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.

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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.

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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”

Audiocast – Navigating Employee Benefits in an Evolving COVID-19 Pandemic

Faegre Drinker and Multnomah Group held a roundtable discussion designed to provide practical advice on navigating employee benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers are dealing with remote work, layoffs, reduced hours, as well as determining how these changes will impact the operations of their employee benefit plans. Furthermore, with the passage of recent legislation such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and potential passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, employers are faced with more challenges and changes.

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Calculating Plan Loan Limits under the CARES Act: Application of the One-Year Lookback

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and. Economic Security (CARES) Act temporarily increases the plan loan limit for loans to qualified individuals (as defined below) from defined contribution plans, such as 401(k) plans and 403(b) plans. This is generally good news for employees, but care should be taken when plan sponsors and plan recordkeepers calculate the loan limit because the one-year “lookback” continues to apply.

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CARES Act Brings Much-Needed Relief (and New Obligations) for Benefit Plans

As people across the country react to the quickly changing COVID-19 pandemic, Congress passed another piece of legislation providing guidance and relief on a variety of issues — the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law on March 27, 2020. This article includes brief summaries of what employers should know about key benefits-related components of the CARES Act. Plan sponsors should review their plans to assess the impact of these changes and take appropriate steps to implement the changes (some of which are required).

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Benefit Plan FAQs on COVID-19 Part 5

Hardship Distributions During the COVID-19 Outbreak

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues, retirement plan sponsors will likely receive questions from employees about ways in which they can access funds in their retirement plan accounts. While we wait for any potential Congressional action to ease access to retirement plan accounts, we look to the hardship distribution rules that apply now regardless of Congressional relief. Hardship distributions are one way an employee can receive an in-service distribution of elective deferral contributions (and, depending on the plan provisions, other types of contributions) from their accounts, provided the employee has an immediate and heavy financial need and the distribution is necessary to meet that need.

The IRS’s recently issued final regulations added a new type of safe harbor hardship distribution event, for losses related to a federally-declared disaster. Under the final regulations, an employee may be deemed to have an immediate and heavy financial need when the employee incurs expenses and losses (including loss of income) as a result of a disaster declared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”), provided the employee’s principal residence or principal place of employment at the time of the disaster was located in an area designated by FEMA for individual assistance with respect to the particular disaster. Historically, the IRS announced similar relief on a piecemeal basis (for example, allowing certain hardship distributions for Hurricane Maria and the California wildfires in 2017).

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Benefit Plan FAQs on COVID-19

IRS Guidance Related to Coronavirus Testing/Treatment for HDHPs/HSAs

Last week, the IRS issued guidance confirming that high-deductible health plans with health savings accounts can provide coronavirus testing and treatment at no cost to participants without affecting eligibility for health savings accounts.  Without this guidance, any non-preventive services provided to such participants before meeting their plan deductible would have disqualified the participants from health savings account eligibility.  This guidance is welcome, as employers attempt to remove obstacles to testing and treatment for coronavirus.

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Congress (Finally) Passes the SECURE Act

After a delay of several months, Congress passed the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, clearing the way for one of the most substantial pieces of retirement plan legislation in years to become law.

The House of Representatives initially passed the SECURE Act in May by an overwhelming 417−3 vote. Although the Act was set for easy bipartisan passage, it foundered in the Senate. The bill found new life at the eleventh hour of the 2019 legislative session as an attachment to the must-pass $1.4 trillion spending bill, which passed by significant margins.

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