Compliance and Regulatory
June 06, 2023
The SECURE 2.0 Act made significant changes to the Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (EPCRS) self-correction program but also granted the IRS broad latitude to limit self-correction as it deems appropriate.
The IRS has now provided interim guidance pursuant to these provisions in Notice 2023-43, which provides that plan sponsors may self-correct an “eligible inadvertent failure,” defined as a failure that occurs despite the existence of practices and procedures that satisfy standards set forth in section 4.04 of Rev. Proc. 2021-30, so long as certain conditions are met, including:
Self-correction is also available for certain eligible inadvertent failures related to plan loans but not for failures to initially adopt a written plan, significant failures in terminated plans, and corrections of operational failures by a plan amendment that results in less favorable treatment for a participant than the original terms of the plan.
Notice 2023-43 also suspends the existing EPCRS requirement that a plan be the subject of a favorable determination letter as well as its prohibition against self-correcting demographic failures and employer eligibility failures.
Because Notice 2023-43 is IRS guidance, it does not address areas over which the DOL has authority, such as the recovery of plan overpayments and the correction of automatic contribution errors.
Plan sponsors may apply a good faith, reasonable interpretation of the SECURE 2.0 Act changes for any self-correction completed in the interim period between the passage of the Act on December 29, 2022, and the publication of Notice 2023-43.
Plan sponsors may also rely on Notice 2023-43 until such time as subsequent EPCRS guidance is published. In the meantime, IRS has requested comments on this guidance and any other aspect of section 305 of the SECURE 2.0 Act, with particular emphasis on additional correction methods to be used to correct eligible inadvertent failures, including general principles of correction if a specific correction method is not otherwise specified in the rules or other guidance.
Comments are due by August 23, 2023, and may be submitted electronically at the regulations.gov website.
The IRS recently released updated instructions for Form 5300, Application for Determination for Employee Benefit Plan; Form 5307, Application for Determination for Adopters of Modified Non-standardized Pre-Approved Plans; and Form 5310, Application for Determination for Terminating Plan.
Form 5300 is filed to request a determination letter from the IRS for the qualification of an individually designed or preapproved defined benefit or a defined contribution plan and the exempt status of any related trust and a determination that a 403(b) plan meets the requirements of §403(b). Form 5307 is filed if an employer has made limited modifications to a preapproved plan that does not create an individually designed plan. Form 5310 is used to request a determination letter as to the qualified status of a defined contribution or defined benefit plan upon plan termination.
The Form 5300 and Form 5310 instructions were updated to include §403(b) defined contribution plans. These changes are part of a larger IRS effort to align the procedures for §403(b) plans with those applicable to qualified §401(a) plans. The Form 5307 instructions reflect numerous format and information revisions for completion of the form electronically on pay.gov as of July 1, 2023.
Rev. Proc. 2023-4 contains the guidance under which the determination letter application programs are administered. For information regarding program changes under Rev. Proc. 2023-4, please see our January 18, 2023, article. An application should be filed under Rev. Proc. 2022-40 (with respect to individually designed plans) or Part III of Rev. Proc. 2016-37 (with respect to preapproved plans).
Plan sponsors seeking a determination letter for their defined contribution or defined benefit plan should be aware of the updated instructions and consult with their service providers for further information.
Instructions for Form 5300 (Rev. June 2023) »
Instructions for Form 5307 (Rev. June 2023) »
Instructions for Form 5310 (Rev. May 2023) »
May 23, 2023
On May 10, 2023, in Su v. Sherrod, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the DOL in a case involving breaches of ERISA duties of loyalty and prudence. The rulings follow a civil enforcement action brought against Dr. Shirley Sherrod and Leroy Johnson, the trustee and plan administrator, respectively, of a defined benefit retirement plan established in 1987 for employees of Sherrod’s ophthalmology practice.
The case involved the plan’s trust account, which had been closed to deposits since the practice was sold and all employees were terminated in 2008. The buyer later prevailed in a breach of contract action against Sherrod in 2011, after which Sherrod took a $250,000 distribution from the plan’s cash bond for her appeal of that case, launching a five-year-long pattern of distributions to herself from the plan. Johnson, whom Sherrod appointed as the plan’s administrator in May of 2012, was also involved. All of these distributions were either improperly accounted for as plan expenses or losses or otherwise unaccounted for.
The DOL brought its action against Sherrod and Johnson in 2016, by which time the defendants had distributed almost $1.1 million of plan assets for Sherrod’s personal benefit. The DOL asked the court to remove the two from their plan fiduciary positions, to enjoin them permanently from serving as fiduciaries for any ERISA-covered plan, and to appoint an independent fiduciary to administer and terminate the plan.
Finding no genuine dispute of fact material as to whether Sherrod and Johnson had repeatedly violated their fiduciary duties, the district court granted summary judgment for the DOL. The defendants then appealed this decision to the Seventh Circuit, arguing (in part) that the granted relief was “excessive” given the “extraordinary circumstances” Sherrod faced and her assertions of good faith efforts to protect the plan, including a purported attempt to reimburse the plan for the initial $250,000 distribution, but for which she could provide no direct documentation and which occurred (if at all) three years after the fact.
The appellate court rejected all the defendants’ arguments, observing that the defendants “d[id] not dispute that Sherrod often acted at her own direction and not ‘at the direction of the Administrator,’” unilaterally withdrawing funds from the plan without consulting Johnson. Accordingly, the Seventh Circuit found there was no dispute that Johnson did not "authorize and direct" those payments as required by the plan. The Seventh Circuit observed that, in effect, “Sherrod gave herself the keys to the bank vault, and Johnson let her use them.”
Affirming all the relief imposed upon the defendants by the trial judge, the Seventh Circuit panel concluded that “[g]iven the gravity and frequency of defendants' breaches of their fiduciary duties, they are fortunate that the relief against them has thus far been relatively modest.”
While this case doesn’t break any new legal ground—raiding plan assets for one’s own personal benefit is the classic example of an ERISA fiduciary violation—it is for that very reason a useful reminder of how strong the urge can be for ostensible fiduciaries under financial strain to misappropriate retirement plan assets for their own benefit. ERISA plan fiduciaries must ensure they never violate their duties of prudence and loyalty with respect to plan assets, regardless of their financial circumstances.
May 09, 2023
On April 25, 2023, the DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) issued Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2023-01, providing guidance to multiemployer plans on how they can comply with ERISA annual funding disclosure requirements when they receive special financial assistance (SFA) under the American Rescue Plan Act. The EBSA presents the guidance as 11 Q&A's, which are explained in order below.
Employers participating in multiemployer plans that received SFA should be aware of this new information.
April 25, 2023
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (Seventh Circuit) has remanded two of three of the plaintiffs’ claims for further proceedings in Hughes v. Northwestern University after the US Supreme Court overturned its previous ruling that dismissed all three claims.
The plaintiffs originally sued Northwestern in 2016, alleging breaches of ERISA fiduciary duties regarding its defined contribution retirement plans, including:
The lower district court dismissed all these claims and, on appeal, the Seventh Circuit affirmed that ruling. The Seventh Circuit reasoned, in part, that because Northwestern’s plan included the type of low-cost investment options plaintiffs claimed to prefer in addition to the “higher-cost” options complained of in their lawsuit, there was no need to further examine the latter options under ERISA.
However, in 2022, the Supreme Court (the Court) overturned the Seventh Circuit on the well-established grounds that plan fiduciaries have a continuing duty to monitor investment options separate from and in addition to the duty to prudently select those options in the first place. Please see our February 1, 2022, article on the Court’s decision.
Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice Sotomayor was especially critical of the Seventh Circuit’s rationale that the mere availability of some “prudent” investment options in a retirement plan precluded any need to review the investment options on offer: “That reasoning [is] flawed. Such a categorical rule is inconsistent with the context-specific inquiry that ERISA requires and fails to take into account [Northwestern’s] duty to monitor all plan investments and remove any imprudent ones.”
Considering this directive, the Seventh Circuit reassessed the plaintiffs’ claims as follows:
Retirement plan fiduciaries should take this ruling (as well as the Supreme Court decision preceding it) as a stark reminder that their fiduciary obligations do not end once investment options have been selected. Rather, they’ve only just begun, given their duty to monitor those investment options on an ongoing basis, including removing the imprudent ones as may be required to comply with their obligations to plan participants under ERISA.
April 11, 2023
The IRS recently released its Employee Plans Examination Process Guide, which provides a general explanation of the EP Examination process and provides resources for retirement plan compliance. The guide is divided into six sections:
Employers and plan sponsors should review the guide and be aware of the examination process and their rights in the event of a retirement plan audit.
March 28, 2023
Retirement plan fiduciaries may continue to consider the potential financial benefits of investing in funds that take “the economic effects of climate change and other environmental, social, and corporate governance factors” (“ESG factors”) into account without fear of automatically running afoul of ERISA’s fiduciary duty requirements after President Biden’s veto of a House resolution on March 20, 2023.
The point of controversy was a rule promulgated by the Democratic Biden administration (“the Biden rule”) that changed a Republican rule made final in the waning weeks of the Trump administration (“the Trump rule”). The Trump rule required plan fiduciaries to base investment decisions solely on “pecuniary factors,” defined as factors that a fiduciary “prudently determines” are expected to have a “material effect” on the risk or return of an investment, and was viewed as limiting consideration of ESG factors in plan investment decisions.
Pursuant to President Biden’s executive order (issued just after his inauguration), the DOL announced it would not enforce the Trump rule in March 2021. The DOL then proposed a rule explicitly allowing for the consideration of ESG factors in October 2021 and finalized this rule in December 2022. Please see our December 6, 2022 article for further information regarding the Biden rule. The newly Republican-controlled House of Representatives then passed (and the Senate later agreed to) a resolution to nullify the Biden rule, which President Biden vetoed.
Thus, retirement plan fiduciaries wanting to consider ESG factors can take some comfort that the Biden rule is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. However, its long-term prospects remain murky, especially with the White House up for grabs in 2024.
Fiduciaries should also be mindful that while the Biden rule ensures that taking ESG considerations into account would not be deemed an automatic ERISA violation by those fiduciaries, the rule also does not absolve fiduciaries of ERISA’s standard duty of prudence in investment and financial decisions by simple virtue of those ESG considerations.
That is, the Biden rule is not a “safe harbor” rule. Retirement plan fiduciaries are still required to exercise the same level of prudence and care when considering ESG factors for investment and financial decisions as they are when taking into account any other consideration for the same purposes.
Message to the House of Representatives — President's Veto of H.J. Res 30 »
March 14, 2023
On February 27, 2023, the IRS published a proposed rule in the federal register relating to the use of forfeitures in qualified retirement plans, including a deadline for the use of forfeitures in defined contribution plans. Previous guidance and regulations prohibited plan administrators from applying forfeitures arising from severance of employment, death, or for any other reason to increase the benefits any employee would otherwise receive under the plan. Previous regulations also required plan administrators to use those forfeited amounts as soon as possible to reduce the employer's contributions under the plan. However, the agency determined that subsequent regulation that established minimum funding requirements for defined benefits plans made the requirement to use the forfeitures “as soon as possible” infeasible.
Under the proposed rule, plan administrators can use forfeitures in the following ways to:
Note that the proposed rule does not prohibit a plan document from specifying only one use for forfeitures, but the plan may fail operationally if forfeitures in a given year exceed the amount that may be used for that one purpose.
The proposed rule also requires that plan administrators use forfeitures no later than 12 months after the close of the plan year in which the forfeitures are incurred.
The proposed regulations will apply for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2024. Thus, for example, the deadline for the use of defined contribution plan forfeitures incurred in a plan year beginning during 2024 will be 12 months after the end of that plan year. Taxpayers, however, may rely on these proposed regulations for periods preceding the applicability date.
The agency asks for comments within 90 days from February 27, 2023. The agency specifically asks for comments concerning:
Retirement plan sponsors should be aware of this proposed rule and monitor developments.
Federal Register: Use of Forfeitures in Qualified Retirement Plans »
SECURE 2.0, which we covered in detail in our January 4, 2023, edition of Compliance Corner, delayed the required beginning date for required minimum distributions (RMDs) for IRA owners. IRS Notice 2023-23 provides relief for financial institutions tasked with filing Form 5498 (IRA Contribution Information) for individuals for whom an RMD would have been due in 2023 had the delay under SECURE 2.0 not occurred.
However, the delayed beginning date may result in some financial institutions sending Form 5498 erroneously. Therefore, as long as the IRA owner is notified by the financial institution no later than April 28, 2023, that an RMD is not actually required for 2023, the financial institution will be in compliance.
The IRS encourages financial institutions to clearly communicate these RMD changes to affected individuals.
IRS Notice: Relief for Reporting Required Minimum Distributions for IRAs for 2023 »
February 28, 2023
On February 13, 2023, in American Securities Association v. DOL, a Florida district court struck down portions of 2021 DOL interpretive guidance regarding Prohibited Transaction Exemption (PTE) 2020-02 that expanded the circumstances in which an investment advisor is subject to fiduciary duties under ERISA.
Under a 1975 DOL regulation, an ERISA retirement plan fiduciary includes a person who, pursuant to a mutual agreement, renders individualized investment advice to the plan “on a regular basis,” where the advice will serve “as a primary basis” for investment decisions with respect to plan assets. PTE 2020-02 permits financial professionals who provide fiduciary investment advice to retirement investors to receive compensation otherwise prohibited by ERISA and extends to rollover transactions arising from a plan to an IRA. The 2021 guidance, which was in the form of FAQs, addressed the question of when a recommendation to roll over plan assets into an IRA was considered “on a regular basis” under the fiduciary rule. Specifically, DOL FAQ #7 indicated that if the rollover recommendation were part of an ongoing relationship or the beginning of an intended future relationship, then it would trigger fiduciary duties under ERISA.
The lawsuit was brought by the American Securities Association (ASA), a trade association of regional financial services firms, whose members were concerned that a single rollover recommendation by an advisor could result in significant additional compliance costs and obligations to qualify for PTE 2020-02. ASA argued that the policy referenced in FAQ #7 was a legislative rule rather than an interpretive rule that improperly amended the existing DOL rule without the required notice and comment period.
The court did not agree that the guidance was a legislative rule. However, the court vacated parts of the rule due to inconsistency with ERISA. In the court’s view, because investment advice to a plan must be given on a regular basis to trigger fiduciary duties, the definition excludes one-time transactions like IRA rollovers. For example, the future provision of advice pertaining to an IRA would not fall within the definition of rendering investment advice to an employee benefit plan because assets kept in an IRA are no longer workplace plan assets.
Although other courts have ruled similarly on this issue, the final outcome is unknown. The DOL may appeal the decision to ensure that rollover transactions are properly regulated. Alternatively, the DOL might issue new guidance that considers the court’s ruling.
Retirement plan sponsors should be aware of the decision and monitor for additional developments.
On February 24, 2023, the DOL, IRS and Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (collectively, “agencies”) released a final rule announcing changes to the Form 5500 and Form 5500-SF and related instructions. These changes will go into effect for the 2023 annual reports. The changes to the forms and instructions address the remaining changes originally proposed in September 2021 (see our September 28, 2021, Compliance Corner article). Some changes, mostly related to defined benefit plans, were previously implemented in 2022 (see our June 7, 2022, Compliance Corner article).
Highlights of the final set of changes include, but are not limited to:
The notice provides illustrations of the changes to the forms and instructions. Advance copies of the 2023 forms and instructions will be released later this year.
Sponsors of retirement plans should be aware of the upcoming changes to Form 5500.
Federal Register: Annual Information Return/Reports »
Fact Sheet: Changes for the 2023 Form 5500 and Form 5500-SF Annual Return/Reports »
February 14, 2023
On February 6, 2023, the IRS released an Operational Compliance List (OC List) to help plan sponsors and practitioners achieve operational compliance by identifying changes in qualification and Code Section 403(b) requirements effective during a calendar year. The OC List was posted pursuant to IRS Revenue Procedure 2022-40, which was issued on November 7, 2022, and allows 403(b) retirement plans to use the same individually designed retirement plan determination letter program currently used by qualified retirement plans. Please see our December 6, 2022, article for further information on IRS Revenue Procedure 2022-40.
The OC list is available on the IRS website and identifies matters that may involve either mandatory or discretionary plan amendments or significant guidance that affects daily plan operations. The IRS updates the OC List periodically to reflect new legislation and IRS guidance.
Examples of items updated in 2023 include, but are not limited to:
However, the OC List is not intended to be a comprehensive list of every item of IRS guidance or new legislation for a year that could affect a particular plan. I.e., a plan must comply operationally with each relevant IRS requirement, even if the requirement is not included on the OC List. Additionally, a plan must be operated in compliance with a change in requirements from the effective date of the change.
Sponsors of qualified and 403(b) retirement plans may want to review the OC List and should consult with their advisors for further information.
On February 8, 2023, the IRS released Announcement 2023-6, indicating that they intend to issue opinion letters for pre-approved defined benefit plans that were amended based on the 2020 plan qualification requirements changes and were filed with the third six-year remedial amendment cycle. The IRS expects to issue the opinion letters on and after February 28, 2023.
Beginning in 2016, the IRS implemented a staggered remedial amendment process for pre-approved plans by creating separate six-year remedial amendment cycles. Originally, the third cycle was set to end on January 31, 2025. This announcement extends the third six-year remedial amendment cycle to March 31, 2025. As such, employer plan sponsors that would like to maintain their pre-approved defined benefit plan for the third six-year remedial amendment cycle will have from April 1, 2023, to March 31, 2025, to submit applications for individual determination letters. The IRS provided additional guidance on this update in Revenue Procedure 2023-4.
Defined benefit plan sponsors should be aware of this guidance and work with their service providers in adopting their plan documents.
January 31, 2023
On January 26, 2023, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) issued a final rule providing a withdrawal liability condition exception for certain multiemployer pension plans that access special financial assistance (SFA). As background, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) authorized PBGC to provide SFA to multiemployer pension plans that are in critical and declining or critical status, were approved to suspend benefits under the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014, or became insolvent after December 16, 2014, but have not been terminated. The changes in this rule were made after the PBGC received comments concerning the SFA final rule.
Under ERISA, employers that withdraw from underfunded multiemployer plans would generally owe withdrawal liability, which represents that employer’s share of unfunded vested benefits. The SFA final rule included rules on how plans must go about calculating withdrawal liability. This final rule provides an exception process whereby withdrawing plan sponsors may request an exception from withdrawal liability conditions if they can show that the exception won’t increase the risk of loss to the plan or the expected employer withdrawals. The final rule indicates that a plan may submit an exception request before the SFA application is filed or before a revised application is filed.
Employer plan sponsors that are a part of a multiemployer plan that took advantage of the SFA should be aware of this new exception to the withdrawal liability conditions and work with their service provider to comply with all PBGC requirements.
Special Financial Assistance by PBGC – Withdrawal Liability Condition Exception »
January 18, 2023
On January 3, 2023, the IRS released Revenue Procedure (Rev. Proc.) 2023-4, which outlines the procedures for requesting determination letters and private letter rulings from the IRS for qualified retirement plans. Rev. Proc. 2023-4, which is published in Internal Revenue Bulletin 2023-01, is a general update to the information previously provided in Rev. Proc. 2022-4. Determination letters indicate whether the IRS finds the form of an employer’s employee benefit plan document meets the necessary qualification requirements. Private letter rulings interpret and apply the Internal Revenue Code to a set of facts presented by a taxpayer.
In addition to minor non-substantive changes, the updates include the following:
Retirement plan sponsors who may apply for a determination letter or request a private letter ruling should familiarize themselves with this updated guidance.
On January 12, 2023, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) published revised civil penalty amounts for failure to provide certain notices or other material information, as required by ERISA. The amounts apply to penalties assessed on or after the publication date. The adjusted maximum amounts are $2,586 (up from $2,400) for Section 4071 penalties and $345 (up from $320) for Section 4302 penalties, which are related to multiemployer plan notices.
The IRS recently released the new Form W-4R, Withholding Certificate for Nonperiodic Payments and Eligible Rollover Distributions, to replace Form W-4P, Withholding Certificate for Periodic Pension or Annuity Payments, in certain instances. Form W-4P, and now Form W-4R as well, are used to address federal income tax withholding for taxable IRA distributions.
Form W-4R was optional in 2022 but is now required in 2023 for IRA distributions considered nonperiodic, which are those paid on demand as opposed to a specific schedule. Form W-4R will be updated annually to incorporate current marginal tax rate tables, which are used as part of the withholding calculation. Individuals receiving IRA distributions should familiarize themselves with the new form and consult with their tax advisor on applying each form to their situation.
January 04, 2023
On December 29, 2022, President Biden signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 (HR 2617) into law. The main purpose of this legislation is to continue funding certain government operations. However, the bill also adopts the SECURE 2.0 Act of 2022 (SECURE 2.0) relating to retirement plans.
SECURE 2.0 follows the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (SECURE Act), which was passed as part of the 2020 appropriations bill. (You can read about the SECURE Act in the January 7, 2020, edition of Compliance Corner.) SECURE Act 2.0 introduces new provisions affecting how retirement plans are offered, and it amends some of the provisions found in the SECURE Act.
As background, SECURE 2.0 comes after multiple follow-ups to the SECURE Act that were introduced in the House and Senate. First, the Securing a Strong Retirement Act was passed in the House in March 2022. Next, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved a version known as the Retirement Improvement and Savings Enhancement to Supplement Healthy Investments for the Nest Egg (RISE & SHINE) Act in June 2022. Finally, the Senate Finance Committee approved the Enhancing American Retirement Now (EARN) Act in September 2022. SECURE 2.0 includes provisions from each of those bills.
SECURE 2.0 is broken up into seven titles, and some of the major provisions affecting employer-sponsored retirement plans are summarized as such:
Like the SECURE Act, this legislation will overhaul of many of the retirement regulations that have been in place for decades. Some provisions of the bill are effective upon enactment; others are effective for plan years beginning January 1, 2023, while others will become effective at later dates. Retirement plan sponsors should work with their plan advisers, recordkeepers and other service providers to amend their plan as necessary.
Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 (SECURE Act begins on page 817) »
On December 30, 2022, the IRS proposed regulations to permanently change retirement plan rules that require certain participant elections and spousal consents to be witnessed in the physical presence of a notary or plan representative. If specified conditions are met, the proposed regulations will allow affected qualified retirement plans to also accept remote notarization or witnessing by a plan representative.
IRS regulations have historically required that certain participant elections and spousal consents (e.g., a defined benefit plan lump sum distribution) be physically witnessed by a notary public or plan representative. However, in Notice 2020-42, the IRS provided temporary COVID-19 relief from the physical presence requirement and allowed the use of an electronic medium for participant elections and spousal consents. This relief was extended several times but was set to expire at the end of 2022. (For further details on IRS Notices 2020-42 and the subsequent relief extensions, please see our June 9, 2020, January 5, 2021, and July 7, 2021, Compliance Corner editions.) The proposed regulations make this relief permanent, with modifications.
Under the proposed regulations, a participant election or spousal consent witnessed remotely by a notary public or plan representative must satisfy the general requirements for participant electronic elections. Under these requirements, the electronic system must be one that the individual making the election can effectively access and that is reasonably designed to prevent anyone else from making the election. The system must also give the individual a reasonable opportunity to review, confirm, modify or rescind the election before it becomes effective and provide a compliant paper or electronic election confirmation within a reasonable time.
Additionally, for a plan to accept remote witnessing by a notary public, the notary public must witness the signature of the individual (e.g., spouse) signing the consent using live audio-video technology and adhere to applicable state laws.
If a plan representative performs the remote witnessing, the process must also meet the following requirements:
Retirement plan sponsors should be aware of the proposed regulations and may welcome the flexibility to allow remote witnessing on a permanent basis. However, sponsors are not required to permit remote witnessing. If the sponsor chooses to do so, remote witnessing cannot be the sole option. (Sponsors must still accept notarizations witnessed in the physical presence of a notary.)
Comments on the proposed regulations are being accepted through March 30, 2023, and a telephonic public hearing has been scheduled for April 11, 2023, at 10:00 a.m. Final regulations, once issued, are proposed to apply six months after publication in the Federal Register. Sponsors are permitted to rely upon the proposed regulations in the interim.