Proposed Tax Reform: Ignore The Noise

While I usually do not post about proposed legislation, because it is so speculative, I am going to make an exception in the case of the House Republicans’ proposed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act for several reasons.

The first reason is that, the much-hyped potential reduction to $2,400 in pre-tax deferral limits to 401(k) and 403(b) Plans is not in the actual proposed legislation. In any event, given the popularity of 401(k) Plans, I would rate the chances of this particular proposal ever making it into law at about as close to zero as one could get. My advice is: don’t spend any time worrying about how to deal with it.

The second reason is that there has been virtually no press coverage of the proposed evisceration of non-qualified deferred compensation plans and other employee benefits changes, which are part of the proposed legislation. More on that below, if you are interested.

The third, and bigger point, is that it is way too early to start spending your precious time figuring out how to deal with this this proposed legislation. Recent history tells us that, even with Republican control of all three branches of government, major legislation is very difficult to pass. I can count this year’s major legislative accomplishments on no hands. And even if tax reform legislation does pass, it will likely look quite different from the initial House proposal once it has gone through the House, the Senate and a joint committee. So again, my advice is: don’t spend any time worrying about how to deal with the potential changes in the tax code. You have better things to do with your precious time.

If you are still interested in more details on these proposals you can read the proposed legislation, the House Committee on Ways and Means section-by-section summary, or the short summary below.

Summary of employee benefits tax proposals

The most significant proposal, in my view, is to eliminate the ability to defer taxation of compensation earned and vested in one year into a subsequent year, which is generally governed by Code Sections 409A and 457(b). If enacted, this would essentially eliminate future non-qualified deferred compensation arrangements.

In addition, proposed changes to qualified plans would repeal the special rule permitting recharacterization of Roth IRA contributions as traditional IRA contributions, expand the source accounts from which hardship distributions could be taken, and repeal the six month prohibition on making deferrals after taking a hardship distribution.

Other proposed benefits changes would repeal income exclusions for employee achievement awards, dependent care assistance programs, qualified moving expense re-imbursement, and adoption assistance programs.

Attorney Erwin Kratz Named to the Best Lawyers in America© 2018

ERISA Benefits Law attorney Erwin Kratz was recently selected by his peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© 2018 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.”

IRS Issues Proposed Regulations Clarifying and Modifying the Final 409A Regulations

IRS has issued proposed regulations that would clarify or modify certain specific provisions of the final regulations under section 409A, including revisions to the rules regarding the calculation of amounts includible in income under section 409A.  The proposed regulations:

(1) Clarify that the rules under section 409A apply to nonqualified deferred compensation plans separately and in addition to the rules under section 457A.

(2) Modify the short-term deferral rule to permit a delay in payments to avoid violating Federal securities laws or other applicable law.

(3) Clarify that a stock right that does not otherwise provide for a deferral of compensation will not be treated as providing for a deferral of compensation solely because the amount payable under the stock right upon an involuntary separation from service for cause, or the occurrence of a condition within the service provider’s control, is based on a measure that is less than fair market value.

(4) Modify the definition of the term “eligible issuer of service recipient stock” to provide that it includes a corporation (or other entity) for which a person is reasonably expected to begin, and actually begins, providing services within 12 months after the grant date of a stock right.

(5) Clarify that certain separation pay plans that do not provide for a deferral of compensation may apply to a service provider who had no compensation from the service recipient during the year preceding the year in which a separation from service occurs.

(6) Provide that a plan under which a service provider has a right to payment or reimbursement of reasonable attorneys’ fees and other expenses incurred to pursue a bona fide legal claim against the service recipient with respect to the service relationship does not provide for a deferral of compensation.

(7) Modify the rules regarding recurring part-year compensation.

(8) Clarify that a stock purchase treated as a deemed asset sale under section 338 is not a sale or other disposition of assets for purposes of determining whether a service provider has a separation from service.

(9) Clarify that a service provider who ceases providing services as an employee and begins providing services as an independent contractor is treated as having a separation from service if, at the time of the change in employment status, the level of services reasonably anticipated to be provided after the change would result in a separation from service under the rules applicable to employees.

(10) Provide a rule that is generally applicable to determine when a “payment” has been made for purposes of section 409A.

(11) Modify the rules applicable to amounts payable following death.

(12) Clarify that the rules for transaction-based compensation apply to stock rights that do not provide for a deferral of compensation and statutory stock options.

(13) Provide that the addition of the death, disability, or unforeseeable emergency of a beneficiary who has become entitled to a payment due to a service provider’s death as a potentially earlier or intervening payment event will not violate the prohibition on the acceleration of payments.

(14) Modify the conflict of interest exception to the prohibition on the acceleration of payments to permit the payment of all types of deferred compensation (and not only certain types of foreign earned income) to comply with bona fide foreign ethics or conflicts of interest laws.

(15) Clarify the provision permitting payments upon the termination and liquidation of a plan in connection with bankruptcy.

(16) Clarify other rules permitting payments in connection with the termination and liquidation of a plan.

(17) Provide that a plan may accelerate the time of payment to comply with Federal debt collection laws.

(18) Clarify and modify the proposed rules regarding the treatment of deferred amounts subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture for purposes of calculating the amount includible in income under section 409A.

(19) Clarify various provisions of the final regulations to recognize that a service provider can be an entity as well as an individual.

Proposed 409A Regulations

Related Post Regarding Proposed 457 Regulations

IRS Issues Long-Awaited Proposed 457 Regulations

IRS has issued proposed regulations prescribing rules under section 457 of the Internal Revenue Code for the taxation of compensation deferred under plans established and maintained by State or local governments or other tax exempt organizations.

The proposed regulations include rules for determining when amounts deferred under these plans are includible in income, the amounts that are includible in income, and the types of plans that are not subject to these rules.  Significant provisions in the proposed regulations include:

  • Guidance on what constitutes a bona fide vacation leave, sick leave, compensatory time, severance pay, disability pay, and death benefit plan, which are treated as not providing for a deferral of compensation for purposes of section 457
  • Guidance regarding plans paying solely length of service awards to bona fide volunteers (or their beneficiaries) that also are treated as not providing for a deferral of compensation for purposes of section 457.
  • Amendments to existing regulations to reflect statutory changes that allow an eligible governmental plan to include a qualified Roth contribution program, and requiring eligible governmental plans to include provisions that where a participant dies while performing qualified military service, the survivors of the participant generally are entitled to any additional benefits that would have been provided under the plan if the participant had resumed and then terminated employment on account of death

Bona Fide Severance Pay Plans

The rules for a bonafide severance pay plan are very similar to the rules for separation pay plans in the final section 409A regulations.

  • First, the benefits provided under the plan must be payable only upon a participant’s involuntary severance from employment or pursuant to a window program or voluntary early retirement incentive plan.
  • Second, the amount payable under the plan with respect to a participant must not exceed two times the participant’s annualized compensation based upon the annual rate of pay for services provided to the eligible employer for the calendar year preceding the calendar year in which the participant has a severance from employment (unlike the 409A regulations, there is no cap on how high this amount can go).
  • Third, pursuant to the written terms of the plan, the severance benefits must be paid no later than the last day of the second calendar year following the calendar year in which the severance from employment occurs.

Bona Fide Disability Pay Plan

The proposed regulations provide that a bona fide disability pay plan must meet three conditions, which mirror the 409A definition of Disability):

  • The participant is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months
  • The participant is, by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months, receiving income replacement benefits for a continuous period of not less than three months under an accident or health plan covering employees of the eligible employer; or
  • The participant is determined to be totally disabled by the Social Security Administration or the Railroad Retirement Board.Short Term DeferralsThe proposed regulations provide that a deferral of compensation does not occur with respect to any amount that would be a short-term deferral under the 409A regulations, substituting the definition of a substantial risk of forfeiture provided under the 457 proposed regulations for the definition under § 1.409A-1(d). There is considerable overlap between the definition of substantial risk of forfeiture for purposes of section 457(f) and the definition of substantial risk of forfeiture for purposes of section 409A.

    As with the 409A regulations, under the proposed 457 regulations, if a plan provides that entitlement to an amount is conditioned on an involuntary severance from employment without cause, the right is subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture if the possibility of forfeiture is substantial.

Income Inclusion Under 457(f)

The proposed regulations provide that if a 457 plan of an eligible employer provides for a deferral of compensation for the benefit of a participant or beneficiary and the plan is not an eligible plan (i.e. is is an ineligible plan subject to Code Section 457(f)), the compensation deferred under the plan is includible in gross income as of the later of

  • the date the participant or beneficiary obtains a legally binding right to the compensation or,
  • if the compensation is subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture, the date the substantial risk of forfeiture lapses.

The proposed regulations also provide general rules for determining the present value of compensation deferred under an ineligible plan.  These rules are similar to the rules for determining present value in the proposed section 409A regulations.   One difference is that income inclusion under the proposed 457 regulations is determined as of the date the substantial risk of forfeiture lapses, whereas income inclusion under section 409A is determined as of the end of the service provider’s taxable year.

Proposed 457 Regulations

Related Post Regarding Proposed 409A Regulations