PBGC Publishes Final Rule Allowing Simplified Withdrawal Liability Calculations Applicable to Benefit Reductions, Benefit Suspensions and Contributions

On Friday January 8, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) published a final rule that provides multiemployer pension plans with additional methods to help calculate employer withdrawal liability. The rule includes relatively simplified approaches to calculating withdrawal liability that multiemployer plans may choose to use. The rule comes into effect on Friday, January 7, 2022, 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register.  The final rule reflects changes based on several comments made to the proposed rule that was published on February 6, 2019.

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) charges the PBGC with oversight of multiemployer pension plans, including employer withdrawal liability. Multiemployer plans and their actuaries do not have free reign to calculate withdrawal liability as they see fit. Rather, they must follow the provisions and approved methods set forth in ERISA and as published by the PBGC. The new rule stems from amendments to the ERISA funding rules implemented by Congress in 2006 under the Pension Protection Act (“PPA”) and in 2014 under the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (“MPRA”). The funding rules permitted financially distressed multiemployer plans to reduce adjustable benefits, suspend a portion of nonforfeitable benefits, and impose contribution increases and surcharges for underfunded plans. These funding rules clarified whether plans could take these changes into account when determining withdrawal liability and instructed the PBGC to draft simplified methods to do so.

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IRS Extends Temporary Relief from “Physical Presence” Requirement for Certain Retirement Plan Elections

On December 22, 2020, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) issued an advance version of Notice 2021-03 (the “Extension Notice”) to extend the temporary relief from the “physical presence” requirement for participant elections under retirement plans that was previously granted in Notice 2020-42 (the “Relief Notice”).

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IRS and PBGC Provide Welcome Clarification on Contribution Deadline for Defined Benefit Pension Plans

On November 16, 2020, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2020-82 (the Notice), to further extend the deadline for required minimum contributions for single-employer defined benefit pension plans that would otherwise be due during the 2020 calendar year, from January 1, 2021, to January 4, 2021. On the same day, the PBGC issued complementary guidance, in Technical Update 20-2 (the PBGC Update), to reflect the January 4, 2021, deadline established by the IRS in the Notice when calculating variable-rate premiums.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) previously established a January 1, 2021, deadline for certain required minimum contributions that would otherwise be due during the 2020 calendar year. This pension funding holiday applies for contributions to single-employer defined benefit pension plans required under Section 430(j) of the Internal Revenue Code (the Code). Under Code Section 430(j), single-employer defined benefit pension plan sponsors are required to make certain minimum contributions that are designed to keep the plan sufficiently funded. For a given contribution to apply for a plan year, generally the contribution must be made no later than 8-1/2 months after the plan year ends. However, when a plan has a funding shortfall for the prior plan year, the plan sponsor is required to pay four quarterly installments toward the required minimum contribution for the plan year (due on April 15, July 15, and October 15 of the plan year, and January 15 of the following year, for a calendar year plan). The CARES Act gave plan sponsors additional time to make these required minimum contributions, by providing a January 1, 2021, due date for amounts otherwise due during 2021.

In the Notice, the IRS recognized the legislative intent to defer a plan sponsor’s payment obligation to calendar year 2021. The IRS acknowledged that this deferment to 2021 would not be possible with a January 1, 2021, deadline, given that January 1, 2021, is a bank holiday, and financial institutions cannot transfer funds on the January 1, 2021, due date. As a result, the Notice extends the deadline to January 4, 2021, the next business day after January 1, 2021. For amounts that are contributed on January 4, 2021, and treated as timely made pursuant to the Notice, the amount of the required minimum contribution that is considered satisfied by the contribution is determined by computing the applicable interest adjustment based on the actual contribution date.

The Notice also extends the deadline for a plan sponsor of a single-employer defined benefit pension plan to make certain elections related to the plan’s prefunding balance. These extended deadlines relate to (a) an election to add contributions made in excess of the minimum required contribution for a plan year to the plan’s refunding balance (i.e., a balance that may be used at the plan sponsor’s election to offset minimum required contributions for a later plan year) and (b) an election to use an existing prefunding balance or funding standard carryover balance to offset a required minimum contribution for a plan year. The deadline for those elections is now also January 4, 2021, for a plan year for which the extended due date for required minimum contributions applies. Note, however, that the Notice does not impact the treatment of certain missed quarterly installment contributions otherwise due on January 1, 2021, pursuant to the CARES Act. Further, the extended deadline (previously January 1, 2021, and now January 4, 2021) does not apply for a multiemployer plan, a money purchase pension plan, a “cooperate and small employer charity” (CSEC) plan, or a fully insured plan as described in Code Section 412(e)(3).

Prior to this Notice, the IRS had issued guidance on the CARES Act funding rules for single-employer defined benefit pension plans in Notice 2020-61. That notice addressed the payment of annual premiums to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) (as well as interest adjustments for minimum required contributions, the actuarial certification of a plan’s adjusted funding target attainment percentage (AFTAP), and Form 5500 reporting for contributions made with respect to the 2019 plan year that were made after the filing deadline for the 2019 plan year).

The PBGC Update referenced above addresses the IRS guidance and its impact on the PBGC premium filings by providing that, for premium filings due on or after March 1, 2020, and before January 1, 2021, the date by which prior-year contributions must be received by the plan to be included in plan assets used to determine the variable-rate premium is extended to January 4, 2021. If such a contribution is made by January 4, 2021, a plan sponsor may amend the premium filing to revise the originally reported asset value and the applicable variable-rate premium. Note that the PBGC relief does not impact the premium due dates, and it does not allow a plan sponsor to include a contribution that has not yet been made in the premium filing.

Contact your Faegre Drinker attorney for more information on the extended deadline for required minimum contributions, the variable-rate premium contribution calculation and deadlines, and other aspects of the CARES Act relief for single-employer defined benefit pension plans.

IRS Issues Guidance on Missing Participants and State Unclaimed Property Funds

In October 2020, the IRS issued two pieces of guidance addressing (1) the tax withholding and reporting of distributions from qualified retirement plans to state unclaimed property funds, and (2) the ability of taxpayers to roll over funds that were previously escheated to a state unclaimed property fund.

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The GAO Reviews QDROs

In July 2020, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) prepared a report for the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions about Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDROs). QDROs are court-issued orders that allow a divorced spouse (or in rare cases a child) to receive a portion of a participant’s qualified retirement plan benefit. A QDRO is one of the few ways in which a participant’s qualified retirement benefit can be assigned or alienated.

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Plan Sponsor and Plan Administrator Escape 401(k) Plan Cybertheft Suit, But Recordkeeper Remains

An Illinois district court issued a split decision in a case involving the cybertheft of retirement plan assets, allowing the plan administrator and plan sponsor to be dismissed, but requiring the recordkeeper to defend allegations that it breached its fiduciary duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Bartnett v. Abbott Laboratories, et. al. (N.D. Illinois, Case No. 1:20-cv-02127) is one of several recent lawsuits filed against plan sponsors and recordkeepers for allowing cyber-thieves to pilfer large distributions from participants’ retirement plan accounts.

Heide Bartnett, a former employee of Abbott Laboratories (Abbott) and participant in Abbott’s 401(k) plan, alleges that a hacker accessed her 401(k) account online, changed the password, added a new bank account and requested a $245,000 distribution from the 401(k) plan’s recordkeeper, Alight Solutions LLC (Alight) to be deposited into the newly added account. The imposter also called Alight several times to ask questions about the distribution.

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DOL Issues Guidance on Private Equity Investments in 401(k) Plans

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued guidance in the form of an Information Letter describing the process that plan fiduciaries should undertake in determining whether an investment fund having a private equity component satisfies ERISA fiduciary standards. Specifically, the DOL emphasized that there are factors unique to such investment funds that should be considered as part of a prudent process.

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Audiocast: Year-End Checklist for Your Retirement Plan: 2020

Each year, retirement plans’ fiduciaries have a lot of responsibilities as they prepare for year-end. This year, fiduciaries and plan sponsors have a few extra “to do’s” on their list, with the passage of the CARES and SECURE Acts within the past year. Join Summer Conley, partner at Faegre Drinker, and Bonnie Treichel, co-founder and COO of ZUNA, on Thursday, October 22, 2020, at 1:00 p.m. ET for an actionable audiocast that will cover the tasks that are most critical to preparing for a successful year-end and start to 2021.

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Rehiring Employees by End of 2020 Could Prevent Partial Plan Terminations

In our May 2020 client alert, we addressed the possibility that COVID-19 layoffs could inadvertently cause a partial termination of a company’s qualified retirement plan. Recently issued IRS guidance provides that if participating employees whose employment was terminated due to COVID-19 are rehired by the end of 2020, the IRS generally will not deem a partial plan termination to have occurred. However, rehiring employees by the end of 2020 will not guarantee that employers will avoid a partial plan termination.

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The Clock Is Ticking: DOL Issued Interim Final Rule on Lifetime Income Disclosures for Defined Contribution Plans

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act included several provisions related to lifetime income strategies under retirement plans, including a requirement that pension benefit statements for defined contribution plans disclose the “lifetime income stream equivalent” of each participant’s current account balance – both as a single life annuity (SLA) and as a qualified joint and survivor annuity (QJSA). On August 18, 2020, the Department of Labor (Department) issued an interim final rule implementing this requirement that includes a model disclosure and assumptions for converting benefits (the Rule), and a fact sheet.

As background, under ERISA, administrators of defined contribution plans (such as 401(k) and 403(b) plans) are required to provide pension benefit statements quarterly if the plan allows participant-directed investment, otherwise annually. Among other requirements, the benefit statements must include the participant’s current account balance.

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