Category Archives: Defined contribution

Approach 401(k) eligibility provisions strategically

Employers who take a strategic approach to defining eligibility provisions in a 401(k) plan can contain benefit costs, recruit and retain talent, simplify administration, and comply with regulations. In his article “Making participants out of employees via eligibility,” Milliman’s Noah Buck answers six strategic questions that plan sponsors should take into consideration. The excerpt below highlights two of the questions.

To what degree is the plan used to attract and retain talent?
A law firm does not want highly sought-after recruits joining a competing law firm down the road because they can enter the competing firm’s retirement plan sooner. Employers relying partially on their 401(k) plans for recruitment should consider that quicker and easier access to the plan will be more attractive to those in their prospective talent pools.

Are eligibility and entry date provisions cost-efficient with respect to turnover and vesting?
An organization’s turnover rate and average employee tenure are important to consider. A restaurant chain employing high-turnover wait staff will save cost and administrative energy by requiring employees to work six months before entering the plan instead of requiring one month.

It’s also important to consider the plan’s vesting provisions. If the plan has immediate vesting, the employer matching contributions — meant to supplement long-term retirement savings — could be going right out the door to short-term employees who are allowed to enter the plan too quickly. Employers should consider structuring eligibility and plan entry provisions so employer contributions are more likely to stay in-house with longer-term employees.

Retirement income considerations

The latest issue of Milliman’s Benefit Perspectives features two articles that focus on 401(k) plans and retirement income. “Helping employers in their retirement: 401(k) decisions, decisions, decisions!” by Jinnie Olson explores options employers can implement to help employees access retirement savings. A second article, “Helping 401(k) plan participants calculate withdrawal rates in retirement,” by Matt Kaufman, focuses on calculating withdrawal rates in retirement.

Milliman adds Jacobs Management Corporation as retirement services client

I’m happy to announce that Milliman has added Jacobs Management Corporation as a defined contribution client. Jacobs Management Corporation is a privately held corporation which includes FLW, LLC, a premier tournament fishing organization; The J.R. Watkins Company, America’s original apothecary manufacturer; Larson Boats, best known for their experience in quality boat manufacturing; Marquis Yachts, a builder of luxury and sport yachts; and Jacobs Trading Company, a recognized leader in the closeout trading industry.

David Mahler, Vice President-Treasurer at Jacobs Management Corporation, says, “We chose Milliman for their reputation as a trusted service provider who values commitment to client service. In addition, the website is user friendly and includes robust tools to assist participants in planning for retirement. Partnership with providers is critical, and Milliman’s unique ability to design services and systems to meet the needs of all of our companies was a strong factor in our decision making.”

At Milliman we believe most plan sponsors want strong service and a commitment to the industry, not just a low-cost or product-oriented sales pitch. Our focus is to provide superior service and value that exceeds our clients’ expectations. Jacobs Management Corporation recognized this when they chose Milliman as their provider, and we look forward to an enduring relationship with them.

Milliman will provide recordkeeping, administration, communications and compliance services for the Jacobs Group 401(k) Plan. Advanced Capital Group, headquartered in Minneapolis, assisted with the recordkeeper search and is the independent investment advisor providing consulting services for the plan.

For more information about Milliman’s employee benefit services, click here.

Linking NDCPs with 401(k) requires a “contingency” plan for compliance

Pizzano-DominickThis blog is part of a 12-part series entitled “The nonqualified deferred compensation plan (NDCP) dirty dozen: An administrative guide to avoiding 12 traps.” To read the introduction to the series, click here.

Last month’s blog discussed similarities and differences between the rules governing participant deferrals made under a nonqualified deferred compensation plan (NDCP) versus those contributed to a qualified 401(k) plan. This month’s entry will again turn to the NDCP-401(k) connection; however, this time it will show that when NDCP sponsors choose to link their NDCP’s benefits with their 401(k) plans’, they must be aware of and comply with not only Internal Revenue Code Section 409A’s restrictions but also Section 401(k)’s “contingent benefit rule” (CBR). While such compliance does not directly affect the NDCP, it is a qualification requirement for the 401(k) plan.

In general, an employer may not directly or indirectly condition another employer benefit (other than matching contributions) upon an employee’s election to make or not make elective contributions. If the employer conditions any such other employer benefit upon elective contributions, it is a qualification defect. The purpose of this rule is to prevent employers from encouraging employees to make or not make elective contributions by linking valuable benefits to their contributions or lack of contributions. These other benefits include but are not limited to the following:

• Benefits under a defined benefit plan
• Nonelective employer contributions to a defined contribution plan
• The right to make after-tax employee contributions
• The right to health and life insurance
• The right to employment
• Benefits under a NDCP

Because NDCP benefits are included among the items for which 401(k) contingency is prohibited, NDCP sponsors must guard against including provisions in their NDCPs under which participants may receive additional deferred compensation under the NDCP, depending on whether they make or do not make 401(k) elective contributions. Each of the following three examples illustrates provisions that would create such a contingent benefit and thus a violation of the CBR:

Example 1: Employer T maintains a 401(k) plan for all of its employees and a NDCP for two highly paid executives, Employees R and C. Under the terms of the NDCP, R and C are eligible to participate only if they do not make elective contributions under the 401(k) plan. Participation in the NDCP is a contingent benefit because R’s and C’s participation is conditioned on their electing not to make elective contributions under the 401(k) plan.

Example 2: Assume the same fact pattern as Example 1 except that this time, under the terms of the NDCP, Employees R and C may defer a maximum of 15% of their compensation and may allocate their deferrals between the 401(k) plan and the NDCP in any way they choose (subject to the overall 15% maximum). Because the maximum deferral available under the NDCP depends on the elective deferrals made under the 401(k) plan, the right to participate in the NDCP is a contingent benefit.

Example 3: Employer S maintains three plans: a 401(k) plan, a qualified defined benefit (DB) plan, and a defined benefit NDCP. Under the terms of the NDCP, each participant’s NDCP benefit is offset not only by the qualified DB plan benefit but also by the total account balance under the 401(k) plan. Because the amount a participant elects to defer or not defer under the 401(k) will directly affect the amount of the offset and thus the resulting NDCP benefit, the offset is a contingent benefit.

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Avoiding poverty in a DC-only world

Bradley_JeffIn a defined contribution (DC) world, retirees are forced to make critical decisions, often with little or no assistance. Most of these individuals choose to take a single lump-sum distribution either immediately or soon after they terminate employment.

This paper from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College asserts that distribution provisions in DC plans are critical factors in evaluating the risk of falling into poverty in old age.

Specifically, the paper states that reliance on non-annuitized DC benefits with fairly easy access to lump-sum distributions puts elderly households at risk of not having sufficient income (or assets) to sustain themselves or, if they are not already in poverty at retirement, falling into poverty as the household members age or die off.

As workers continue to age, this will become a greater problem as those covered by defined benefit plans retire from the workforce and are replaced by those covered only by DC plans. So what can plan sponsors do to minimize the probability of their retirees falling into poverty?

Extrapolating from thoughts in the paper, the conclusion is that plan sponsors should encourage the following behaviors:

• Not taking lump-sum distributions before retirement
• Annuitizing some or all DC benefits when possible
• Choosing joint-and-survivor options when available

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Milliman launches enhanced defined contribution participant website

Milliman today announced the launch of its latest in a series of website enhancements for its defined contribution clients and their plan participants.

New features on MillimanBenefits.com include an interactive “It’s Your Move” dashboard with tools that support successful retirement behaviors, such as saving enough to get the company match, diversifying investments, and utilizing automatic increase and automatic rebalance features—all with a refreshed look and feel. The site enhancements build on Milliman’s robust PlanAhead for Retirement® projection tool, educational Financial Resources Center, and award-winning mobile application.

“Our consultants are excited to offer these new features to our clients. More than ever, our clients understand that it’s important to encourage constructive behavior in this age when too many people are not saving enough for retirement,” says Jeff Budin, Milliman’s global employee benefits practice leader. “From a behavioral finance perspective, it’s helpful to participants to see a list of items they are doing well next to some additional actions they could take to strengthen their account with the simple click of a mouse.”

To learn more about Milliman’s independent, conflict-free approach to recordkeeping in the defined contribution industry, click here.

409A deferral election results: A mixed bag

Pizzano-DominickThis blog is part of a 12-part series entitled “The nonqualified deferred compensation plan (NDCP) dirty dozen: An administrative guide to avoiding 12 traps.” To read the introduction to the series, click here.

The process of deferring a portion of a participant’s pay under a nonqualified deferred compensation plan (NDCP) can, at first glance, appear quite similar to how such deferral would be handled under a 401(k) plan. Participants designate a specified dollar amount or percentage of their pay they wish to defer under the plan. The plan sponsor then arranges for such amounts to be deducted from the participants’ pay and allocated to an account maintained on their behalf under the plan. However, upon delving deeper, we see stark differences that must be observed by NDCP participants and sponsors in order to comply with Internal Revenue Code Section 409A. As with many of 409A’s rules, the restrictions on deferral elections require tight timing. This blog will highlight the differences between permissible 401(k) and NDCP deferral elections while also describing some of the plan design options available to provide participants with at least some flexibility when making their NDCP deferral elections with respect to salary and bonuses. While 409A also contains specific rules governing other types of deferrals (e.g., short-term deferrals, commission, etc.), analysis of such rules is beyond the scope of this series.

NDCP deferrals: Generally “Election Day” comes just once a year
Typically, 401(k) plans permit participants to make deferral elections as soon as their first payroll periods coincident with or next following the date on which they meet the plan’s eligibility requirements. If any participant fails to defer when first eligible, a 401(k) plan could allow them to begin deferring as of any subsequent payroll period. Similarly, a 401(k) plan can generally permit participants to increase, decrease, or discontinue their rates of deferrals as of any subsequent payroll period. In contrast, while a participant’s initial deferral opportunities under an NDCP are somewhat similar to the 401(k) plan, once the first deferral chance passes, there is considerably less flexibility.

Under an NDCP, in the case of the first year in which a participant becomes eligible to participate in the plan (whether it is a brand new plan or an existing plan for which the individual has just become eligible), participants have until 30 days after they first become eligible to make their salary deferral elections. Such elections must only apply to compensation (whether in the form of salary or bonus) paid for services to be performed beginning with the first payroll period after the election. If participants pass on this initial deferral option, they will not have another deferral opportunity until January 1 of the next calendar year. Similarly, for those participants who do elect to defer a portion of their salaries when first eligible, no changes to such initial elections can be made until January 1 of the next calendar year.

Because all NDCP deferral elections (including elections not to defer) are “locked in” for the calendar year in which they are made, plan sponsors need to be sure that their corporate cultures and populations are the right fit and that they have effectively provided the appropriate caveats before deciding to offer participants “evergreen elections.” Under such elections participants have the ability to make an NDCP deferral election and then have that election automatically roll over from year to year unless they specify otherwise before the applicable January 1. Without such a fit and/or without any proactive measures in place, such a design runs the risk of participants forgetting to get decrease or discontinuance requests to sponsors on time and then being stuck for the coming year with deferral rates that they do not want, or worse, may not be able to afford, given their anticipated cash flow and expenses for such year. In order to prevent this predicament, the NDCP sponsor can instead require that the participants reenroll each year by making a new salary election prior to January 1 of each year. This design is particularly effective in decreasing potential participant complaints if combined with a strong annual communications campaign during an open enrollment period that begins as early as October and ends on whichever day in December is the last day that the plan administrator is able to accept the election in order to process it for the first payroll period in January, during which the participant earns pay attributable to services performed in the new year. (Note: any “carry-over” pay from the previous year, i.e., pay earned in the previous year but not payable until January of the current year, will be subject to the previous year’s deferral rate.)

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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.

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?

Fathoming FICA: A lifeline for NDCP sponsors and participants

Pizzano-DominickThis blog is part of a 12-part series entitled “The nonqualified deferred compensation plan (NDCP) dirty dozen: An administrative guide to avoiding 12 traps.” To read the introduction to the series, click here.

Even if nonqualified deferred compensation plan (NDCP) sponsors and participants successfully navigate safe passage through the compliance complexities of Internal Revenue Code section 409A, they both could still sink in a sea of taxes and penalties if they overlook applicable payroll taxes. High on the executive compensation enforcement initiatives of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is increased scrutiny of the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes on NDCP benefits. The resulting penalties for a failure to pay appropriate FICA taxes affect both employers and executives and can be severe: back taxes, interest, fines, and even imprisonment if the misrepresentation or miscalculation of FICA tax amounts is proven to be willful.

Setting bearings straight on FICA taxes
FICA taxes have two components:

• Social Security (Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance, or OASDI) taxes are currently paid by employers and employees at a rate of 6.2%. These taxes are imposed on the employee’s wages up to the Social Security Taxable Wage Base (SSTWB), which is $118,500 for 2016.

• Medicare Hospital Insurance (HI) taxes are paid by employees and employers, both at a rate of 1.45%, on all wages (i.e., no cap) paid to an executive. Beginning in 2013, the rate increased to 2.35% for certain high-income individuals (e.g., those filing taxes as a single individual with more than $200,000 in wages) but remained at 1.45% for the employer portion.

Regardless of whether the source is executive deferrals or employer contributions, NDCP benefits are considered wages and thus are subject to FICA taxes. However, while these taxes are imposed immediately on current compensation, separate rules determine when NDCP benefits become subject to FICA taxes and vary depending on whether the NDCP is an “account balance” or a “non-account balance” plan.

Account balance NDCPs
Also known as “defined contribution”-style NDCPs, these are plans in which participant salary deferrals and/or employer contributions are allocated to one or more accounts established on behalf of the participant. Such allocations accumulate over time and are typically adjusted to reflect either deemed or actual investment experience. Nearly all plans of this type provide 100% immediate vesting.

Account balance NDCPs that call for only participant deferrals offer smooth sailing when applying the FICA taxation rules. The NDCP benefits are generally subject to FICA taxation only to the extent they are vested (i.e., participants will not forfeit benefits because they terminate employment). In addition, the calculation and withholding of the tax mirrors that used for 401(k) deferrals: the FICA tax is applied to the participants’ total gross compensation prior to any reductions made as the result of a deferral. Like 401(k) deferrals, the FICA withholding for NDCP deferrals takes place at the payroll level.

The immediate application of the FICA tax to the NDCP deferrals also enables participants to take advantage of a “non-duplication” FICA tax rule. Under this rule, once a NDCP deferral is taxed for FICA purposes, neither that amount nor any earnings attributable to that amount is ever again treated as wages subject to FICA taxes. Accordingly, when the participant eventually receives a distribution from the NDCP, no FICA taxes apply to the entire account balance (i.e., sum of all deferrals plus investment growth).

However, for NDCPs that credit participants’ accounts with a flat interest rate or a rate attributable to deemed (instead of actual) investment experience, this favorable tax treatment is only available if such crediting rate does not exceed what the IRS considers a “reasonable rate of interest.” While not providing a specific definition of this term, IRS guidance offers acceptable alternatives and contains several ironclad restrictions that prevent “creative” plan designs intended to produce artificially inflated levels of return on participants’ accounts. To the extent that a NDCP credits such excess returns, the portion that is considered excess will not qualify under the non-duplication rule and thus be FICA taxed as additional deferrals.

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