IRS Issues 2017 “Required Amendments List”

The IRS has issued the 2017 “Required Amendments List” for qualified plans. This is the second list issued since the IRS eliminated the five-year remedial amendment cycle and significantly curtailed the favorable determination letter program for individually designed plans. The IRS will issue a new List each year.

This new List, set forth in Notice 2017-72 contains amendments that are required as a result of changes in qualification requirements that become effective on or after January 1, 2017. The plan amendment deadline for a disqualifying provision arising as a result of a change in qualification requirements that appears on the 2017 List must be adopted by December 31, 2019.

The Required Amendments List is divided into two parts:

Part A lists the changes that would require an amendment to most plans or to most plans of the type affected by the particular change. Part A of the 2017 List contains two changes applicable to most plans of the type affected by the changes:

Final regulations regarding cash balance/hybrid plans. Cash balance/hybrid plans must be amended to the extent necessary to comply with those portions of the regulations regarding market rate of return and other requirements that first become applicable to the plan for the plan year beginning in 2017. (This requirement does not apply to those collectively bargained plans that do not become subject to these portions of the regulations until 2018 or 2019 under the extended applicability dates provided in § 1.411(b)(5)-1(f)(2)(B)(3).)

Note: The relief from the anti-cutback requirements of § 411(d)(6) provided in § 1.411(b)(5)-1(e)(3)(vi) applies only to plan amendments that are adopted before the effective date of these regulations.

Note: See also Notice 2016-67, which addresses the applicability of the market rate of return rules to implicit interest pension equity plans.

• Benefit restrictions for certain defined benefit plans that are eligible cooperative plans or eligible charity plans described in section 104 of the Pension Protection Act of 2006, as amended (“PPA”)). An eligible cooperative plan or eligible charity plan that was not subject to the benefit restrictions of § 436 for the 2016 plan year under § 104 of PPA ordinarily becomes subject to those restrictions for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2017. However, a plan that fits within the definition of a “CSEC plan” (as defined in § 414(y)) continues not to be subject to those rules unless the plan sponsor has made an election for the plan not to be treated as a CSEC plan.

Part B lists changes that the Treasury Department and IRS do not anticipate will require amendments in most plans, but might require an amendment because of an unusual plan provision in a particular plan. Part B of the 2017 List contains a single change that may apply to certain defined benefit plans as follows:

Final regulations regarding partial annuity distribution options for defined benefit pension plans (81 Fed. Reg.  62359). Defined benefit plans that permit benefits to be paid partly in the form of an annuity and partly as a single sum (or other accelerated form) must do so in a manner that complies with the § 417(e) regulations. Section 1.417(e)-1(d)(7) provides rules under which the minimum present value rules of § 417(e)(3) apply to the distribution of only a portion of a participant’s accrued benefit.

Section 1.417(e)-1(d)(7) applies to distributions with annuity starting dates in plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2017, but taxpayers may elect to apply § 1.417(e)-1(d)(7) with respect to any earlier period.

Note: The regulations provide relief from the anti-cutback rules of § 411(d)(6) for certain amendments adopted on or before December 31, 2017.

Note: Model  amendments that a sponsor of a qualified defined benefit plan may use to amend its plan to offer bifurcated benefit  distribution options in accordance with these final regulations are provided in Notice 2017-44.

Additional Background

In Rev. Proc. 2016-37, the IRS eliminated, effective January 1, 2017, the five-year remedial amendment/determination letter cycle for individually-designed qualified plans. After January 1, 2017, individually-designed plans will only be able to apply for a determination letter upon initial qualification, upon termination, and in certain other circumstances that the IRS may announce from time to time. See Announcement 2015-19.

To provide individually designed plans with guidance on what amendments must be adopted and when, the IRS announced that it would publish annually a Required Amendments List. The Required Amendments List generally applies to changes in qualification requirements that become effective on or after January 1, 2016. The List also establishes the date that the remedial amendment period expires for changes in qualification requirements contained on the list. Generally, an item will be included on a Required Amendments List only after guidance (including any model amendment) has been issued.

Where a required amendment appears on the List, then for an individually-designed non-governmental plan, the deadline to adopt the amendment is extended to the end of the second calendar year that begins after the issuance of the Required Amendments List in which the change in qualification requirements appear (i.e. until December 31, 2018 for items on the 2016 List; and until December 31, 2019 for items on the 2017 List.)

See our prior post regarding the 2016 Required Amendment List Here.

IRS Issues Updated Determination Letter Revenue Procedure

The IRS has updated and restated its revenue procedures governing determination letters for various types of employee benefit plans.

Rev. Proc. 2017-4 reflects the prior elimination of the five-year remedial amendment cycles for individually designed plans and includes other changes made to the determination letter program, including:

  • limited-scope determination letters on partial terminations if an employer is not otherwise eligible to request a determination letter;
  • determination letters on leased employees only if the employer is otherwise eligible to request a determination letter;
  • no determination letters on affiliated service groups; and
  • modified procedures for requesting relief from retroactive revocations of determination letters or letter rulings.

IRS Issues 2016 “Required Amendments List”

The IRS has issued its first “Required Amendments List” for qualified plans since it eliminated the five-year remedial amendment cycle, and significantly curtailed the favorable determination letter program for individually designed plans. The IRS will issue a new List each year.

This first List, set forth in Notice 2016-80 contains amendments that are required as a result of changes in qualification requirements that become effective on or after January 1, 2016. December 31, 2018 is the plan amendment deadline for a disqualifying provision arising as a result of a change in qualification requirements that appears on the 2016 List.

The Required Amendments List is divided into two parts:

Part A lists the changes that would require an amendment to most plans or to most plans of the type affected by the particular change. Part A of the 2016 List contains no changes applicable to most plans.

Part B lists changes that the Treasury Department and IRS do not anticipate will require amendments in most plans, but might require an amendment because of an unusual plan provision in a particular plan. Part B of the 2016 List contains a single change that may apply to certain collectively bargained defined benefit plans: Restrictions on accelerated distributions from underfunded single-employer plans in employer bankruptcy under Code § 436(d)(2), which was enacted as part of the Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2014, P.L. 113-159, § 2003. Code Section provides (amendments made by P.L. 113-159, § 2003 in italics):

A defined benefit plan which is a single-employer plan shall provide that, during any period in which the plan sponsor is a debtor in a case under title 11, United States Code, or similar Federal or State law, the plan may not pay any prohibited payment. The preceding sentence shall not apply on or after the date on which the enrolled actuary of the plan certifies that the adjusted funding target attainment percentage of such plan (determined by not taking into account any adjustment of segment rates under section 430(h)(2)(C)(iv)) is not less than 100 percent.

Section 430(h)(2)(C)(iv) sets minimum and maximum and maximum rates for actuarial calculations of the funded status of defined benefit plans.

If a defined benefit plan incorporates the limitation of Section 436(d)(2) by reference to the statute or regulations (or through the use of the sample amendment in Notice 2011-96, which incorporated the statute and regulations), then no amendment to the plan would be required to comply with the changes.

Additional Background

In Rev. Proc. 2016-37, the IRS eliminated, effective January 1, 2017, the five-year remedial amendment/determination letter cycle for individually-designed qualified plans. After January 1, 2017, individually-designed plans will only be able to apply for a determination letter upon initial qualification, upon termination, and in certain other circumstances that the IRS may announce from time to time. See Announcement 2015-19.

To provide individually designed plans with guidance on what amendments must be adopted and when, the IRS announced that it would publish annually a Required Amendments List. The Required Amendments List generally applies to changes in qualification requirements that become effective on or after January 1, 2016. The List also establishes the date that the remedial amendment period expires for changes in qualification requirements contained on the list. Generally, an item will be included on a Required Amendments List only after guidance (including any model amendment) has been issued.

Where a required amendment appears on the List, then for an individually-designed non-governmental plan, the deadline to adopt the amendment is extended to the end of the second calendar year that begins after the issuance of the Required Amendments List in which the change in qualification requirements appear (i.e. until December 31, 2018 for items on the 2016 List).

IRS Updates EPCRS Retirement Plan Correction Procedures

The IRS released Revenue Procedure 2016-51 on September 29, 2016, updating its prior Employee Plans Compliance Resolutions System (EPCRS) correction guidance.  Significant changes made to the EPCRS system include:

  • Plan sponsors applying under EPCRS to correct a plan document failure will not longer be permitted to include an application for a favorable determination letter with their EPCRS application. This change is to coordinate EPCRS with the recently announced changes to the IRS determination letter program.
  • Similarly, individually designed plans using the Self-Correction Program (SCP) to correct significant failures will no longer need to have a current favorable determination letter (since the IRS will no longer issue periodically updated determination letters). Individually designed plans will simply need a favorable determination letter.
  • Fees associated with the Voluntary Correction Program (VCP) will now be considered user fees and therefore will no longer be set forth in the EPCRS revenue procedure. For VCP submissions made:
    • in 2016, refer to Rev. Proc. 2016-8 and Rev. Proc. 2013-12 to determine the applicable user fee.
    • after 2016, refer to the annual Employee Plans user fees revenue procedure to determine VCP user fees for that year.
  • The IRS is changing its approach to determining Audit CAP sanctions. A reasonable sanction will no longer be a negotiated percentage of the maximum payment amount (MPA). Instead, it will be based on all of the facts and circumstances, but will generally not be less than the user fee for a VCP application. The MPA is one of the factors they will consider. Others include:
    • the type of failure;
    • the number and type of employees affected;
    • the steps the plan sponsor took to prevent the error and identify it; and
    • the extent to which the error has been corrected before discovery.
  • The IRS will no longer refund half the paid user fee if there is disagreement over correction in Anonymous Submissions.

    The new revenue procedure is effective January 1, 2017. Unlike with prior EPCRS updates, plan sponsors may not elect to voluntarily apply the updated provisions before January 1, 2017.

IRS Releases 2016-2017 Priority Guidance Plan

The IRS has published its 2016–2017 Priority Guidance Plan containing 281 projects that are priorities for allocation of its resources during the twelve-month period from July 2016 to June 2017.

Significant employee benefits issues prioritized for guidance in the next year include:

  • Additional guidance on the determination letter program, including changes to the pre-approved plan program.
  • Updates to the Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (EPCRS) to reflect changes in the determination letter program and to provide additional guidance with regard to corrections.
  • Final regulations on income inclusion under §409A.
  • Guidance to update prior §409A guidance on self-correction procedures.
  • Final regulations under §457(f) on ineligible plans.
  • Guidance on issues under §4980H (the Employer Mandate).
  • Regulations under §4980I regarding the excise tax on high cost employer-provided coverage (the Cadillac Tax)
  • Regulations updating the rules applicable to ESOPs.
  • Regulations under §401(a)(9) on the use of lump sum payments to replace lifetime income being received by retirees under defined benefit pension plans.
  • Guidance regarding substantiation of hardship distributions.
  • Guidance on the §403(b) remedial amendment period.

Notably absent is any mention of guidance on the nondiscrimination rules applicable to fully-insured medical plans, which were included in the Affordable Care Act.  The Treasury Department and the IRS, as well as the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services (collectively, the Departments), previously determined in Notice 2011-1 that compliance with the nondiscrimination provisions will not be required (and thus, any
sanctions for failure to comply do not apply) until after regulations or other administrative guidance of general applicability has been issued. Therefore, for the foreseeable future fully insured plans can continue to discriminate in favor of highly compensated individuals in ways the self-insured plans cannot under Code Section 105(h).

IRS 2016–2017 Priority Guidance Plan

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.

IRS Gives Individually Designed Plans an Additional Year to Convert to Pre-Approved Plan Documents

IRS has announced in Notice 2016-03 that it will extend the deadline for an employer to restate an individually designed plan onto a current pre-approved defined contribution plan document (which is based on the 2010 Cumulative List), and to apply for a determination letter, if otherwise permissible, from April 30, 2016, to April 30, 2017. The extended deadline will also apply with respect to any defined contribution pre-approved plan that is first adopted on or after January 1, 2016.  This extension will facilitate a plan sponsor’s ability to convert an existing individually designed plan into a current defined contribution pre-approved plan.

The extension does not apply for a plan that is adopted as a modification and restatement of a defined contribution pre-approved plan that was maintained by the employer prior to January 1, 2016.  An employer that adopted a defined contribution pre-approved plan prior to January 1, 2016, continues to have until April 30, 2016 to adopt a modification and restatement of the defined contribution pre-approved plan within the current 6-year remedial amendment cycle for defined contribution plans and to apply for a determination letter, if permissible.

icon Notice 2016-03

icon 2010 Cumulative List of Changes in Plan Qualification Requirements

IRS Announces Significant Reduction in Determination Letter Program

On July 21, 2015, the IRS announced changes to the favorable determination letter program for qualified retirement plans. Employers that sponsor individually designed plans should take a close look at whether they can state their plans on a pre-approved plan document, particularly a volume submitter document, for the reasons explained in this post.

Most significantly, the IRS will eliminate the staggered 5-year determination letter remedial amendment cycles for individually designed plans as of January 2017. This means that, effective as of January 1, 2017, sponsors of individually designed plans will only be permitted to submit a determination letter application for qualification in two circumstances:

  • upon initial plan adoption; and
  • upon plan termination.

In addition, effective immediately, the IRS will no longer accept determination letter applications for individually designed plans that are submitted off-cycle, except for new plans and for terminating plans.

Implications for Plan Sponsors

These changes to the determination letter program increase the risk that document failures may get into, and remain for a long period of time in, plan sponsor’s qualified retirement plans.  For example, a failure to adopt a required amendment to the plan document, which ordinarily would have been discovered and corrected in connection with the staggered 5-year determination letter remedial amendment cycle, could now persist for years or even decades before being discovered. Plan terminations will likely become more difficult, time consuming and costly if such errors are not discovered until the Plan submits for a favorable determination upon termination.

Plans that are stated on a pre-approved document (such as a volume submitter or prototype plan document) will continue to receive IRS opinion letters on the language in those plans. In addition, plan sponsors who adopt a volume submitter plan and make limited modifications to the approved specimen plan, which does not create an individually designed plan, will still be able to get a favorable determination on their plans every six years.  These plans will thereby avoid the above risks.

For this reason, employers that sponsor individually designed plans should closely evaluate whether they can convert their plans to a pre-approved plan document, with a goal of completing the transition by January 1, 2017. Many individually designed plans may be able to fit onto a volume submitter plan with minor modifications, which will allow those sponsors to continue receiving a favorable determination lettre on their plan every six years.

Additional Guidance Expected from the IRS

The IRS has asked for comments, and expects to issue further guidance, regarding how it can assist plan sponsors that wish to convert individually designed plans to pre-approved plans.

We should also expect some changes to the IRS’s EPCRS correction program, to help correct errors that inevitably will increase as a result of this curtailment in the favorable determination letter program.

In addition, the IRS is considering ways to make it easier for plan sponsors that continue to sponsor individually designed plans to comply with the qualified plan document requirements, including:

  • providing model amendments,
  • not requiring certain plan provisions or amendments to be adopted if and for so long as they are not relevant to a particular plan (for example, because of the type of plan, employer, or benefits offered),
  • or expanding plan sponsors’ options to document qualification requirements through incorporation by reference.

icon IRS Announcement 2015-19

IRS Expands Pre-Approved Plan Document Program to Include Cash Balance Plans and ESOPs

On June 8, 2015, the IRS issued Revenue Procedure 2015-36, which announces the IRS expansion of its pre-approved plan program to include cash balance plans and employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs).  With this expansion, master & prototype and volume submitter plan providers can apply for opinion and advisory letters for cash balance plans by October 30, 2015, and for ESOPS during the defined contribution application period beginning February 1, 2017.

While this presents opportunities for ESOP sponsors to streamline their plan documentation, it is not without risks. As Cindy Shupe warned back in 2013, use of pre-approved documents can increase the risk of non-compliance if plan sponsors assume that use of a pre-approved document will ensure compliance with the complicated ESOP financing and prohibited transactions rules.  Therefore, while we encourage ESOP sponsors to consider adopting a pre-approved plan document in the next cycle, we also encourage early conversations with ERISA counsel to evaluate the viability and implications of doing so.  In addition to the above compliance issues, Employers currently maintaining individually designed ESOPS that intend to adopt a pre-approved plan (when available) will need to complete Form 8905, Certification of Intent To Adopt a Pre-approved Plan, before the end of their plan’s current 5-year remedial amendment cycle.