HATFA-14 and discount rates: The latest in “pension smoothing” provisions

Yu-LynnOn July 15, 2014, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 367-55 to approve H.R.5021, the Highway and Transportation Funding Act (HATFA-14), which provides funding for the Highway Trust Fund on a short-term basis (through May 2015). HATFA-14 also includes an extension of the “pension smoothing” provisions that had been adopted in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act. The bill would extend the MAP-21 funding stabilization provisions for five years (through 2020).

MAP-21 was enacted in July 2012. MAP-21 uses a 25-year average of a bond yield curve, which produces significantly higher rates than the 24-month average used before MAP-21. MAP-21 then imposes the minimum and maximum rate using a 10% corridor around these average rates. The corridor for determining the minimum and maximum rate expands 5% each year, ultimately reaching 30% by 2016.

HATFA-14 revises the minimum and maximum percentage ranges for a plan year as follows:

• 90% to 110% for 2012 through 2017
• 85% to 115% for 2018
• 80% to 120% for 2019
• 75% to 125% for 2020
• 70% to 130% for 2021 or later

The proposals relating to the applicable minimum and maximum rates are generally effective for plan years beginning after December 31, 2012. Under a special rule, an employer may elect, for any plan year beginning before January 1, 2014, not to have these proposals apply either (1) for all purposes for which the proposals would otherwise apply, or (2) solely for purposes of determining the plan’s adjusted funding target attainment percentage in applying the benefit restrictions for that year. A plan will not be treated as failing to meet the requirements of the anti-cutback rules solely by reason of an election under the special rule. By electing out in 2013, plans that have already prepared the 2013 Form 5500 will not be disrupted.

This is great news for plan sponsors who have short-term cash flow issues. Even though the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) variable rate premium calculation does not use rates under HATFA-14 relief, there was no PBGC premium increase in this bill, unlike MAP-21. Upon HATFA-14 being enacted, our first course of action will be to revisit 2013 plan year valuations. This should make for more exciting times in the world of pension funding!

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