satisfied if an audio-video system is used that satisfies the following requirements:

  1. The individual signing the election presents a valid photo ID to the plan representative during the videoconference (transmitting the ID before or after the videoconference is not good enough);
  2. The video conference is live and allows direct interaction between the participant and plan representative;
  3. The individual faxes or electronically transmits a legible copy of the signed document to the plan representative on the same day it is signed; and
  4. After receiving the signed document, the plan representative acknowledges that the signature has been witnessed by the plan representative and transmits the signed document, including the acknowledgement, back to the individual using an electronic medium the individual can easily access.

Notice 2021-03

Webinar: The Must-Do’s and Common Mistakes of Employee Benefit Planning

Lisa Dursey joins Stephanie Rising of The Rising Effect in a 15-minute webinar discussing the must-do’s and common mistakes of administering employee benefit plans. This webinar provides a concise primer on how to structure and correctly administer your plans.

Stephanie starts the webinar by explaining the importance of your new-hire process, and then dives more deeply into traditional and lifestyle benefits that attract and retain talented employees. Lisa then outlines the common mistakes that are made in administering those benefits, and how to correct them.

Contact ERISA Benefits Law to discuss your benefit plan administration or for help resolving any plan errors. Please note that in addition to general benefits advice, ERISA Benefits Law attorneys are well versed in designing sick leave policies for COVID-19.

ERISA Benefits Law Receives Recognition as a Top Tier Law firm in 2021 U.S. News – Best Lawyers® “Best Law Firms” Rankings

We are happy to announce that ERISA Benefits Law has again been recognized as a top tier law firm in the 2021 US News Best Lawyers® “Best Law Firms” rankings. The firm received a Tier 1 rankings in Employee Benefits (ERISA) Law and in Employment Law – Management. We are grateful for the recognition of our peers and the trust of our clients as a niche ERISA and employee benefits law firm focused on providing the highest quality legal services at the most affordable rates anywhere.

The U.S. News – Best Lawyers “Best Law Firms” rankings are based on a rigorous evaluation process that includes the collection of client and lawyer evaluations, peer review from leading attorneys in their field, and review of additional information provided by law firms as part of the formal submission process.

IRS Announces COLA Adjusted Retirement Plan Limitations for 2021

The Internal Revenue Service today released Notice 2020-79 announcing cost of living adjustments affecting dollar limitations for pension plans and other retirement-related items for tax year 2021.

Highlights Affecting Plan Sponsors of Qualified Plans for 2021

  • The contribution limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan remains unchanged at $19,500.
  • The catch-up contribution limit for employees aged 50 and over who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan remains unchanged at $6,500.
  • The limitation under Section 408(p)(2)(E) regarding SIMPLE retirement accounts remains unchanged at $13,500.
  • The limit on annual contributions to an IRA remains unchanged at $6,000. The additional catch-up contribution limit for individuals aged 50 and over is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $1,000.
  • The limitation on the annual benefit under a defined benefit plan under Section 415(b)(1)(A) remains unchanged at $230,000.
  • The limitation for defined contribution plans under Section 415(c)(1)(A) is increased for 2021 from $57,000 to $58,000.
  • The annual compensation limit under Sections 401(a)(17), 404(l), 408(k)(3)(C), and 408(k)(6)(D)(ii) is increased from $285,000 to $290,000.
  • The dollar limitation under Section 416(i)(1)(A)(i) concerning the definition of “key employee” in a top-heavy plan remains unchanged at $185,000.
  • The dollar amount under Section 409(o)(1)(C)(ii) for determining the maximum account balance in an employee stock ownership plan subject to a five year distribution period is increased from $1,150,000 to $1,165,000, while the dollar amount used to determine the lengthening of the five year distribution period remains unchanged at $230,000.
  • The limitation used in the definition of highly compensated employee under Section 414(q)(1)(B) remains unchanged at $130,000.

The IRS previously updated Health Savings Account limits for 2021. See our post here.

The following chart summarizes various significant benefit Plan limits for 2019 through 2021:

Type of Limitation202120202019
415 Defined Benefit Plans$230,000$230,000$225,000
415 Defined Contribution Plans$58,000$57,000$56,000
Defined Contribution Elective Deferrals$19,500$19,500$19,000
Defined Contribution Catch-Up Deferrals$6,500$6,500$6,000
SIMPLE Employee Deferrals$13,500$13,500$13,000
SIMPLE Catch-Up Deferrals$3,000$3,000$3,000
Annual Compensation Limit$290,000$285,000$280,000
SEP Minimum Compensation$650$600$600
SEP Annual Compensation Limit$290,000$285,000$280,000
Highly Compensated$130,000$130,000$125,000
Key Employee (Officer)$185,000$185,000$180,000
Income Subject To Social Security Tax  (FICA)$142,800$137,700$132,900
Social Security (FICA) Tax For ER & EE (each pays)6.20%6.20%6.20%
Social Security (Med. HI) Tax For ERs & EEs (each pays)1.45%1.45%1.45%
SECA (FICA Portion) for Self-Employed12.40%12.40%12.40%
SECA (Med. HI Portion) For Self-Employed2.90%2.90%2.90%
IRA Contribution$6,000$6,000$6,000
IRA Catch-Up Contribution$1,000$1,000$1,000
HSA Max. Contributions Single/Family Coverage$3,600/
$7,200
$3,550/ $7,100$3,500/ $7,00
HSA Catchup Contributions$1,000$1,000$1,000
HSA Min. Annual Deductible Single/Family$1,400/ $2,800$1,400/ $2,800$1,350/ $2,700
HSA Max. Out Of Pocket Single/Family$7,000/
$14,000
$6,900/ $13,800$6,750/ $13,500

DOL Final Rule Facilitates Retirement Plan Electronic Disclosures

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) published a final rule on May 27, 2020 that will allow employers to post retirement plan disclosures online or deliver them to employees by email, as a default. The DOL believes this will make it easier for employers to furnish retirement plan disclosures electronically, reducing administrative expenses and making disclosures more readily accessible and useful for employees.

Background

There are approximately 700,000 retirement plans covered by ERISA, covering approximately 137 million participants. ERISA-covered retirement plans must furnish multiple disclosures each year to participants and beneficiaries. The number of disclosures per year depends on the specific type of retirement plan, its features, and for defined benefit plans, the plan’s funding status.

Delivery methods for ERISA disclosures must be reasonably calculated to ensure that workers actually receive the disclosures. To deliver disclosures electronically, plan administrators previously had to rely on a regulatory safe harbor established by the DOL in 2002. See 29 CFR 2520.104b-1(c).

On August 31, 2018, the President issued Executive Order 13847, directing the DOL to review whether regulatory or other actions could be taken to make retirement plan disclosures more understandable and useful for participants and beneficiaries and to focus on reducing the costs and burdens that retirement plan disclosures impose on employers and others responsible for their production and distribution. The Order specifically emphasized that this review include an exploration of the potential for broader use of electronic delivery as a way to improve the effectiveness of the disclosures and to reduce their associated costs and burdens.

New Voluntary Safe Harbor

The new electronic disclosure rule establishes a new, voluntary safe harbor for retirement plan administrators who want to use electronic media, as a default, to furnish covered documents to covered individuals, rather than sending potentially large volumes of paper documents through the mail. The new safe harbor permits the following two optional methods for electronic delivery:

  1. Website Posting. Plan administrators may post covered documents on a website if appropriate notification of internet availability is furnished to the electronic addresses of covered individuals.
  2. Email Delivery. Alternatively, plan administrators may send covered documents directly to the electronic addresses of covered individuals, with the covered documents either in the body of the email or as an attachment to the email.

Retirement plan administrators who comply with the safe harbor will satisfy their statutory duty under ERISA to furnish covered documents to covered individuals. The safe harbor is limited in the following respects:

Limited Scope of the New Safe Harbor

The safe harbor is limited to retirement plan disclosures.

A plan administrator may use this safe harbor only for “covered individuals.” To be a covered individual, the person must be entitled under ERISA to receive covered documents and must have a valid electronic address (e.g., email address or smart phone number).

The new safe harbor does not supersede the 2002 safe harbor; the 2002 safe harbor remains in place as another option for plan administrators.

Protections for Plan Participants

The new safe harbor includes a variety of protections for covered individuals, including:
1. Right to Paper. Covered individuals can request paper copies of specific documents, or globally opt out of electronic delivery entirely, at any time, free of charge.

2. Initial Notification. Covered individuals must be furnished an initial notification, on paper, that the way they currently receive retirement plan disclosures (e.g., paper delivery in the US mail) is changing. The notice must inform them of the new electronic delivery method, the electronic address that will be used, and the right to opt out if they prefer paper disclosures, among other things. The notice must be given to them before the plan may use the new safe harbor.

3. Notifications of Internet Availability. Covered individuals generally must be furnished a notice of internet availability (NOIA) each time a new covered document is made available for review on the internet website.

To avoid “notice overload,” the final rule permits an annual NOIA to include information about multiple covered documents, instead of multiple NOIAs throughout the year.

The NOIA must briefly describe or identify the covered document that is being posted online, include an address or hyperlink to the website, and inform the covered individual of the right to request paper copies or to opt out of electronic delivery altogether.

The NOIA must be concise, understandable, and contain only specified information.

4. Website Retention. Covered documents must remain on an internet website until superseded by a subsequent version, but in no event for less than one year.

5. System Check for Invalid Electronic Addresses. Plan administrators must ensure that the electronic delivery system is designed to alert them if a participant’s electronic address is invalid or inoperable. In that case, the administrator must attempt to promptly cure the problem, or treat the participant as opting out of electronic delivery.

6. System Check at Termination of Employment. When someone leaves their job, the plan administrator must take steps to ensure the continued accuracy and operability of the person’s employer-provided electronic address.

Effective Date & Immediate Availability

The new safe harbor is effective July 27, 2020 (60 days after its publication in the Federal Register). However, the DOL, as an enforcement policy, will not take any enforcement action against a plan administrator that relies on this safe harbor before that date.

Erwin Kratz Discusses Fiduciary Compliance for Plan Sponsors

ERISA Benefits Law attorney Erwin Kratz was a panelist on “ERISA Principles That Every Plan Fiduciary Needs to Know”, presented by Wellspring Financial Partners on February 19, 2020. Erwin joined Eric Dyson of Wellspring, who discussed the four main fiduciary duties – the duties of Loyalty, of Prudence, to Diversify Plan Assets and to Follow the Plan Documents.

Erwin then provided practical tips for fiduciary compliance by discussing four points of impact when the “fiduciary rubber” most frequently hits the road:

  • When Restating your Plan
  • Top Three Mistakes a Committee Can Make
  • How to be a Good Committee Member; and
  • Working with your Non-Fiduciary Administrative Staff

View the YouTube video here:

And download a copy of the PowerPoint Presentation here:

IRS Announces COLA Adjusted Retirement Plan Limitations for 2020

The Internal Revenue Service today released Notice 2019-59 announcing cost of living adjustments affecting dollar limitations for pension plans and other retirement-related items for tax year 2020.

Highlights Affecting Plan Sponsors of Qualified Plans for 2020

  • The contribution limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan is increased from  $19,000 to $19,500.
  • The catch-up contribution limit for employees aged 50 and over who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan is increased from $6,000 to $6,500.
  • The limitation under Section 408(p)(2)(E) regarding SIMPLE retirement accounts is increased from $13,000 to $13,500.
  • The limit on annual contributions to an IRA remains unchanged at $6,000. The additional catch-up contribution limit for individuals aged 50 and over is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $1,000.
  • The limitation on the annual benefit under a defined benefit plan under Section 415(b)(1)(A) is increased from $225,000 to $230,000.
  • The limitation for defined contribution plans under Section 415(c)(1)(A) is increased in 2019 from $56,000 to $57,000.
  • The annual compensation limit under Sections 401(a)(17), 404(l), 408(k)(3)(C), and 408(k)(6)(D)(ii) is increased from $280,000 to $285,000.
  • The dollar limitation under Section 416(i)(1)(A)(i) concerning the definition of key employee in a top-heavy plan is increased from $180,000 to $185,000.
  • The dollar amount under Section 409(o)(1)(C)(ii) for determining the maximum account balance in an employee stock ownership plan subject to a five year distribution period is increased from $1,130,000 to $1,150,000, while the dollar amount used to determine the lengthening of the five year distribution period is increased from $225,000 to $230,000.
  • The limitation used in the definition of highly compensated employee under Section 414(q)(1)(B) is increased from $125,000 to $130,000.

The IRS previously Updated Health Savings Account limits for 2019. See our post here.

The following chart summarizes various significant benefit Plan limits for 2018 through 2020:

Type of Limitation202020192018
415 Defined Benefit Plans$230,000$225,000$220,000
415 Defined Contribution Plans$57,000$56,000$55,000
Defined Contribution Elective Deferrals$19,500$19,000$18,500
Defined Contribution Catch-Up Deferrals$6,500$6,000$6,000
SIMPLE Employee Deferrals$13,500$13,000$12,500
SIMPLE Catch-Up Deferrals$3,000$3,000$3,000
Annual Compensation Limit$285,000$280,000$275,000
SEP Minimum Compensation$600$600$600
SEP Annual Compensation Limit$285,000$280,000$275,000
Highly Compensated$130,000$125,000$120,000
Key Employee (Officer)$185,000$180,000$175,000
Income Subject To Social Security Tax  (FICA)$137,700$132,900$128,400
Social Security (FICA) Tax For ER & EE (each pays)6.20%6.20%6.20%
Social Security (Med. HI) Tax For ERs & EEs (each pays)1.45%1.45%1.45%
SECA (FICA Portion) for Self-Employed12.40%12.40%12.40%
SECA (Med. HI Portion) For Self-Employed2.9%2.9%2.9%
IRA Contribution$6,000$6,000$5,500
IRA Catch-Up Contribution$1,000$1,000$1,000
HSA Max. Contributions Single/Family Coverage$3,550/ $7,100$3,500/ $7,00$3,450/ $6,900
HSA Catchup Contributions$1,000$1,000$1,000
HSA Min. Annual Deductible Single/Family$1,400/ $2,800$1,350/ $2,700$1,350/ $2,700
HSA Max. Out Of Pocket Single/Family$6,900/ $13,800$6,750/ $13,500$6,650/ $13,300

ERISA Benefits Law Attorney Erwin Kratz Named to the Best Lawyers in America© 2020

ERISA Benefits Law attorney Erwin Kratz was recently selected by his peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© 2020 in the practice area of Employee Benefits (ERISA) Law. Mr. Kratz has been continuously listed on The Best Lawyers in Americalist since 2010.

Since it was first published in 1983, Best Lawyers® has become universally regarded as the definitive guide to legal excellence. Best Lawyers lists are compiled based on an exhaustive peer-review evaluation. Lawyers are not required or allowed to pay a fee to be listed; therefore inclusion in Best Lawyers is considered a singular honor. Corporate Counsel magazine has called Best Lawyers “the most respected referral list of attorneys in practice.”

IRS Expands Determination Letter Program to Merged Plans and Statutory Hybrid Plans

The IRS has issued Rev. Proc. 2019-20, expanding its determination letter program to allow submissions by individually designed statutory hybrid plans and merged plans. Previously, the determination letter program was limited to applications for initial plan qualification and upon plan termination only. The IRS has indicated it will annually reconsider whether determination letters should be issued in other specified circumstances.

“Statutory hybrid plans” are defined benefit plans that use a hypothetical account balance (for example, a cash-balance plan) or an accumulated percentage of the participant’s final average compensation (for example, a pension equity plan) to establish a participant’s accrued benefit.

“Merged plans” are tax-qualified retirement plans resulting from the merger or consolidation of two or more plans of previously unrelated entities to form a single individually designed plan.

Applications by these plans will be permitted as follows:

Statutory Hybrid Plans. The determination letter program will be opened to statutory hybrid plans only for the 12-month period beginning September 1, 2019, and ending August 31, 2020. These plans will be reviewed for compliance with the 2017 Required Amendments List, and all previous lists.

Merged Plans. The determination letter program will be opened to merged plans on an ongoing basis, beginning September 1, 2019. To obtain a determination letter:

  • the plan merger must occur by the end of the first plan year beginning after the plan year in which the corporate merger, acquisition, or similar business transaction occurred; and
  • the application must be submitted during the period beginning on the date of the plan merger and ending on the last day of the first plan year beginning after the plan merger.

Merged plans will be reviewed based on the Required Amendments List issued during the second full calendar year before the submission, and all previous lists (including Cumulative Lists).

Any remedial amendment period that is open at the start of one of the submission periods described above will stay open until the end of the submission period. Plans will also get the benefit of the usual rule extending the remedial amendment period for a submitted plan until 91 days after a determination letter is issued.

Comment and Implications

For plan sponsors involved in corporate mergers, the provisions in Rev. Proc. 2019-20 will be particularly helpful. Determination letters protect against IRS challenges to plan provisions disclosed in a determination letter application. That protection can be especially important when an employer merges its own plan (which the employer may be reasonably confident meets the qualification requirements) with the plan of a previously unrelated employer. The 2016 changes to the determination letter program left many employers unable to request letters in that situation, increasing the risk of plan mergers. This concern can now be addressed through a determination letter application.

Sponsors of already-merged plans should also determine whether they can still submit a determination letter application. The September 1, 2019, opening date does not appear to preclude submissions of plan mergers that occurred before that date, as long as the applicable criteria are met.

IRS Announces COLA Adjusted Retirement Plan Limitations for 2019

The Internal Revenue Service today released Notice 2018-83 announcing cost of living adjustments affecting dollar limitations for pension plans and other retirement-related items for tax year 2019.

Highlights Affecting Plan Sponsors of Qualified Plans for 2019

  • The contribution limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan is increased from  $18,500 to $19,000. The catch-up contribution limit for employees aged 50 and over who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan remains unchanged at $6,000.
  • The limit on annual contributions to an IRA, which last increased in 2013, is increased from $5,500 to $6,000. The additional catch-up contribution limit for individuals aged 50 and over is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $1,000.
  • The limitation on the annual benefit under a defined benefit plan under Section 415(b)(1)(A) is increased from $220,000 to $225,000.
  • The limitation for defined contribution plans under Section 415(c)(1)(A) is increased in 2019 from $55,000 to $56,000.
  • The annual compensation limit under Sections 401(a)(17), 404(l), 408(k)(3)(C), and 408(k)(6)(D)(ii) is increased from $275,000 to $280,000.
  • The dollar limitation under Section 416(i)(1)(A)(i) concerning the definition of key employee in a top-heavy plan is increased from $175,000 to $180,000.
  • The dollar amount under Section 409(o)(1)(C)(ii) for determining the maximum account balance in an employee stock ownership plan subject to a five year distribution period is increased from $1,105,000 to $1,130,000, while the dollar amount used to determine the lengthening of the five year distribution period is increased from $220,000 to $225,000.
  • The limitation used in the definition of highly compensated employee under Section 414(q)(1)(B) is increased from $120,000 to $125,000.
  • The limitation under Section 408(p)(2)(E) regarding SIMPLE retirement accounts is increased from $12,500 to $13,000.

The IRS previously Updated Health Savings Account limits for 2019. See our post here.

The following chart summarizes various significant benefit Plan limits for 2017 through 2019:

Type of Limitation 2019 2018 2017
415 Defined Benefit Plans $225,000 $220,000 $215,000
415 Defined Contribution Plans $56,000 $55,000 $54,000
Defined Contribution Elective Deferrals $19,000 $18,500 $18,000
Defined Contribution Catch-Up Deferrals $6,000 $6,000 $6,000
SIMPLE Employee Deferrals $13,000 $12,500 $12,500
SIMPLE Catch-Up Deferrals $3,000 $3,000 $3,000
Annual Compensation Limit $280,000 $275,000 $270,000
SEP Minimum Compensation $600 $600 $600
SEP Annual Compensation Limit $280,000 $275,000 $270,000
Highly Compensated $125,000 $120,000 $120,000
Key Employee (Officer) $180,000 $175,000 $175,000
Income Subject To Social Security Tax  (FICA) $132,900 $128,400 $127,200
Social Security (FICA) Tax For ER & EE (each pays) 6.20% 6.20% 6.20%
Social Security (Med. HI) Tax For ERs & EEs (each pays) 1.45% 1.45% 1.45%
SECA (FICA Portion) for Self-Employed 12.40% 12.40% 12.40%
SECA (Med. HI Portion) For Self-Employed 2.9% 2.9% 2.9%
IRA Contribution $6,000 $5,500 $5,500
IRA Catch-Up Contribution $1,000 $1,000 $1,000
HSA Max. Contributions Single/Family Coverage $3,500/ $7,000 $3,450/ $6,900 $3,400/ $6,750
HSA Catchup Contributions $1,000 $1,000 $1,000
HSA Min. Annual Deductible Single/Family $1,350/ $2,700 $1,350/ $2,700 $1,300/ $2,600
HSA Max. Out Of Pocket Single/Family $6,750/ $13,500 $6,650/ $13,300 $6,550/ $13,100