The Department of Labor (DOL) recently finalized a rule that makes it easier for plan sponsors to use email and internet websites to deliver certain retirement plan disclosures or other documents to plan participants.
By making it easier for plans to do away with paper delivery, the new rule is expected to save $3.2 billion in printing, mailing, and other costs over the next 10 years, as well as allow participants options for receiving important plan information in their preferred format.
Plan sponsors can’t get away from paper completely at the start, however. Plan sponsors must send an initial paper notice informing participants that documents will be delivered electronically going forward and giving participants the ability to opt out of electronic delivery and receive paper disclosures in the future.
Highlights of the Final Rule
The final version of the rule, which was published in May and became effective July 27, had a few changes from the proposed rule, which was issued in October 2019. But the final rule remained firm on allowing participants the option to receive paper communications from their plan sponsors.
Other key elements of the final rule include:
- Options for plan sponsors: The rule gives plan sponsors the option to deliver disclosures electronically—and spells out the safe harbor qualifications for doing so—but plan sponsors can still choose to deliver this information via physical mail. Furthermore, plan sponsors that choose to deliver disclosures electronically have two options for doing so: 1) posting documents to a website and alerting participants via email of the posting; see the next point about notice of internet availability (NOIA); or 2) sending the documents directly to participants via email.
- Posting documents to a website requires a NOIA: Plan sponsors that choose to post documents to a website must issue a notice of internet availability (NOIA) to alert participants that new documents are available online. This notice must describe the documents in concise, understandable language; include a hyperlink or web address to the site where the documents are posted; and inform participants of their right to receive paper copies. To avoid participants being overloaded with notices every time a new document is posted, plan sponsors may use an annual NOIA for certain types of documents.
- Safe harbor doesn’t cover all documents or all participants: The safe harbor only covers retirement plan disclosures, not employee welfare plan notices. In addition, plan sponsors can only use the safe harbor for covered participants who have valid email addresses or smartphone numbers.
- Plan sponsors must provide opt-out options: The final rule requires plan sponsors to allow participants the option of opting out of electronic notification altogether (global opt-out) or opting out of just specific types of documents. The final rule gave the example of some participants being comfortable with having certain documents, such as summary plan descriptions, available on a website, but preferring to receive paper versions of their quarterly benefit statements.
- Participants can change their preferences: In addition to giving participants the ability to choose whether to receive documents electronically or via mail, plan sponsors must regularly give participants the opportunity to change their preferences.
- Further participant protections added to the final rule: Documents and notices posted to a website must be available for at least a year, or until an updated version becomes available. In addition, plan sponsors must have system checks for invalid email addresses as well as proper electronic follow-up contact information when employees leave their jobs.
Although the rule didn’t become effective until July 27, plan sponsors were allowed to rely on the rule prior to this date without fear of enforcement. The final rule said this was the DOL’s way to support the federal government’s broader effort to reduce administrative burdens on plan sponsors and service providers as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Insight: Is Electronic Disclosure Appropriate for Your Plan?
The new rule should make sending and receiving retirement plan documents more convenient for most participants and plan sponsors. But there are some important considerations that plan sponsors need to think through before switching to electronic delivery.
Earlier this year we wrote about cybersecurity issues and best practices related to electronic delivery of retirement plan documents. In addition to this high-priority concern, sponsors may want to review whether specific documents should go online or stay on paper. Lastly, it is important to understand how technologically advanced your workforce is; don’t assume that just because seemingly everyone has a smartphone or a computer that all your employees will prefer to review documents online.
Managing cash flow is an ongoing priority for any business. Protecting an organization’s cash flow in times of economic distress is paramount. To retain liquidity in the short term, many organizations are examining their retirement plans for flexibility in cash outflows.
Adjusting or temporarily putting a hold on employer contributions to retirement plans stands out as a prominent option for some, but other less obvious tools can help plan sponsors operate more efficiently during a crisis as well.
Before making any changes, employers need to consider both the short-term and long-term consequences of these actions. While such decisions can provide some immediate cash flow relief, they can also increase long-term costs or negatively impact an organization’s employee morale and competitive positioning.
Eliminating or Suspending the Employer Match
Eliminating or suspending the employer match, while a potentially effective tool employers can use to shore up cash, may not be an option, depending on how the plan document is written. Plans that include an annual safe harbor 401(k) contribution may include restrictions relating to the suspension or elimination of these contributions. Plan documents must be thoroughly reviewed before reaching a decision.
Even if eliminating or suspending the employer match is an option, employers should approach these decisions with care as they may negatively affect an organization’s ability to attract new employees. This potential backlash may be the reason many employers are hesitating to suspend contributions, even as we anticipate a continued quarantine. A recent survey by the Plan Sponsor Council of America (PSCA) showed that only 16 percent of benefit plans expect to suspend contributions.
Eliminating Inactive Participants to Reduce Administrative Costs
Another option could be to reduce the number of participants in a plan to archive a lower administrative cost in upcoming quarters. Employers can achieve this is by removing inactive participants from the plan. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows plan sponsors to cash out inactive participants with $1,000 or less in their accounts, and plan sponsors don’t need permission from the individual to do this. In addition, plan sponsors can roll accounts with balances of $5,000 or less into Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs).
Participants with more than $5,000 in their accounts can’t be forced out of the plan, but plan sponsors are permitted to contact such participants and inquire if they would like to be cashed out. As always, it’s important for plan sponsors to refer to their plan documents before seeking to reduce the number of inactive participants or issue distributions.
Review “Lost Money” in the Plan
Several other tools exist that may help plan sponsors operate more efficiently:
- Forfeitures: Partially vested employees who terminate employment are the most common source of forfeitures. Plan sponsors most commonly use forfeitures to offset employer contributions, but they can also be used to pay for certain permitted plan expenses.
- ERISA Spending Accounts: ERISA spending accounts present an opportunity to reduce the total costs charged to the plan. If there isn’t a spending account already, plan sponsors should communicate with service providers to determine whether there may be an opportunity to negotiate one.
- Evaluate Fees: Plan sponsors have a fiduciary obligation to monitor fees to ensure they are reasonable. Plans should examine their investment, administrative, and consulting fees to determine if saving cash may be possible. Now may be a good time to reach out to service providers to ask for fee reductions. Plan sponsors can also consider shifting some administrative costs, such as audit expenses, from the company to the plan and using forfeitures or ERISA spending accounts for these costs.
- Changing Eligibility and Matching Provisions: Changing eligibility requirements and / or matching provisions can also help to conserve cash. For example, plan sponsors could require employees to work for at least one year before becoming eligible for a retirement plan.
Insight: Evaluate Cash Conservation Tools Thoughtfully
When examining the potential tools at your disposal for conserving cash, it’s important that employers don’t make these decisions in a vacuum. While certain actions can be taken to improve cash flow now, they could lead to greater expenses in the long term—and changes to retirement savings plans may ultimately weaken an organization’s ability to recruit and retain talent.
Your representative is available to help evaluate your plan and look for opportunities to create valuable flexibility while still being mindful of the long-term impacts of these changes.
It’s August, and that means it’s time to get ready to go back to school for many students. If your child recently graduated from high school and is heading to college in the next few weeks, besides assembling the essentials — such as clothing, toiletries, bedding and a laptop — consider having your child “pack” a few estate planning documents that he or she may need at this stage of life.
Needless to say, having all the necessary financial and medical documents may be more important than ever because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And even if your student is staying home to participate in online learning this year, having these documents prepared now can provide peace of mind when he or she returns to campus.
Let’s take a closer look at four such documents:
1. Health care power of attorney. With a health care power of attorney (sometimes referred to as a “health care proxy” or “durable medical power of attorney”), your child appoints someone — probably you or his or her other parent — to make health care decisions on his or her behalf should he or she be unable to do so. A health care power of attorney should provide guidance on how to make health care decisions. Although it’s impossible to anticipate every potential scenario, the document can provide guiding principles.
2. HIPAA authorization. To accompany the health care power of attorney, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) authorization gives health care providers the ability to share information about your child’s medical condition with you. Absent a HIPAA authorization, making health care decisions could be more difficult.
3. Financial power of attorney. A financial power of attorney appoints someone to make financial decisions or execute transactions on your child’s behalf under certain circumstances. For example, a power of attorney might authorize you to handle your child’s financial affairs while he or she is out of the country studying abroad or, in the case of a “durable” power of attorney, incapacitated.
4. Will. Although your child is still in his or her upper teens or early twenties, he or she may not be too young to have a will drawn up. This is especially true if your child owns assets. A will is a legal document that arranges for the distribution of property after a person dies. It names an executor or personal representative who’ll be responsible for overseeing the estate as it goes through probate.
If you have questions about any of these documents, don’t hesitate to give us a call. We can help provide peace of mind that your child’s health and financial affairs are properly handled.
Does your employer provide you with group term life insurance? If so, and if the coverage is higher than $50,000, this employee benefit may create undesirable income tax consequences for you.
The first $50,000 of group term life insurance coverage that your employer provides is excluded from taxable income and doesn’t add anything to your income tax bill. But the employer-paid cost of group term coverage in excess of $50,000 is taxable income to you. It’s included in the taxable wages reported on your Form W-2 — even though you never actually receive it. In other words, it’s “phantom income.”
What’s worse, the cost of group term insurance must be determined under a table prepared by IRS even if the employer’s actual cost is less than the cost figured under the table. Under these determinations, the amount of taxable phantom income attributed to an older employee is often higher than the premium the employee would pay for comparable coverage under an individual term policy. This tax trap gets worse as the employee gets older and as the amount of his or her compensation increases.
Check your W-2
What should you do if you think the tax cost of employer-provided group term life insurance is undesirably high? First, you should establish if this is actually the case. If a specific dollar amount appears in Box 12 of your Form W-2 (with code “C”), that dollar amount represents your employer’s cost of providing you with group-term life insurance coverage in excess of $50,000, less any amount you paid for the coverage. You’re responsible for federal, state and local taxes on the amount that appears in Box 12 and for the associated Social Security and Medicare taxes as well.
But keep in mind that the amount in Box 12 is already included as part of your total “Wages, tips and other compensation” in Box 1 of the W-2, and it’s the Box 1 amount that’s reported on your tax return
Consider some options
If you decide that the tax cost is too high for the benefit you’re getting in return, you should find out whether your employer has a “carve-out” plan (a plan that carves out selected employees from group term coverage) or, if not, whether it would be willing to create one. There are several different types of carve-out plans that employers can offer to their employees.
For example, the employer can continue to provide $50,000 of group term insurance (since there’s no tax cost for the first $50,000 of coverage). Then, the employer can either provide the employee with an individual policy for the balance of the coverage, or give the employee the amount the employer would have spent for the excess coverage as a cash bonus that the employee can use to pay the premiums on an individual policy.
Final Regulations on the Massachusetts Angel Investor Credit were issued on 7/24/20. The complete regulation can be found here.
The credit helps expand life sciences-related employment opportunities, promote health-related innovations and stimulate research and development, manufacturing and commercialization in the life sciences industry, according to the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC), who has been charged with administration of the credit.
The Massachusetts Angel Investor Tax Credit is a credit against the Massachusetts personal income tax up to an amount equal to 20% of the qualifying investment(s) in a qualifying business, or 30% of the amount if that qualifying business is located in a “Gateway municipality”, as defined in M.G.L. c. 23A, § 3A. Follow THIS LINK for details on “Gateway municipalities”.
According to the MLSC, credits are available up to $50,000 in any one taxable year for qualifying investments of up to $125,000 per qualifying business per year and up to $250,000 in cumulative qualifying investments for each qualifying business. Any amount of credit allowed that exceeds a taxpayer investor’s tax due for a taxable year under M.G.L. c. 62 may be carried forward to any of the three subsequent taxable years. There is also a recapture provision if the qualifying business ceases to have its principal place of business in the Commonwealth within three taxable years following the investment. Credits will be awarded by the MLSC in its sole discretion, in accordance with the MLSC’s statutory obligations to support economic development in the life sciences across the Commonwealth.
Eligibility & Evaluation (per MLSC):
- Taxpayer Investors must be “accredited” as defined by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and may not be a principal owner of the business or involved in a full-time professional capacity.
- Be a ‘Qualifying Business’ as detailed below
- Meet the ‘Qualifying Investment’ criteria as detailed below
- Has its principal place of business in the Commonwealth engaged in the life sciences as defined in MGL c. 231, § 2;
- has at least 50% of its employees located in the business’ principal place of business;
- has a full developed business plan that includes all appropriate long-term and short-term forecasts and contingencies of business operations, including research and development, profit, loss and cash flow projections and details of angel investor funding;
- employs 20 or fewer full-time employees at the time of the taxpayer investor’s initial qualifying investment in a business;
- has a federal tax identification number; and
- has gross revenues equal to or less than $500,000 in the fiscal year prior to claiming eligibility.
Further, the business must provide to MLSC the following:
- certification that attests to the criteria above
- fully developed business plan
- its federal tax id number
- a letter from the business’s CPA firm that confirms revenues equal to or less than $500,000
- Certificates in Good Standing (issued by the Secretary and the MDOR) within the previous 6 months
- annual reporting to the MLSC specific information (including a list of the uses and dollar amounts to which any qualifying investment as applied)
A monetary investment that is at risk and is not secured or guaranteed; provided, however, that a qualifying investment shall not include venture capital funds, hedge funds or commodity funds with institutional investors or investments in a business involved in retail, real estate, professional services, gaming or financial services. Investments must be used to support a qualifying business for purposes such as capital improvements, plant equipment, research and development and working capital.
For application information and to inquire directly with the MLSC please follow this link (https://www.masslifesciences.com/programs/angel-tax-incentive-credit/)
Contact us directly at email@example.com should you have any further questions or require any additional information.