IRS Expands and Clarifies Relief Provided for CARES Act Retirement Plan Distributions

On June 19, 2020, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2020-50 (the Notice) to provide guidance on coronavirus-related distributions, increased plan loan limits, and deferment of plan loan repayments allowed pursuant to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The Notice provides further guidance for retirement plan sponsors on implementing changes under the CARES Act provision, and supplements prior IRS guidance issued in the form of FAQs, as discussed in a prior post.

Key elements of the Notice include:

  1. An Expanded Definition of “Qualified Individual”

    Under the CARES Act, coronavirus-related distributions, the increased plan loan limits, and the deferral of plan loan repayments are available only to “qualified individuals.” A “qualified individual” is someone who has been diagnosed with the virus SARS-CoV-2 or the coronavirus disease 2019 (each referred to herein as “COVID-19”); whose spouse or dependent has been diagnosed with COVID-19; or who experiences adverse financial consequences stemming from COVID-19 as a result of being quarantined, furloughed, laid off, having reduced work hours, being unable to work due to lack of child care, the closing or reduction of hours of a business owned or operated by the individual, or other factors as determined by the Department of the Treasury.

    In the Notice, the IRS exercises this authority and expands the definition of “qualified individual” to include an individual who experiences adverse financial consequences as a result of one or more of the following:

    • Having a reduction in pay (or self-employment income) due to COVID-19
    • Having a job offer rescinded or a start date for a job delayed due to COVID-19
    • The individual’s spouse or member of the individual’s household being (1) quarantined, furloughed, laid off, or having work hours reduced due to COVID-19; (2) being unable to work due to lack of childcare due to COVID-19; (3) having a reduction in pay (or self-employment income) due to COVID-19; or (4) having a job offer rescinded or start date for a job delayed due to COVID-19
    • The closure or reduction of hours of a business owned or operated by the individual’s spouse or a member of the individual’s household due to COVID-19.

    A “member of the individual’s household” means someone who shares the individual’s principal residence.

    NOTE: This broadens the already expansive definition of qualified individual, and allows a greater number of plan participants to benefit from the favorable tax treatment of a coronavirus-related distribution (discussed in more detail in our earlier alert).

  2. Clarification of Rules Allowing Reliance on Self-Certification of “Qualified Individual” Status

    The Notice also resolves an open issue about whether a plan administrator may rely on an individual’s self-certification that he or she is a “qualified individual” for purposes of the expanded plan loan provisions. The CARES Act and earlier FAQ guidance allowed plan administrators to rely on self-certification, but only for coronavirus-related distributions. The Notice makes it clear that plan administrators may rely on self-certification for purposes of the plan loan changes as well. In both instances, reliance on an individual’s self-certification is permitted if the administrator does not have actual knowledge that is contrary to that certification. For purposes of this standard, a plan administrator is not obligated to inquire into whether the individual has satisfied the conditions to be a “qualified individual.” The Notice also includes a sample certification.

  3. Clarification that CARES Act Changes Are Optional

    The Notice clarifies that retirement plan sponsors are not required to allow coronavirus-related distributions, increase the plan loan limits, or suspend plan loan repayments. These changes are optional, and plan administrators may develop any reasonable procedures for identifying which distributions are treated as coronavirus-related distributions under its retirement plans, provided the plan is consistent in its treatment of similar distributions.

    Regardless of whether a plan is amended to allow coronavirus-related distributions, a qualified individual may obtain favorable tax treatment by treating a distribution that would otherwise satisfy the CARES Act requirements as a coronavirus-related distribution on his or her federal income tax return.

  4. A Safe Harbor for Administration of Suspended Loan Payments

    The CARES Act includes a rule under which the due date for repayments on a qualified individual’s outstanding plan loan that would otherwise be due during the period beginning March 27, 2020, and ending on December 31, 2020, may be delayed for one year.  Subsequent loan repayments are required to be adjusted to reflect the delay and any interest accruing during the delay, and the period of the delay is disregarded in determining the five-year maximum repayment period.

    Prior to the Notice, there were a number of open questions related to administration of this provision and re-amortization of repayments otherwise due during the suspension period. The Notice establishes a safe harbor that is available when a qualified individual’s obligation to repay a plan loan is suspended for any period beginning March 27, 2020, and ending not later than December 31, 2020 (the “suspension period”), provided: (1) the loan repayments resume after the end of the suspension period; (2) interest accruing during the suspension period is added to the remaining principal of the loan; and (3) the loan is re-amortized and repaid in substantially level installments over the remaining period of the loan (which may be extended by up to one year from the date the loan was originally due to be repaid). If a plan administrator satisfies the safe harbor, the plan is treated as complying with the applicable requirements of section 72(p) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1984, as amended (the Code). Compliance with the safe harbor is not required, however, and the Notice acknowledges that there may be other, reasonable ways to administer this provision in the CARES Act.

    NOTE: This safe harbor for re-amortization of suspended repayments is substantially similar to the relief the IRS provided following Hurricane Katrina and the similar loan rules established in the Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Act of 2005. This guidance is welcome relief for plans and administrators who hoped the IRS guidance would align with past administrative practices.

In addition to the changes listed above, the Notice provides guidance on a number of other aspects of coronavirus-related distributions, including: tax reporting by plans and individuals; the types of distributions that can and cannot be designated as a coronavirus-related distribution; the types of distributions that may be recontributed to a retirement plan or IRA; accepting recontributions; special tax notice and mandatory/optional withholding requirements; and the $100,000 total distribution limit.

Along with the guidance on the CARES Act, the Notice also briefly addresses nonqualified deferred compensation plans. The Notice permits the cancellation of a service provider’s deferral election under such a plan when the service provider receives a distribution from a retirement plan that constitutes a coronavirus-related distribution by deeming such a distribution a hardship distribution for purposes of existing regulations under Code section 409A. Note that it is required that the deferral election be cancelled; it cannot be delayed.

Please contact your Faegre Drinker attorney with questions and/or to request more detailed information about implementing these CARES Act changes and the impact of the Notice.

Department of Labor Publishes Request for Information on Pooled Employer Plans

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act of 2019 created a new type of plan that may begin operating in 2021 called a pooled employer plan (PEP). A PEP is a plan in which multiple unrelated employers will be able to participate. A PEP will have to be maintained by a pooled plan provider (PPP) which must act as a named fiduciary and take on substantially all of the PEP’s administrative duties. Though the statute is fairly detailed, it leaves open a variety of questions, including a number of prohibited transaction issues, that need to be addressed by the Department of Labor (DOL).

For the full alert, visit the Faegre Drinker website.

Temporary Relief from “Physical Presence” Requirement for Participant Elections

On June 3, 2020, the Treasury Department issued Notice 2020-42 providing temporary relief from the requirement for a plan representative or notary public to be physically present to witness certain participant elections (including spousal consents), which has been exceptionally difficult to satisfy while following COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders and social distancing guidelines.

Continue reading “Temporary Relief from “Physical Presence” Requirement for Participant Elections”

New DOL Electronic Disclosure Rules – What You Need to Know

The Department of Labor (DOL) issued final electronic disclosure rules for retirement plans on May 27, 2020 (2020 Safe Harbor). We are already fielding questions about these new rules and have provided answers here to some of the common questions we are hearing from clients.

Continue reading “New DOL Electronic Disclosure Rules – What You Need to Know”

DOL Issues New Rules on Electronic Disclosure

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has issued final regulations that provide an additional safe harbor method of satisfying the ERISA electronic disclosure requirements for retirement plans (note, these rules do not apply to welfare plans). The final regulations will allow employers to post retirement plan disclosures online or deliver them by email.

The new electronic disclosure regulations will be published in the Federal Register on May 27, 2020; for your convenience, we have provided an unpublished copy here.

Continue reading “DOL Issues New Rules on Electronic Disclosure”

COVID-19 Joint Agency Relief Part 2: Guidance for Implementing Claim-Related Deadline Extensions

As described in our May 1 blog post, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Employee Benefits Security Administration, the Department of Labor (DOL), and the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of the Treasury (Agencies) recently issued guidance (Extension Guidance) providing emergency relief to employee benefit plans, participants, and beneficiaries for complying with certain deadline and notice requirements under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code. As part of this guidance, the Agencies released a notification of relief (Joint Notice), which significantly affects administration of all ERISA-governed health, welfare and retirement plans by tolling certain claim-related deadlines throughout the duration of the National Emergency declared by President Trump. This alert, which can be read in its entirety on the Faegre Drinker website, describes the impact of those deadline extensions and provides practical guidance for plan sponsors and fiduciaries to consider in complying with the Joint Notice. For analysis of the Extension Guidance’s implications on retirement plans, see part one of this series of alerts.

IRS Releases Coronavirus-Related FAQs for Retirement Plans and IRAs – Some Guidance Still Forthcoming

On March 27, Congress enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a massive stimulus package in response to the global coronavirus pandemic. Section 2202 of the CARES Act provides certain individuals who are affected by the pandemic – referred to as “qualified individuals” – with special distribution options from 401(k), 403(b) and governmental 457(b) plans and IRAs, and expands permissible retirement plan loans.

On Monday, May 4, the Internal Revenue Service published answers to commonly asked questions regarding section 2202.

Continue reading “IRS Releases Coronavirus-Related FAQs for Retirement Plans and IRAs – Some Guidance Still Forthcoming”

COVID-19 Layoffs Could Trigger Partial Plan Terminations

Employers considering layoffs during this period of economic uncertainty should be aware that extensive layoffs could inadvertently cause a partial termination of their company’s qualified retirement plan. Employers should monitor their employee turnover rate and consult with benefits counsel to determine the potential impact on their retirement plans.

Partial plan terminations can occur where a significant change to the plan or a significant event affects the rights of employees to vest in their plan benefits, such as termination of a large group of employees.

Continue reading “COVID-19 Layoffs Could Trigger Partial Plan Terminations”

A Tale of Two Loan Repayment Changes

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act suspended 401(k) loan repayments for qualified individuals that are due between March 27, 2020, and December 31, 2020. Qualified individuals include plan participants (1) who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, (2) whose spouse or dependents have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or (3) who experiences adverse financial consequences as a result of COVID-19. The CARES Act allows the loan period to be extended to account for the suspension, and prior IRS guidance in Notice 2005-92 allows the loan to be reamortized.

There is another loan provision included in Notice 2020-23 that effectively delays repayment of all 401(k) loans. Notice 2020-23 Section III.A. defines affected taxpayers to include anyone performing a “time-sensitive action” listed in Revenue Procedure 2018-58, which applies to any taxpayer affected by a federally declared disaster and includes in the list of actions payment of 401(k) plan loans.

COVID-19 is a federally declared disaster in every state, so Notice 2020-23 delays any 401(k) plan loan payments that are due between April 1, 2020, and July 14, 2020. But unlike the CARES Act loan suspension, under Notice 2020-23 taxpayers only have a delay and potentially will have to pay all missed loan repayments as of July 15, 2020 (additional guidance from the IRS on this point would be very helpful). As of the date of publication of this alert, it does not appear that the term of the loan can be adjusted to include the Notice 2020-23 delay period (unlike the CARES Act loan suspensions). It is likely that the loan still will be subject to the original loan term.

If the Notice 2020-23 payment delay applies, then it will impact 401(k) plans because of the timing of when a loan default occurs. For example, generally if a participant stopped making loan repayments in May, the latest default period allowed under the Code would be the end of the third quarter (although a 401(k) plan may specify a shorter period). But if the loan repayment due date is delayed until July 15, 2020, then the loan will end up missing a repayment in Q3 and defaulting in Q4. Based on the July 15, 2020, delayed payment date, it is unlikely any loan recipients will have any tax issues that span into 2021 as a result of Notice 2020-23.

Note that 401(k) plan sponsors and their recordkeepers should be aware of this issue and properly administer plan loans in light of Notice 2020-23. 

Cutting Costs in a COVID-19 World – Reducing or Suspending Company Contributions to a 401(k) or 403(b) Plan

In response to the current economic crisis caused by COVID-19, many companies are considering cost-savings measures to improve their companies’ financial stability. One such cost-saving option is the reduction or suspension of company contributions to a company’s 401(k) or 403(b) plan. The procedure for and the implications of such suspension will depend on the plan terms, including whether the contribution is intended to be a “safe harbor” contribution. Continue reading “Cutting Costs in a COVID-19 World – Reducing or Suspending Company Contributions to a 401(k) or 403(b) Plan”