GASB 74/75: Depletion date projections

In this article, Milliman’s William Winningham discusses the determination of an OPEB plan’s depletion date, which is the projected point in the future (if any) when plan assets are no longer sufficient to satisfy benefit obligations. He also talks about the impact on liability calculations that would result from a conclusion that a depletion date exists.

This article is part of Milliman’s GASB 73/74/75 series.

PBGC proposes late payment penalty relief

Hagin NeilThe Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) insures the pension benefits accrued by participants covered under private-sector defined benefit pension plans in the event the employer sponsoring the plan becomes insolvent. If a plan sponsor is unable to meet its benefit obligation to participants, the PBGC will pay the pension benefit, but only up to certain limits established under Department of Labor regulations.

PBGC collects premiums from the employers, i.e., plan sponsors, in order to provide this federally mandated insurance. The premium for single-employer plans has two components: a flat dollar (flat rate) premium, which is simply a flat dollar charge for each participant covered under the plan, and a variable rate premium, which is a percentage of the deficit between the pension assets and the actuarially determined pension obligation (also referred to as the “unfunded vested benefits”).

Recent pension law changes have increased both the flat and variable premium rates used to determine the total annual premium paid to insure single-employer defined benefit plans. As a result, plan sponsors are and will be paying substantially higher premiums than they have in the past. For example, the flat rate premium in 2012 was $35 per participant; in 2016 it is $64 per participant, and will increase to $80 per participant in 2019. In 2012 the variable rate premium was $9 per $1,000 of unfunded vested benefits. For 2016 the variable rate premium is $30 per $1,000 of unfunded vested benefits and will increase to at least $41 in 2019.

A consequence of the dramatic rise in PBGC premiums is that the penalty for submitting premium payments after they are due, i.e., filing late, has also increased, as the penalty imposed by the PBGC is determined as a percentage of the unpaid premium. Currently, the penalty for plan sponsors that self-correct an underpaid filing is 1% per month (capped at 50%) of the unpaid amount. A plan sponsor can self-correct a late filing as long as the PBGC has not notified the plan sponsor that there is or may be an underpayment. For plan sponsors that receive notice from the PBGC that there is, or may be, an underpayment, the penalty is 5% per month (capped at 100%) of the unpaid amount.

The PBGC recently proposed a reduction to the penalty amount to reduce the financial burden imposed on plan sponsors. The proposed rule change would reduce the penalty by 50%; the self-correcting penalty will be reduced from 1% to 0.5% per month with a 25% cap and from 5% to 2.5% per month with a 50% cap for filings in which the PBGC gives notice.

The PBGC also proposed creating a new penalty waiver for plan sponsors that have a “good” compliance history and that act promptly to correct any underpayments. A plan would be considered to have a good compliance history if payment of all premiums for the five plan years preceding the year of the delinquency was made on time. A late payment would not be assessed against a plan if the PBGC did not require payment of a penalty (e.g., when an entire penalty is waived). The PBGC would consider the correction to be prompt if the premium shortfall for which the penalty is assessed was made good within 30 days after the PBGC notified the plan in writing that there was, or might be, a problem. If both of the conditions are met, the PBGC will waive 80% of any resulting penalty. Under this scenario, the penalty would be reduced from 2.5% per month to 0.5% per month, which is the same amount as if the plan had self-corrected.

This proposal could drastically reduce the financial burden imposed on a plan for underpaid and late filings. For example, a plan with a $1 million premium that is two months late (after notice from the PBGC) would have a $100,000 penalty (two months at 5% per month times the amount outstanding) under the current regulation. Under the proposed regulation, this penalty would be reduced to $50,000. The penalty could be further reduced to $10,000, if the plan is eligible for the compliant plan partial waiver of 80%.

Comments on the proposal are due to the PBGC by June 27, 2016. Only after the comments are reviewed and finalized will plan sponsors know when these new reduced penalties would be effective. Until then, plan sponsors are urged to file on time to avoid the mandated penalties.

Quantifying retirement programs competitiveness

In this case study, Milliman’s John Wukitsch and Neil Hagin explain how a “peer group” analysis helped one large employer gauge the competitiveness of its retirement benefits program. The analysis provided a comparison of five competing programs, demonstrating to the employer that it needed to offer more generous retirement benefits to keep employees satisfied and retain key talent.

Investment gains and favorable interest rate movement power improvement in pension funded status

Wadia_ZorastMilliman today released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index (PFI), which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. In May, these pension plans experienced a $10 billion increase in funded status due to increases in pension asset values and decreases in in pension liabilities. The funded status for these pensions increased from 77.0% to 77.5%.

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For the first time this year we saw positive interest rate movement. Declining discount rates have increased pension liabilities by more than $100 billion for the year. Last month’s modest $7 billion decrease in liabilities is a move in the right direction.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 4.03% by the end of 2016 and 4.63% by the end of 2017) and asset gains (11.2% annual returns), the funded ratio would climb to 84% by the end of 2016 and 96% by the end of 2017. Under a pessimistic forecast (3.33% discount rate at the end of 2016 and 2.73% by the end of 2017 and 3.2% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 73% by the end of 2016 and 67% by the end of 2017.

Regulatory roundup

More retirement-related regulatory news for plan sponsors, including links to detailed information.

IRS’ ACT submits analysis and recommendations on changes to the Determination Letter Program
The IRS’ Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities (ACT) held a public meeting and submitted its annual report and recommendations to the IRS. The ACT includes external stakeholders and representatives who deal with employee retirement plans; tax-exempt organizations; tax-exempt bonds; federal, state, local and Indian tribal governments. They advise the IRS on operational policy and procedural improvements.

To learn more, click here.

Multiemployer compliance trends and tips
The IRS has posted multiemployer plan compliance tips and trends collected by the Employee Plans Team Audit (EPTA) program. Multiemployer plans have unique characteristics that impact daily plan operation. EPTA audits have focused on issues in connection with participation agreements, conflicts among plan documents, participation by non-collectively bargained employees and actuarial adjustments.

To learn more, click here.

IRS guidance on recovery of investment in contract from payments received from qualified DB plan during phased retirement
The Internal Revenue Service has released Notice 2016-39 and Revenue Procedure 2016-36. Notice 2016-39 provides guidance as to whether payments received by an employee from a qualified retirement plan during phased retirement are amounts received as an annuity under section 72 of the Internal Revenue Code.

Revenue Procedure 2016-36 provides that Notice 2016-39, recovery of investment in the contract from payments received from a retirement plan by an employee during phased retirement, does not apply to amounts that are received from a non-qualified contract. The revenue procedure concludes that in applying the § 72 regulations cited in the Notice to a non-qualified contract, the possibility of further contributions to the contract or a subsequent election under the contract to receive the benefit payable under the contract in a different manner generally will not affect the determination of whether distributions are amounts received as an annuity.

To read Notice 2016-39, click here.
To read Rev. Proc. 2016-36, click here.

GASB 73/74/75: Timing considerations for compliance with new financial reporting rules

GASB Statements 74 and 75 mandate changes to the way liabilities are reported on financial statements for state and local governments with other postemployment benefits (OPEB) obligations. These changes are designed to standardize the way OPEB expense is calculated and displayed in order to enhance disclosure and facilitate decision-making. There are several important dates to consider when calculating and reporting OPEB liability: the reporting date, actuarial valuation rate, and measurement date. Milliman’s Rebecca Ross provides perspective in this PERiScope article.

A “Sign O’ the Times” for 401(k) plans?

Laursen DarleneTimes have changed since 401(k) plans were started back in the ’80s, just like hair styles and rock bands. Where most 401(k) plans only offered a lump-sum distribution option, the new trend in retirement plans may have you facing a decision. Could additional options, such as installments and ad hoc distributions, be the new featured value to plan participants? Could a lack of more distribution options be affecting participants’ distribution behaviors? Let’s look at the options and effects for the participants.

A 401(k) retirement plan that offers only a lump-sum distribution option requires participants to move the full account balance before they can even access one dollar from their accounts. While this may seem like no big deal, let’s turn this soup can around and read more about this lump sum on the label. It may provide greater insight into the lump-sum option.

If the need for cash at retirement is immediate, a participant may be forced to distribute the full account balance when the investment market is down. Participants would be locking in the investment loss on their entire account. This effect of the lump-sum distribution option affects participants whether rolling over their account or taking a distribution in cash.

These same lump-sum distributions can also adversely affect the plan as a whole. You may be scratching your head at this point and asking what do you mean? How can only having the lump-sum distribution option adversely affect the plan? Consider the scenario of a large population of plan participants retiring or terminating within a similar time period and possibly carrying away the larger balances in the plan. A tsunami of lump-sum distributions may trigger a significant drop in the total plan assets. This drop in assets may adversely affect the asset pricing structure for the remaining population of participants in the plan, creating a higher asset expense. Not to be a downer on lump-sum distributions, as they certainly have their place in retirement plans, but it may be time to consider offering additional options.

Installment payments can be a second option for a retirement plan. I like to call them the “Pac-Man” of the payment structures. This stream of same bite-size payments works like the Pac-Man arcade game. Pac-Man just kept munching his way around the board, eating until every bite was gone. The upside to installment payments is that participants can have a steady stream of income from the retirement plan and still remain invested. The participant continues to glean the benefit of lower investment pricing by remaining a participant in the plan. What participants should be considering, however, is the effect of these steady Pac-Man installment payments, which continue to happen in a downward investment market. Those installment payments can result in a larger reduction or faster depletion of a participant’s account than planned. For plan sponsors who offer the installment payment option, it is one way of potentially slowing down abrupt changes to the assets in the plan.

The third option, ad hoc distributions, may be considered the most flexible option in retirement plans. Let’s unpack how the ad hoc option can provide an ongoing investment benefit as well as distribution flexibility through retirement. Participants can leave their retirement accounts in the plan and remain invested in the plan’s institutional fund options. The ability to request a distribution when needed, or at the peak of a market upswing, can provide the ability to manage retirement drawdown. For participants who can afford to retire on other sources of income but may incur an unexpected medical cost during retirement, the ad hoc option provides a financial source to tap into only when needed.

Each distribution option has something to offer plan participants. Is it time to offer all three?

DOL’s final overtime rule may affect retirement, other benefit programs

The Department of Labor issued a final rule on the overtime pay requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for most “white-collar employees,” effective December 1, 2016. Although the final rule focuses on paying time-and-a-half for hours worked in excess of 40 per week, it includes other new requirements that could have implications for sponsors of retirement plans (primarily 401[k] and similar arrangements), depending on the inclusion or exclusion of overtime pay and/or bonuses in the plan’s formula for employer contributions. The final rule also might affect a retirement or other benefit plan’s participation base, if salaried (exempt) employees are treated differently from hourly (nonexempt) employees, or it could raise concerns if the programs shift toward favoring the highly compensated. Milliman’s latest Client Action Bulletin offers more perspective.

Spot rate methodology: Plans are making the switch

Moliterno-MariaIn April, Milliman released its 2016 Pension Funding Study. The study looks at the 2015 year end GAAP accounting results for the 100 largest defined benefit corporate pension plan sponsors. A surprising feature of this year’s study is that 37 of the 100 companies in the study disclosed on their Form 10-K financial statements their intentions to value their 2016 net periodic pension cost results using an alternative spot rate method.

Under the standard method typically used for determining pension expense, the yield curve is used to first determine the present value of plan liability. A single equivalent discount rate is determined that produces the same liability. This equivalent discount rate is then used for all purposes in the expense calculation that requires interest adjustments, including calculation of interest and service costs.

The spot rate method is an alternative method to calculate interest and service costs. Calculating the plan’s liability under the spot rate method is similar to the standard method, as the yield curve is used to determine the liability as the present value of payout streams. However, under the spot rate method, costs are developed using the individual spot rates of the yield curve for each year of expected costs. The interest cost for the year is developed by applying each individual spot rate under the yield curve to each corresponding cash flow discounted to the beginning of the year. Because the current shape of the yield curve has low interest rates in the early years and higher rates over time, payouts expected in the next few years are valued at lower rates than in the future. For example, the December 31, 2015, Citigroup Yield Curve has a rate of 1.34% for year 1 and 4.54% for year 20.

With 37 of the 100 pension plan sponsors analyzed planning on adopting the spot rate methodology in 2016 for some or all of their plans, the change is expected to result in savings in the 2016 pension expense for them. According to the 2016 Pension Funding Study, if all 100 companies adopted the spot rate methodology for all of their plans, the 2016 pension expense savings is estimated to be $14 billion (assuming a 20% reduction in the interest cost for a typical company).

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Regulatory roundup

More retirement-related regulatory news for plan sponsors, including links to detailed information.

IRS posts checklists for retirement plan documents
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) published checklists for retirement plan documents categorized into subject matter packages that employee plans specialists use when reviewing retirement plan documents. Plan sponsors can also use these packages as a review tool before submitting a determination letter application to the IRS.

For more information, click here.

New guidelines for pension equity plan determination letters
The IRS recently improved its processing of determination letter applications for pension equity plans (PEPs) by training a specialized cadre in “EP Determinations.” It has issued the following procedural guidelines for IRS employees:

• PEP Determinations Worksheet
• Explanation of PEP Plan Issues (corresponds to the Worksheet)
• Memorandum to the EP Determinations PEP Cadre on the PEP accrued benefit (PEP Memorandum)

For more information, click here.