Tag Archives: 401(k)

Weighing income options can prepare individuals for retirement

Pushaw-BartPension plans are providing an ever-decreasing portion of retirement wealth as wave after wave of Baby Boomers reach retirement. In and of itself, this is neither surprising nor remarkable. What is remarkable, though, are two typical characteristics of what we are being left with regarding retirement wealth.

First, the jettison of pension plans means relying on defined contribution plans as the provider of principal retirement wealth. This is suboptimal inasmuch as these plans are typically 401(k) savings plans, originally introduced as a sideline fringe benefit scaled for purposes less than what they’re now required to deliver on. This is mostly a benefit-level issue of which we have seen recent hints of amelioration—namely, the industry recognizing that in an all-account-based retirement world, saving 16% of annual pay is in the ballpark, not the historical mode of 6% employee deferral (plus maybe 6% employer match totaling 12%). This relates to the second endangered characteristic, which needs to be brought into brighter focus: an in-plan solution for generating guaranteed retirement income.

Pension plans are wonderful for participants in that everyone is automatically a participant, automatically earning benefits on a meaningful trajectory, and automatically having the ultimate retirement wealth delivered on a lifetime guaranteed basis. Yes, 401(k) plans are trending this way on the first two, and the third is quickly emerging as another area where we need more pension-like alternatives.

One may generalize by saying that retirees take their 401(k) balances and roll them over when they retire. An economic conundrum baffling academics is that none or very few of these folks take advantage of insured annuities even in the midst of robust studies identifying them as an optimal solution for retirement income in face of investment uncertainty and longevity risks. This raises two subtle yet important points.

Continue reading

Automatic savings increase tool enhances 401(k) plan

Milliman’s automatic savings increase tool helped one bank transition to a defined contribution-focused retirement program. In this article, Noah Buck discusses how the organization’s 401(k) plan achieved higher employee participation as well as greater savings rates two years after plan modifications.

Here’s an excerpt:

Separate from providing guidance and strategy on plan design, Milliman helped the client roll out a secret weapon: Milliman’s voluntary automatic savings increase tool. To be clear, the plan design changes mandated a 1% annual increase up to 10% for any participant who is automatically enrolled. The voluntary automatic savings increase tool is a feature of Milliman’s website that allows participants to elect their own automatic increase schedule. It is a convenient mechanism to help participants update or confirm their current savings rate and choose an annual increase date, the annual incremental increase, and the maximum savings rate. For example, a participant may elect to save at 5% with an annual 1% increase every September 1 until the savings rate reaches 12%. Participants can provide their email address in order to receive a reminder a few weeks before the scheduled annual increase.

The voluntary automatic savings increase tool was not expected to have a major impact. Instead, it was considered something useful to help chip away at the lost 11.5% of annual DB benefits. It was also considered a means for those participants on a tight budget who were not automatically enrolled to increase their savings rates at their own pace.

… As seen in the table below, the average expected total increase in the savings rate for the 35 participants who elected auto-increase is 5.9%, which will roughly double the current average savings rate for this group. This increase, combined with the expanded profit-sharing contribution, is projected to close the 11.5% gap for many employees.

Auto savings increase tool_image

You heard it before, American workers still aren’t saving

Moen-AlexA recent survey shows that Americans are saving more overall, but less in employer-sponsored retirement plans. So how can sponsors and administrators of defined contribution plans solve this? Easy:

1. Use an auto-enrollment design with a default of no less than 6%.
2. If you provide a match, stretch the match to at least 7% or 8% of pay.
3. Consider adding a nonelective (i.e., profit-sharing) contribution.
4. Reenroll all non-savers every six years at the default rate.

Some experts suggest that automatic plan features are the best way to change behavior. This is most likely true, but a New York University (NYU) study suggests that while auto-enrollment gets people into the plan, it is not ensuring that they build secure retirements. All too often employers select the default rate of 3%, which, according to researchers, reduces long-term retirement savings for those who would have enrolled at a higher rate. As consultants, we see this example frequently—a young employee enters the plan automatically and three years later is still at 3%, even though the plan is matching deferral rates up to 6%. Out of sight and out of mind can be dangerous for young employees. The NYU study states that 80% of retirement plans include an employer match contribution, and of those plans, almost half of employees are not maximizing the match. That means that at least half of workers do get it; at the right deferral rate, there is free money on the table. With this in mind, consider an example to illustrate the savings impact of a new match contribution formula: currently, the match is 50% of the first 6% (or maximum of 3% of pay). Why not match 100% of the first 1%, then 25% of the next 8%? In this scenario, we could argue that half of the employee population would defer 9% of pay to get the 3% match. This would produce a total annual contribution of 12% of pay per year, without the employer matching anymore compensation than it did in the current formula.

Figure 1: Match Formulas

Figure 1

To emphasize the impact of different deferral rates on an employee’s account balance at retirement, using the proposed new match formula, see the chart below:

Figure 2: Potential Savings

Figure 2

A recent Employee Benefits Research Institute Retirement Confidence Survey asked workers what action they would take if they were automatically enrolled into their retirement plans, deferring 6%. Nearly three-quarters, 74%, responded that they would stay at that rate or increase their contribution rates. This survey addressing employee behavior offers strong incentive for a 6% auto-enrollment rate. In my opinion, plan sponsors should incorporate this type of employee behavioral analysis into the plan design process. A current client has maintained participation rates near 90%, with a 6% auto-enrollment rate. And of those deferring, 84% defer at a rate greater than or equal to 6%.

While matching contributions are an important feature, the researchers argue a more beneficial tool for a plan is a general (i.e., nonelective) contribution. And if the employer can afford to, and the plan is designed for the population correctly, the nonelective contribution can provide a more substantial retirement benefit. There are, of course, trade-offs, and with nonelective contributions comes stricter annual testing.

Something else to think about—reenrolling all current employees when the plan adds the auto-enrollment design. I have witnessed firsthand the success of such an endeavor with another Milliman client who did this 18 months ago. The plan went from 63% participation to 97%—and has maintained that level.

As an administrator of defined contribution plans, I know automatic arrangements can be difficult to administer, but the recent relaxation by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of correction rules (Revenue Procedure 2015-28), and the evidence provided by the surveys mentioned above, simplify the decision. If employers enroll new employees in plans automatically, they are clearly likely to stay, and the automatic arrangement often becomes the obvious choice. But the rate needs to be high enough to be worthwhile. Plan sponsors must evaluate the goals of their plans. Is the objective to simply have higher participation, satisfy tax incentive rules, and ensure that workers save something toward retirement? Or is it to truly build a serious retirement benefit for employees? In that likely case, additional studies of the employee population and their saving behavior must be incorporated into plan designs.

Employers helping former employees deal with rollover fees

Many defined contribution plan participants are incurring excessive fees when they roll over their account balances into their IRAs. Sponsors can help former employees maintain their savings by retaining the account balances within their qualified plans. In this article, Milliman consultant Doug Conkel discusses what plan sponsors are doing to help their former employees make better decisions with their plan balances.

Here is an excerpt:

Plan design thoughts

Like other transformations within the defined contribution (DC) market, the genesis of these changes is linked to creating a defined contribution plan with some attributes passed down from the “pension plan era.” Participants and sponsors alike are considering changes that shift the plan design discussion from retirement accumulation topics to the “de-accumulation” or payout phase. So what plan design changes are they making?

Partial lump-sum distributions. Many sponsors have modified their plans such that former participants can request a partial lump-sum distribution of their account balances. This enables former participants to satisfy a one-time expense while leaving a portion of their account balances in the plan.

Installments. Years ago, many sponsors simplified their distribution options by removing installments, based on the conclusion that “a participant can set up installments outside the plan (usually an IRA or annuity).” However, now some sponsors have come to realize the issues noted above with outside accounts and some participants are requesting in-plan installments. Some sponsors are again electing to liberalize the distribution options by allowing former participants to elect installment payments from the plan, which gives participants flexibility and allows them to keep their accounts in the plan….

Education and communication

Guidance on comparing fees. A plan that is run in an unbiased environment is able to provide guidance to participants to help them understand the fees they pay under the current plan provisions and how they might compare those fees to individual retail arrangements. The participant fee disclosure rules introduced a few years ago provide participants with the information they need to access their current plan’s total fees. The plan’s annual notice provides the investment expense ratios from which participants can calculate a weighted expense ratio using their personal account. Plus, using their quarterly statements, a participant can also determine the amount of direct expenses (if any) being deducted from the account. These two key pieces of information yield the total cost of a participant’s account within the qualified plan. If participants can obtain the same information about proposed IRAs or new employers’ retirement plans, they should be able to perform an apples-to-apples comparison of the fees. A best practice in the future would be to provide some guidance to former plan participants to assist them in making this comparison so they can then make informed decisions.

U.S. Supreme Court ruling calls attention to the fiduciary duty to monitor 401(k) plan investments

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that, although the initial selection of plan investments occurred beyond ERISA’s six-year statute of limitations, a lawsuit by participants in a 401(k) savings plan may proceed on whether the plan fiduciaries breached their continuing duty to monitor and remove imprudent trust investments (Tibble v. Edison Int’l [No. 13-550, 5/18/2015]). In so ruling, the Court found that a lawsuit against plan fiduciaries is filed in timely fashion if the participants’ claim alleging a breach of the continuing duty to monitor occurred within six years. The Court’s ruling may spur lawsuits by participants over plan fees. This Client Action Bulletin provides more perspective.

DOL provides flexibility in timing of annual defined contribution plan disclosures

Sponsors of 401(k) and other participant-directed defined contribution retirement plans will have more flexibility in the timing of providing annual plan and investment disclosures to participants, under a direct final rule from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Instead of disclosing the required information “at least annually,” which the agency had interpreted to mean no more than 365 days after the sponsor provided the prior annual disclosure, sponsors will have up to 14 months to do so. The modification will require disclosures to be made “at least once in any 14-month period, without regard to whether the plan operates on a calendar year or fiscal year basis.”

The change to the timing requirement will ease the administrative burdens faced by many plan sponsors and administrators.

The flexibility provided by the direct final rule is slated to be effective June 17, 2015, and will apply to disclosures made on or after that date, unless the DOL withdraws the rule before then, which would be due to adverse comments received.

The DOL’s direct final rule also announces an immediate, temporary enforcement policy (until June 17), so that plan sponsors and administrators may take advantage of the two-month grace period before the June 17 effective date, as long as they reasonably determine that doing so will benefit participants and beneficiaries. The relief granted by the enforcement policy is in addition to the one-time, 18-month “re-set” opportunity provided by the DOL’s Field Assistance Bulletin 2013-02.

For more information about the DOL’s direct final rule or a related proposed rule, please contact your Milliman consultant.

Considerations: Is adding after-tax contributions in your 401(k) plan always a good idea?

Cross-BrandySince the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) loosened the distribution restrictions on after-tax and pretax amounts when rolling over funds from a 401(k) plan, many advisors and consultants are encouraging participants to consider making additional traditional after-tax contributions to their 401(k) plans, and in turn, encouraging plan sponsors to add traditional after-tax back to their plans.

After the IRS Notice (2014-54), a participant can now specifically direct the pretax and after-tax amounts of any distributions or conversions without the limitation of having to take a proration of pretax and after-tax amounts.

Recent articles on the subject point out that a participant could potentially deposit substantial after-tax contributions above the individual deferral limit of $18,000 (for 2015). The after-tax contributions would be limited only by the Section 415 annual addition limit of $53,000 (or $59,000 for those over age 50). This 415 limit includes all contributions to the plan including pretax deferrals, Roth deferrals, after-tax contributions, and all employer contributions.

This could mean significant savings and future tax advantages for the participant. If the plan allows for in-service withdrawals or in-plan Roth distributions, employees could then choose to annually distribute the after-tax contributions to a Roth account, thus sheltering any earnings on the contribution from further taxation, instead of letting the earnings continue to grow inside the pretax account to be later subject to taxation upon withdrawal.

This sounds fantastic for the participant, but it feels too good to be true. What is missing? What isn’t being considered? How do these potentially large contributions affect the plan?

As a compliance manager, I believe that the largest missing component in this discussion is the nondiscrimination testing. Some articles I’ve seen on the topic mention nondiscrimination testing, and some don’t. But even when they do, it’s an afterthought. All 401(k) plans are subject to some form of testing.

Where might large after-tax contributions make testing difficult?

It stands to reason that the participants with the ability to take advantage and be most interested in making additional large after-tax contributions would be highly compensated employees (HCEs). Whether an HCE because of compensation or because of ownership and attribution (such as the spouse of an owner not needing the wages), this is the group most likely to be able to fund these contributions.

Many 401(k) plans need to be tested for nondiscrimination of the average deferral rate (ADR) and average contribution rate (ACR) of HCEs as compared with the ADR and ACR rates of non-highly compensated employees (NHCEs). They are referred to as the 401(k) ADP and 401(m) ACP tests. The 401(k) ADP test assesses pretax and Roth contributions, while the 401(m) ACP test looks at the employer matching contributions and employee after-tax contributions.

Let’s work an example. If it is true that the participants who will likely take advantage will be the HCEs, these larger after-tax contributions could negatively affect the results of the ACP test.

Continue reading

A major change to correction procedures provides much needed relief for sponsors

Jakobe-KariOn April 2, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rolled out major changes to the correction methods related to failure to implement automatic enrollment or to having missed participant-elected deferral changes.

Previously, the prescribed correction in the Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (EPCRS) was for the employer to make up 50% of the missed deferrals and 100% of the match, plus earnings on both. This was often a windfall for participants and penalty for sponsors that deterred many from adopting auto-enroll provisions in their plans.

There are now two new safe harbor corrections: one for plans with auto-enroll provisions, another for faulty elective deferrals. The general guideline of the new correction methods are as follows:

For plans with auto-enroll features:
• If the failure is found within nine months of the plan year-end in which the auto-enroll should have begun:
o Start the deferral immediately
o Send a notice of the failure to the participant
o 100% of any missed match is made up and adjusted for earnings

• If the failure is found outside the nine-month window following the plan year-end, the old procedure remains in place.

For other elective deferral changes that are not completed as requested by the participant, if the failure is found within three months:
• Start the deferral immediately
• Send a notice of the failure to the participant
• 100% of any missed match is made up and adjusted for earnings

If found after three months from the date the change was to be effective:
• Start the deferral immediately
• Send a notice of the failure to the participant
• 100% of any missed match is made up and adjusted for earnings and the participant must receive a qualified nonelective contribution (QNEC) in the amount of 25% of the missed deferral, plus earnings

For a more detailed explanation on the new regulations, see the recent Client Action Bulletin published by Milliman.

IRS eases correction methods for common 401(k)/403(b) plan failures

This Client Action Bulletin discusses recently issued IRS Revenue Procedure 2015-28 that will allow sponsors of 401(k) and 403(b) plans to fix two common administrative errors. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released guidance that will allow sponsors of 401(k) and 403(b) plans to easily correct two common administrative errors without first having to obtain approval from the agency. Revenue Procedure 2015-28 modifies and improves the Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (EPCRS) by providing a new safe harbor relating to automatic contribution features (including automatic enrollment and automatic escalation of elective deferrals) and a separate new special safe harbor correction method for faulty elective deferrals that occur over a period of limited duration.

Putting a stop to retirement plan leakage

Moen-AlexThe Center for Retirement Research at Boston College recently published a study that found in-service withdrawals (partial withdrawals and hardships) and cash-outs were the main reasons for leakage from 401(k) plans and IRAs. Leakage refers to the erosion of assets in retirement accounts—approximately 1.5% of retirement plan assets “leak” out every year. This can potentially lead to a reduction in total retirement assets of 20% to 25% over an employee’s working years. The phenomenon is the result of the gradual change in retirement funding vehicles over time from predominantly defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans and, in recent years, IRAs.

The impact of this 1.5% leakage is easier to grasp when the total dollar amount involved is known. The Investment Company Institute’s quarterly reports show the following numbers. Consider the total assets affected and the significance of that annual number.

U.S. assets in retirement plans

401(k) plans have three main sources of leakage:

In-service withdrawals: In-service encompasses one of two options: a hardship withdrawal or a withdrawal at age 59½. Hardships can be taken based on proof of an immediate financial need, but they are subject to an early 10% tax penalty (if applicable) on top of the required 20% federal tax and they force a participant to cease deferrals for six months. Hardships also require participants to use up their loan resources first. By the time a participant is eligible for a hardship, the account has been severely depleted. In-service withdrawals allow an active employee who has reached the age of 59½ to remove funds from the account without the 10% penalty. These age 59½ withdrawals are on the rise and the leakage arises when the funds are not rolled over. It is estimated that only about 70% are, in fact, rolled into an IRA.

Loans: Approximately 90% of actively working individuals enrolled in a retirement plan have access to some type of loan. While loans get a bad rap, they are not the leading offender in terms of leakage, but there is still some asset loss. If loans are repaid in a timely manner, the withdrawal is not taxed, but the employee no longer has the ability for gains on those assets during the repayment period. And while the participant has an obligation to repay, that does not always happen. When the loan has defaulted, it is deemed a distribution and is then subject to tax withholding.

Cash-outs: Cash-outs are the act of automatically paying out terminated participants below a certain threshold; for balances of $1,000 or less, checks are cut, whereas balances between $1,000 and $5,000 require a rollover to an IRA. And while plan sponsors do have a say in the dollar threshold and the timetable for cash-outs, virtually every 401(k) plan has this rule.

Looking at defined contribution plans only, withdrawal activity has increased slightly over the last three years, while hardships have remained steady. These numbers may seem small, but they do not include IRAs, which are considerably harder to track. And because IRAs lack the same rules as defined contribution plans, estimates suggest the percentages are much higher.

Source: Investment Company Institute
Source: Investment Company Institute

The Federal Reserve’s 2013 Survey of Consumer Finance presented some scary results—workers between the ages of 55 and 64 had average assets of only $111,000. What’s more, assets in IRAs have surpassed assets in defined contribution plans. Looking at the numbers above for third quarter 2013 and 2014, IRAs consistently have 2.5% more in assets than defined contribution plans. IRAs can be risky for long-term retirement funding, if not used correctly, which is due to the lower levels of regulations and the lack of education and promotion to “keep assets in.” A recent Department of Labor report expands on this concern that rolling funds to IRAs puts the worker at the mercy of the investment advisor and asks whether all investment advisors take their fiduciary duties seriously or not. The report discusses what they call “conflicting advice” and estimates the leakage due to this is as high as 12% of an account balance.

There is hope. Some proposals that have been suggested include:

• Raise the age requirement for early withdrawal from 59½ to 62 to match the earliest Social Security retirement age
• Limit balances for in-service withdrawals to only employee contributions
• Tighten hardship rules even more and only allow hardships in case of “unpredictable events,” for both 401(k) plans and IRAs
• Remove cash-outs altogether (this will mostly likely be met with resistance from plan sponsors because small balances can be expensive and burdensome to administer)

Plan sponsors can make many of these adjustments to their individual plans, but these proposals are working to ensure that the goal of preparing workers for retirement stays in sight.