ERISA Benefits Law Attorney Erwin Kratz Named to the Best Lawyers in America© 2021

ERISA Benefits Law attorney Erwin Kratz was recently selected by his peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© 2021 in the practice area of Employee Benefits (ERISA) Law. Mr. Kratz has been continuously listed on The Best Lawyers in America list 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.”

New Lifetime Income Disclosure Requirement for Pension Benefit Statements

The DOL issued an interim final rule on August 18, 2020 that gives plan administrators the opportunity to limit their liability with respect to the lifetime income illustrations that will be required soon for pension benefit statements for defined contribution plans. The rule provides a set of assumptions to use in preparing the lifetime income illustrations, as well as model language that may be used for benefit statements.

Background

The SECURE Act amended the pension benefit statement requirements under section 105 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) to require that a participant’s accrued benefits be included on his or her pension benefit statement as both (1) a current account balance and (2) an estimated lifetime stream of payments. The SECURE Act required that the estimated lifetime stream of payments be shown as both a single life annuity (SLA) and a qualified joint and survivor annuity (QJSA), at least annually.

Actuarial Assumptions & Model Language

The interim final rule prescribes the following assumptions for calculating the lifetime stream of payments:

+ Assumed Commencement Date: Plan administrators must calculate monthly payment illustrations as if the payments begin on the last day of the benefit statement period.

+ Assumed Age: Plan administrators must assume that, on the assumed commencement, a participant is the older of age 67 or the participant’s actual age.

+ QJSA Assumptions: Plan administrators must assume that all participants have a spouse of equal age. Plan administrators must also use a  Qualified Joint and 100% Survivor Annuity.

+ Assumed Interest Rate: Plan administrators must use the 10-year constant maturity Treasury rate (10-year CMT) as of the first business day of the last month of the statement period to calculate the monthly payments.

The interim final rule requires that plan administrators provide various explanations about the estimated lifetime income payments to participants. The rule provides model language that may be used for each of the required explanations, and the model language may be integrated into a plan’s pension benefit statements or attached to the statements as an addendum. See pages 93 through 98 of the IFR for the model language.

Limitation on Liability

In accordance with the SECURE Act, the interim final rule provides that no plan fiduciary, plan sponsor, or other person will be liable under ERISA for providing a lifetime income illustration that (1) uses the published assumptions to calculate the lifetime income equivalents, and (2) uses the DOL’s model language, or language substantially similar to the model language, in participants’ benefit statements. This relief from liability addresses the concern of many plan fiduciaries that participants might sue them if actual monthly payments in retirement fall short of illustrations provided prior to retirement.

Effective Date & Comment Period

The interim final rule will be effective 12 months after the date of its publication in the Federal Register. The interim final rule includes a 60-day comment period.

For more information, please see the Interim Final Rule, the DOL Fact Sheet, and the DOL News Release.

Attorney Lisa Dursey Joins ERISA Benefits Law

ERISA Benefits Law, PLLC is pleased to welcome ERISA attorney Lisa Dursey to the firm.

Prior to joining ERISA Benefits Law, Lisa practiced employee benefits at Stoel Rives in Seattle from 2016 to 2020, and corporate transactions at Alston & Bird in New York City from 2013-2016. Lisa received her law degree, cum laude, from Boston University in 2012, and a BA in Science and Technology Studies, with honors, from Cornell University in 2008.

Lisa D. Dursey
LDursey@ERISABenefitsLaw.com
(206) 618-9363 (Seattle)
(602) 282-0313 (Arizona)
Bio: https://erisabenefitslaw.com/lisa-dursey/
Hourly Billing Rate: $295

Lisa’s ERISA practice focuses on advising employers on the design, implementation, and administration of all types of employee benefits plans. She is passionate about providing comprehensive, easily digestible, and pragmatic advice for her clients. Clients seek her guidance to help them realize the maximum value from their employee benefit programs.

Lisa assists clients with a wide range of benefits matters, including qualified and nonqualified retirement plans, executive compensation programs, health and welfare programs, and other fringe benefit programs. She regularly advises employers on design changes to their benefit plans to address regulatory updates and to optimize the company’s benefit offerings. Lisa is also experienced in helping plan sponsors correct operational failures, including through corrective filings with the IRS and Department of Labor when necessary. 

Lisa’s addition provides ERISA Benefits Law further depth to meet our clients’ needs. Lisa and Erwin will bring a team approach to each client and each matter, allowing us to apply the necessary expertise to continue solving your ERISA and employee benefits-related legal issues as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Learn More – Lisa’s Full Bio

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.

DOL and IRS Extend Certain Timeframes for Employee Benefit Plans, Participants, and Beneficiaries Affected by the COVID-19 Outbreak

On May 4, 2020, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued joint guidance extending certain timeframes otherwise applicable to group health plans, disability and other welfare plans, pension plans, and their participants and beneficiaries under ERISA and the Code.

This guidance will require Plan Sponsors to temporarily revise their administrative practices and their form notices used in connection with COBRA, HIPAA’s Special Enrollment rights, and ERISA Claim Procedures.

I. Background

HIPAA requires group health plans to provide special enrollment rights for certain people upon the loss of eligibility for other coverage, or upon the addition of a dependents due to birth, adoption, etc. Generally, group health plans must allow such individuals to enroll in the group health plan if they are otherwise eligible and if enrollment is requested within 30 days of the occurrence of the event.

COBRA permits qualified beneficiaries who lose coverage under a group health plan to elect continuation health coverage. COBRA generally provides a qualified beneficiary a period of at least 60 days to elect COBRA continuation coverage under a group health plan. Plans are required to allow payment of premiums in monthly installments, and plans cannot require payment of premiums before 45 days after the day of the initial COBRA election. COBRA continuation coverage may be terminated for failure to pay premiums timely.

Under the COBRA rules, a premium is considered paid timely if it is made not later than 30 days after the first day of the period for which payment is being made. Notice requirements prescribe time periods for employers to notify the plan of certain qualifying events and for individuals to notify the plan of certain qualifying events or a determination of disability. Notice requirements also prescribe a time period for plans to notify qualified beneficiaries of their rights to elect COBRA continuation coverage.

ERISA requires plans to establish and maintain reasonable claims procedures and imposes additional rights and obligations with respect to internal claims and appeals and external review for non-grandfathered group health plans.

II. Temporary Extensions Under the Guidance

All of the foregoing provisions include timing requirements for certain acts in connection with employee benefit plans, some of which have been temporarily modified by the new guidance. These changes, and the implications for Plan Sponsors, are summarized below.

A. Relief for Plan Participants, Beneficiaries, Qualified Beneficiaries, and Claimants

Subject to a one year statutory duration limitation, all group health plans, disability and other employee welfare benefit plans, and employee pension benefit plans subject to ERISA or the Code must disregard the period from March 1, 2020 until sixty (60) days after the announced end of the National Emergency (the “Outbreak Period”) for all plan participants, beneficiaries, qualified beneficiaries, or claimants wherever located in determining the following periods and dates—

(1) The 30-day period (or 60-day period, if applicable) to request special enrollment under ERISA section 701(f) and Code section 9801(f)

Implications for employers:

  • Work with your third-party administrator and insurance carriers to ensure the extended special enrollment period is implemented for the duration of the Outbreak Period, which could require retroactive coverage as far back as March 1.
  • Determine whether and how to communicate the extension to employees.

(2) The 60-day election period for COBRA continuation coverage under ERISA section 605 and Code section 4980B(f)(5)

(3) The date for making COBRA premium payments pursuant to ERISA section 602(2)(C) and (3) and Code section 4980B(f)(2)(B)(iii) and (C)

(4) The date for individuals to notify the plan of a qualifying event or determination of disability under ERISA section 606(a)(3) and Code section 4980B(f)(6)(C)

Implications for Employers:

  • This exacerbates the adverse selection issue inherent in COBRA because Plans may have to provide retroactive coverage for many months.
  • The problem is made worse by the fact that, even though qualified beneficiaries theoretically have to pay for the retroactive coverage, if they elect COBRA right after the qualifying event, they do not have to pay until after the Outbreak Period ends. This means a qualified beneficiary could elect COBRA and receive the coverage) and then subsequently decide not to pay for it. Plan Sponsors and insurers will then have the option of retroactively terminating the coverage and trying to adjust the claims already paid.
  • Work with your third-party administrator and insurance carriers to ensure they have implemented the extended COBRA periods.
  • Either temporarily revise your COBRA notices and forms or ensure a temporary cover is added to all COBRA communications as necessary to inform employees and qualified beneficiaries of the extended timeframes.

(5) The date within which individuals may file a benefit claim under the plan’s claims procedure pursuant to 29 CFR 2560.503-1

(6) The date within which claimants may file an appeal of an adverse benefit determination under the plan’s claims procedure pursuant to 29 CFR 2560.503-1(h)

Implications for Employers:

  • Work with your third-party administrator and insurance carriers to ensure they have implemented the extended claims periods.
  • Either temporarily revise your claims notices and forms or ensure a temporary cover is added to all claims communications as necessary to inform employees and qualified beneficiaries of the extended timeframes.
  • This will impact health flexible spending accounts (“FSAs”) and health reimbursement arrangements (“HRAs”) that have run-out periods that extended beyond March 1, 2020. Because the Outbreak Period began on March 1, 2020, any health FSAs and HRAs that have March or April deadlines for submitting prior-year expenses for reimbursement, will need to extend the deadline until 60 days after the Outbreak Period ends to submit expenses for reimbursement for the 2019 plan year.

(7) The date within which claimants may file a request for an external review after receipt of an adverse benefit determination or final internal adverse benefit determination pursuant to 29 CFR 2590.715-2719(d)(2)(i) and 26 CFR 54.9815-2719(d)(2)(i), and

(8) The date within which a claimant may file information to perfect a request for external review upon a finding that the request was not complete pursuant to 29 CFR 2590.715-2719(d)(2)(ii) and 26 CFR 54.9815-2719(d)(2)(ii)

Implications for employers:

  • Work with your third-party administrator and insurance carriers to ensure they have implemented the extended claim review periods.
  • Either temporarily revise your claims notices and forms or ensure a temporary cover is added to all claims communications as necessary to inform employees and qualified beneficiaries of the extended timeframes.

B. Relief for Group Health Plans

With respect to group health plans, and their sponsors and administrators, the Outbreak Period shall be disregarded when determining the date for providing a COBRA election notice under ERISA section 606(c) and Code section 4980B(f)(6)(D).

Implication for Employers:

  • Plan administrators are not required to provide the COBRA election notice during the Outbreak Period. As a practical matter, however, plan administrators likely will want to timely provide election notices to encourage qualified beneficiaries to timely elect and pay for COBRA coverage.

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:

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.”

Final Rules Expand Availability of Health Reimbursement Arrangements and Other Account-Based Group Health Plans

On June 13, 2019 the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury (the Departments) issued final rules that the Departments stated “will provide hundreds of thousands of employers, including small businesses, a better way to provide health insurance coverage, and millions of American workers more options for health insurance coverage.”

Summary of the Final Rules

The final rules expand opportunities for employers to establish Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) and other account-based group health plans under various provisions of the Public Health Service Act (PHS Act), the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), and the Internal Revenue Code (Code). Specifically, the final rules:

  • Allow employers to integrate HRAs and other account-based group health plans with individual health insurance coverage or Medicare, if certain conditions are satisfied (an individual coverage HRA).
  • Set forth conditions under which certain HRAs and other account-based group health plans will be recognized as limited excepted benefits.
  • Provide rules regarding premium tax credit (PTC) eligibility for individuals offered an individual coverage HRA.
  • Clarify rules to provide assurance that the individual health insurance coverage for which premiums are reimbursed by an individual coverage HRA or a qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement (QSEHRA) does not become part of an ERISA plan, provided certain safe harbor conditions are satisfied
  • Provide a special enrollment period (SEP) in the individual market for individuals who newly gain access to an individual coverage HRA or who are newly provided a QSEHRA.

The stated goal of the final rules s is to expand the flexibility and use of HRAs and other account-based group health plans to provide more Americans with additional options to obtain quality, affordable healthcare. The final rules generally apply for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2020.

Implications for Employers

Employers can contribute as little or as much as they want to an Individual Coverage HRA. However, Employers that offer an Individual Coverage HRA, must offer it on the same terms to all individuals within a class of employees, except that the amounts offered may be increased for older workers and for workers with more dependents.

An employer cannot offer an Individual Coverage HRA to any employee to whom you offer a traditional group health plan. However, you can decide to offer an individual coverage HRA to certain classes of employees and a traditional group health plan (or no coverage) to other classes of employees.

Employee Classes

Employers may make distinctions, using classes based on the following status:

  • Full-time employees,
  • Part-time employees,
  • Employees working in the same geographic location (generally, the same insurance rating area, state, or multi-state region),
  • Seasonal employees,
  • Employees in a unit of employees covered by a particular collective bargaining agreement,
  • Employees who have not satisfied a waiting period,
  • Non-resident aliens with no U.S.-based income,
  • Salaried workers,
  • Non-salaried workers (such as hourly workers),
  • Temporary employees of staffing firms, or
  • Any group of employees formed by combining two or more of these classes.

To prevent adverse selection in the individual market, a minimum class size rule applies if an employer offers a traditional group health plan to some employees and an Individual Coverage HRA to other employees based on:

  • full-time versus part-time status;
  • salaried versus non-salaried status; or
  • geographic location, if the location is smaller than a state.

Generally, the minimum class size rule also applies if you combine any of these classes with other classes. The minimum class size is:

  • Ten employees, for an employer with fewer than 100 employees,
  • Ten percent of the total number of employees, for an employer with 100 to 200 employees, and
  • Twenty employees, for an employer with more than 200 employees.

Also, through a new hire rule, employers can offer new employees an Individual Coverage HRA, while grandfathering existing employees in a traditional group health plan.

ACA Employer Mandate

An offer of an Individual Coverage HRA counts as an offer of coverage under the employer mandate. In general, whether an applicable large employer that offers an Individual Coverage HRA to its full-time employees (and their dependents) owes a payment under the employer mandate will depend on whether the HRA is affordable. This is determined under the premium tax credit rule being issued as part of the HRA rule and is based, in part, on the amount the employer makes available under the HRA.

The Internal Revenue Service is expected to provide more information on how the employer mandate applies to Individual Coverage HRAs soon.

Administrative Requirements

Individual Coverage HRAs must provide a notice to eligible participants regarding the Individual Coverage HRA and its interaction with the premium tax credit. The HRA must also have reasonable procedures to substantiate that participating employees and their families are enrolled in individual health insurance or Medicare, while covered by the HRA.

Employees must also be permitted to opt out of an Individual Coverage HRA at least annually so they may claim the premium tax credit if they are otherwise eligible and if the HRA is considered unaffordable.

Employers generally will not have any responsibility with respect to the individual health insurance itself that is purchased by the employee, because it will not be considered part of your employer-sponsored plan, provided:

  • An employee’s purchase of any individual health insurance is completely voluntary.
  • The employer does not select or endorse any particular insurance carrier or insurance coverage.
  • The employer does not receive any cash, gifts, or other consideration in connection with an employee’s selection or renewal of any individual health insurance.
  • Each employee is notified annually that the individual health insurance is not subject to ERISA.

More….

The Final Rules can be found here

DOL FAQs can be found here

Final Regulations Require Electronic Submission of “Top Hat” Statements

The Department of Labor Employee Benefits Security Administration has published final regulations that revise the procedures for filing “top hat” plan statements under § 2520.104-23 with the Secretary of Labor, to require electronic submission of these statements through EBSA’s website in accordance with instructions published by the Department. The final rule does not change the current content requirements in the regulations . The final rule will be effective August 16, 2019.

Background

Part 1 of Title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA), contains reporting and disclosure requirements applicable to plans covered by ERISA. For instance, sections 103 and 104 of ERISA establish requirements for the publication and filing of annual reports, while sections 102 and 104 of ERISA require plan administrators to furnish summary plan descriptions and summaries of material modifications or changes to participants and beneficiaries.

Section 110(a) of ERISA permits the Secretary to specify an alternative form of compliance with the reporting and disclosure obligations of Part 1 of Title I for any pension plan or class of pension plans subject to ERISA if certain findings are made. Under the authority of section 110(a), in 1975 the Department issued 29 CFR 2520.104-23 to provide an alternative method of compliance with the reporting and disclosure requirements of Part 1 of Title I for unfunded or insured pension plans established for a select group of management or highly compensated employees (“top hat” plans).

Under the alternative method of compliance, the administrator of a top hat plan satisfies the requirements for the reporting and disclosure provisions of Part 1 of Title I by filing a statement with the Secretary by mail or personal delivery to the address specified in the regulation, and by providing plan documents, if any, to the Secretary upon request. The statement must include the information listed in the regulation.

Originally, top hat statements had to be filed in paper form. On September 30, 2014, the Department published a proposed rule to revise the procedures for filing top hat plan statements under § 2520.104-23 to require electronic submission of these statements. On the same date, the Department also made available a new web based filing system. Use of this web based filing system was voluntary until the adoption of this final rule. Approximately 54% of the top hat plan statements have been filed electronically since then.

Going forward, EBSA’s web based filing system will be the exclusive method for filing these notices and statements; filings by mail or personal delivery will no longer be accepted. Upon submission of a completed filing, the new web based filing system sends an electronic confirmation of receipt to the administrator. This confirmation is not available through the existing paper-based filing system.

IRS Expands Self-Correction Program

The IRS recently published Revenue Procedure 2019-19, which makes significant improvements to the Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (“EPCRS”) corrections procedure for qualified retirement plans.

The updated EPCRS correction procedure comes after the IRS made other changes last year, which require correction applications to be filed electronically as of April 1, 2019. The updated EPCRS provides new ways that Plan Sponsors can self-correct Plan errors without having to file a formal correction with the IRS. This means more ways to correct without having to tell the IRS about the failure and without having to pay the voluntary Correction Program (VCP) fees.

What’s New?

The new procedure permits plans to self-correct failures occurring in two broad categories that previously required VCP filings: problems with participant loans and plan amendments.

Loan Failures

Generally, when a participant fails to repay his loan on time, the total principal and accrued interest of the loan becomes taxable income to the participant in the year of default, or after the end of a short “grace period” after the default. Previously, once that grace period had ended without repayment, a formal VCP application was the only way to prevent the full taxation, even if the failure occurred because the plan sponsor failed to start the intended automatic deduction for the loan repayment on its payroll system.

The new correction procedure allows self-correction of loan failures if the failure relates to:

  • A default on loan payments (if the five-year maximum repayment period has not expired);
  • Allowing participants to have multiple loans even though not permitted under the plan or loan procedure;
  • Providing a loan when the plan does not permit loans; or
  • The failure to obtain spousal consent (assuming that the spouse is now willing to provide that consent—if not, VCP is required to repair this failure).

If a defaulted loan is self-corrected under the new procedure, the loan is not treated as taxable income to the Participant. This new ability to self-correct these failures and avoid the tax consequences is a significant improvement to the EPCRS options. If the loan default happened so long ago that the maximum five-year repayment period has already expired, the self-correction program may still be used to allow the income to be taxable in the year of correction, rather than the year of default.

Two other loan failures listed above—providing loans when the plan does not permit them or failing to limit the number of loans a participant takes—would not produce taxable income to the participant, but could threaten the tax qualification of the plan. This problem can now be corrected through self-correction using a retroactive plan amendment.

Note: self correction is still not an option if a plan sponsor allows participants to take loans in amounts that exceed the legal limits (generally, $50,000 or 50% of the participant’s vested account), loans that have repayment periods in excess of the five-year limit (or the extended period allowed for home loans), or loans that do not provide for level, fully amortized payments. Such failures must still be corrected through a VCP application.

While the IRS considers loans corrected under VCP to be fully corrected for ERISA purposes, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) does not give that same deference to self-correction under EPCRS. Therefore, if the plan sponsor or participant wants to be sure that the loan does not represent a prohibited transaction or that excise taxes are not accruing, a separate filing under the DOL’s Voluntary Fiduciary Correction Program may be required.

Amendment Failures

Historically, most failures to amend a plan had to be corrected by filing a formal VCP application. There were three exceptions, all relating to operating the plan not in accordance with the plan provisions. These exceptions included:

  • allowing participants to enter the plan too soon (correct by amending the plan so that the eligibility requirements match what was already done);
  • allowing participants to take loans or hardship distributions where the plan did not permit those distributions (correct by amending the plan to permit loans or hardship distributions); and
  • failure to limit the compensation used for contribution allocations to the legal limit ($280,000 for 2019) (correct by amending the plan to increase the contribution for everyone to the amount needed to justify the allocation given to the highly paid person, when applying the compensation limit).

The new procedure allows self-correction by amendment in more situations.

Amendments to Match the Plan to Actual Operations or Late Adoption of Discretionary Amendments

Amendments may now be made to correct operational errors where the plan has been administered differently than the document provides or to correct the failure to timely adopt a discretionary amendment, if:

  • The amendment conforms the plan document to actual operations;
  • A benefit, right, or feature of the plan would increase as a result of the amendment;
  • The increase applies to all eligible employees; and
  • Providing the increase is consistent with the EPCRS correction principles.

Amendments to Cure Plan Document Failures

Amendments may also be used to self-correct plan documentation failures (i.e., failures relating to the inclusion of a provision that is prohibited or the omission of a provision required for plan qualification):

  • If the failure is a so-called “nonamender failure,” i.e., a failure to timely amend the plan. This includes a failure to timely adopt an interim amendment required by the IRS.
  • If the failure is that the sponsor of an individually designed plan (“IDP”) did not timely adopt an amendment needed to comply with an item that appeared on the Required Amendments List. Generally, the sponsor of an IDP must adopt such an amendment by the end of the second calendar year after the item first appears on the Required Amendments List.

Note: All corrections by amendment are significant failures. This means that, to self-correct these issues, the correction must be completed before the end of the second year following the year in which the error occurred.