HATFA requires immediate action on 2013 defined benefit plan valuations

President Obama is expected to sign into law the recently passed Highway and Transportation Funding Act (HATFA). As enacted, single-employer and multiemployer defined benefit pension plan sponsors will see temporary reductions in minimum required contributions and may be able to avoid benefit restrictions. Because the new law as written applies retroactively to the 2013 plan year (absent an election to opt out), affected plan sponsors will have to make decisions soon, ideally equipped with yet-to-be published technical guidance from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

At a minimum, plan sponsors will need to quickly instruct their plan actuaries to redo the 2013 actuarial valuation calculations or formally elect to opt out.

In general, the new law modifies the 2012 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act interest-rate corridors used by affected sponsors to determine their minimum funding liabilities. HATFA maintains a narrower corridor than MAP-21 for the 2013 to 2017 plan years and then phases in a wider corridor over four years beginning in 2018. A plan sponsor may elect, in writing, to retain its use of the MAP-21 interest-rate corridor only for the 2013 plan year; starting in 2014, use of the HATFA corridors by all plan sponsors is required.

Plan sponsors face a number of time-sensitive decisions and actions as a result of HATFA’s enactment. For example, absent an election to opt out, the narrower 2013 plan year interest-rate corridor will require a revised actuarial valuation. Plan sponsors will also have to revise their disclosures to reflect the HATFA changes in the next annual funding notices. As the HATFA change temporarily reduces the amount a sponsor must contribute and the tax deductions for those contributions, the employers’ taxable income could increase. And longer term, required pension plan contributions should increase after the temporary “smoothing” provision expires, depending on corporate bond interest rates and other factors at that time.

The HATFA provision does not affect multiemployer defined benefit pension plans nor Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) premiums. The pension-related provisions in HATFA also include changes for certain plan sponsors in bankruptcy, and companies subject to the rules of the Cost Accounting Standards Board (CASB) will have to adjust their CASB recovery calculations. Cooperative/small employer charity plans will need to recalculate their plans’ full funding limits.

For additional information about HATFA’s pension provisions and assistance with exploring the short- and long-term pension funding options, please contact your Milliman consultant.

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