IRS Announces More Changes to its Determination Letter Program

On June 29, 2016, the IRS updated its determination letter program for individually designed tax qualified retirement plans, making a number of significant changes, mostly having to do with (1) when individually designed plans must be amended to comply with changes in the law and other guidance, and (2) when those plans may request a favorable determination letter.

The bottom line for sponsors of individually designed plans is that they will need to amend their plans as frequently as annually to incorporate changes in the law, starting with required changes the IRS identifies in 2016, which will need to be made before December 31, 2018.

Background

Rev. Proc. 2007-44 provided a 5-year remedial amendment cycle (RAC) system for individually designed plans to request a determination letter generally every 5 years. Under that system, plans had to adopt interim amendments by the end of the year in which the amendments became effective. Plans would then have to make final conforming amendments at the end of their 5-year RAC cycle.

In Announcement 2015-19 the IRS stated that the RAC system would end, and a replacement system for the IRC Section 401(b) period would be created. Revenue Procedure 2016-37 ends the RAC system and replaces it with a new approach to the remedial amendment period.

When must individually designed plans be amended?

Interim amendments will no longer be required for individually designed plans. Instead, an individually designed plan’s Code Section 401(b) remedial amendment period for required amendments will be tied to a Required Amendment List (RA List) issued by the IRS, unless legislation or other guidance states otherwise. The RA List is the annual list of all the amendments for which an individually designed plan must be amended to retain its qualified plan status.

IRS will publish the RA List after October 1 of each year. Generally, plan sponsors must adopt any item placed on RA List by the end of the second calendar year following the year the RA List is published. For example, plan amendments for items on the 2016 RA List generally must be adopted by December 31, 2018.

Discretionary amendments will still be required by the end of the plan year in which the plan amendment is operationally put into effect.

What About Operational Compliance?

Revenue Procedure 2016-37 doesn’t change a plan’s operational compliance standards. Employers need to operate their plans in compliance with any change in qualification requirements from the effective date of the change, regardless of the plan’s 401(b) period for adopting amendments. To assist employers, IRS intends to provide annually an Operational Compliance List to identify changes in qualification requirements that are effective during a calendar year.

When may a plan apply for a Determination Letter?
Under Revenue Procedure 2016-37, a plan sponsor can request a determination letter only if any of these apply:

  • The plan has never received a letter before
  • The plan is terminating
  • The IRS makes a special exception

Other Implications

The new determination letter program makes the consequences of failing to timely amend a Plan potentially more dangerous, because the failure could continue for many years before being identified.  Therefore, sponsors of individually designed plans that still have the option of converting to a volume submitter or prototype document should revisit that question now.

In addition, if your plan remains individually designed, you ought to incorporate into your annual compliance schedule a check of the RA List in the fall of each year.

Finally, all tax qualified retirement plan sponsors (whether their plan is individually designed or volume submitter or prototype) should incorporate into their annual compliance schedule  a check of the IRS Operational Compliance List, to ensure they are operating their plan in compliance with law changes.

Author: Erwin

Erwin Kratz practices exclusively in the areas of ERISA and employee benefits law, focusing on tax and regulatory matters relating to qualified and nonqualified deferred compensation and welfare benefits.