Lump-sum payouts and tax implications

Clark-CharlieOver the past few years, there is evidence to confirm that several employers sponsoring defined benefit (DB) pension plans have been settling their plans’ pension obligation to former employees via a single lump-sum payout. It is commonly referred to as a lump-sum cleanup strategy. Some commenters have said that not only has demand for such a strategy not abated, it has accelerated.

This blog post will remain neutral on the prudence of implementing such a strategy, as each employer’s goal is unique. Recognizing that employers who implement such strategies spend enormous energy and resources to communicate the consequences and financial impact on those electing the lump-sum payout, it’s questionable whether recipients completely understand the individual tax implications it could personally have on them. (And to be clear, this blog post does not implicitly or explicitly render any type of tax advice.)

If a participant chooses to roll over the lump-sum distribution to a personal tax-deferred IRA or to a tax-qualified savings plan of a new employer, the issues below are irrelevant. However, if the lump-sum is received as current income:

• The individual could move into the next higher marginal tax bracket, both federal and state (where there is a state income tax).
• The individual could face a 10% excise tax if that person is younger than age 59½.
• The individual could incur an underwithholding penalty in comparison to their prior year’s tax liability.
• According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), eligible individuals and families with incomes between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level (FPL) may receive premium tax credits for purchasing health insurance in the healthcare exchange. The 2013 FPL for a single person is $11,490 and this individual’s healthcare premium payment is capped at $228 per year. A lump-sum of approximately $29,000 would raise that premium cap to $3,816. A lump-sum of approximately $34,000 would raise income above 400% of the FPL and the individual would have to pay the full premium of the healthcare policy selected on the healthcare exchange.

Takeaway: The economic impact of a lump-sum payout must be carefully evaluated by the recipient. It may not be as advantageous as it appears. Plan sponsors implementing this strategy may wish to consider the impacts of the ACA as they draft the communications to the prospective payees.

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