Last fall, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued regulations requiring an update to new mortality tables for valuing monthly annuities for minimum funding requirement purposes. The requirement went into effect beginning with the 2018 plan year, unless the new tables would cause “more than a minimal adverse business impact” or “more than a minimal administrative burden.” In that case, the new tables would be required beginning with the 2019 plan year. Plan sponsors also have the option to create their own mortality tables (see the blog “Plan-specific substitute mortality tables” for more information on this option).
The new tables are estimated to increase a typical plan’s liabilities by about 2% to 5%. The tables chosen for minimum funding would also be used for determining other plan measures such as benefit restrictions, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) variable premiums, the PBGC 4010 filing test, the quarterly contribution exemption test, the funding credit usage test, and the at-risk plan test.
The IRS has not issued any formal guidance on what constitutes meeting the above criteria required for deferring the new tables until the 2019 plan year. Therefore, plan sponsors are left to make their own judgments based on their individual facts and circumstances. A decision to delay the new tables until the 2019 plan year will likely need to be disclosed on the 2018 plan year Form 5500 filing, so plan sponsors will want to carefully document their reasons for maintaining the older mortality tables for an additional year.
Notwithstanding a decision to defer using the new mortality tables for valuing annuities until the 2019 plan year, plans that offer and value a lump-sum option for minimum funding purposes will still be required to use the new tables for valuing lump sums for the 2018 plan year (see the blog “Updated mortality tables for DB plan lump-sum payments starting in 2018” for more details on lump-sum mortality table requirements).
A spin-off of a single-employer defined benefit (DB) pension plan is a complicated transaction, with an end result of one plan split into two or more DB plans. The objective of federal rules governing spin-offs is that participants should be no worse off with respect to the security of their accrued benefits immediately following the spin-off, compared with benefits that would have been received if the plan had been terminated immediately prior to the spin-off.
A change in business circumstances might be one reason a plan sponsor would consider a spin-off. For example, if a portion of the participants in a single-employer DB plan are sold to another company, the buyer and seller might agree that the assets and liabilities of the affected DB plan participants be spun-off into a new plan that becomes the responsibility of the buyer.
Another reason a plan sponsor might consider a spin-off would be for risk management purposes. Many plan sponsors today are interested in transferring the responsibility for pension liabilities to either participants by a lump-sum distribution or to an insurance carrier by an annuity purchase. That interest is due to various uncertainties that will affect the ultimate cost of the pension liabilities (e.g., investment performance, liability interest rates, participant mortality, legislative changes, pension insurance premium charges). A plan sponsor in an ongoing pension plan is generally not allowed to transfer the responsibilities for the liabilities of active participants unless the plan is being terminated. If the assets and liabilities related to active participants are spun off into a new separate plan, that plan can then be terminated with the liability responsibility transferred as described above.
The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) is the federal agency responsible for the insurance of unfunded pension liabilities. In the case of an underfunded pension plan termination, the amount of the shortfall covered by the PBGC is dependent on the PBGC’s rules on how liabilities are categorized, with certain lower-priority liabilities not insured by the PBGC. If 3% or more of plan assets are spun-off into a new plan, a complicated actuarial calculation must be done to determine the assets allocated to each plan, based on PBGC liability categorization rules for underfunded plan terminations. Also, a Form 5310-A must be filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) at least 30 days prior to the effective date of the spin-off.
If less than 3% of plan assets are spun off into a new plan, the Form 5310-A filing is not required. Also, the actuarial calculation becomes much simpler because the assets allocated to the smaller plan are just equal to the present value of its liabilities rather than determined by the above rules for larger spin-offs.
In summary, given the complexities of the requirements for implementing a single-employer DB plan spin-off, a plan sponsor may wish to discuss the proposed spin-off with the plan actuary and legal counsel before proceeding.
This blog post was originally published on January 5, 2016. It has been updated to reflect the PBGC’s final rule in March 2016.
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), the federal agency responsible for insuring unfunded liability for single-employer defined benefit pension plans in the event of a distress plan termination, issued final guidance in March 2016 that will likely increase the number of companies required to submit a 4010 filing for the 2016 fiscal year and beyond. An example of a circumstance in which a distress plan termination can occur is when a company files for bankruptcy.
The PBGC is charged under federal law with monitoring poorly funded defined benefit pension plans in part by requiring a special filing under ERISA Section 4010, commonly referred to as a “4010 filing.” This filing requires the employer to submit defined benefit pension plan financial and actuarial information as well as the company’s financial information. The filing is generally due three and a half months after the end of the fiscal year. The PBGC keeps this information shielded from public disclosure, which protects the privacy of closely held companies, which are not required to follow U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulatory rules for listed companies.
Under current rules, employers with defined benefit pension plans that are less than 80% funded based on prescribed interest rates are required to report under Section 4010 unless they can meet the requirements for certain limited exemptions. Plans with under 500 participants are exempt if they are underfunded by $15 million or less. Companies that sponsor one or more pension plans with a combined participant count of 500 or more are exempt if the combined underfunding of all plans is $15 million or less.
Beginning with the 2016 fiscal year, PBGC modified the actuarial assumptions used for determining the underfunding exemption if the combined pension plan participant count is 500 or more. The modified assumptions use lower interest rates for determining pension plan liabilities that will increase liabilities and therefore make it more difficult to qualify for the underfunding exemption. For example, a plan with 500 or more participants that is less than 80% funded and may have been exempt from submitting a 4010 filing because the underfunding was less than $15 million may no longer qualify for the exemption under the new final rules. A guess is that this plan deficit would swell to over $15 million and a 4010 filing will be required. On the other hand, if the combined participant count is less than 500, the final rules automatically exempt the plans from 4010 filing requirements.
Companies that sponsor pension plans with 500 or more participants that wish to avoid the 4010 filing requirements under the final rules should work with their actuaries to take steps to bring each plan up to at least 80% funded for the 2016 plan year or to meet the $15 million or less underfunding exemption based on the newly required actuarial assumptions.
It can be easy to lose sight of the requirement to periodically update a pension summary plan description (SPD) because SPDs no longer need to be filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. Plan sponsors can potentially find themselves more focused on annual governmental filings such as Form 5500, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) premium, Schedule 8955-SSA, and annual participant notifications such as the annual funding notice. But don’t overlook required SPD updates.
SPDs are required to be updated every five years if there have been any material plan changes since the last SPD update or every 10 years no matter what. SPDs should be carefully drafted to be consistent with the provisions of the official plan document.
Updated SPDs should be provided to all plan participants including actives, terminated deferred vested, retirees, and beneficiaries. New active participants should be provided an updated SPD within 90 days of becoming eligible to participate in the pension plan.
In the event there is a material plan change after the issuance of an updated SPD, a summary of material modification (SMM) should be provided within 210 days after the end of the plan year in which the change was adopted. An SPD updated to reflect the plan change can be provided in lieu of providing an SMM.
SPDs can be provided to plan participants either by mail, distribution at the plan sponsor’s work place, or posted on the plan sponsor’s employee benefits website.
Not having an updated SPD can become an issue when participants have questions about their pension benefits. Having an updated SPD facilitates responding to participant questions.
Plan sponsors should review the latest version of the pension plan SPD to see if an update is required.
Milliman consultants had another prolific publishing year in 2014, with blog topics ranging from healthcare reform to HATFA. As 2014 comes to a close, we’ve highlighted Milliman’s top 20 blogs for 2014 based on total page views.
20. Mike Williams and Stephanie Noonan’s blog, “Four things employers should know when evaluating private health exchanges,” can help employers determine whether a PHE makes sense for them.
19. Kevin Skow discusses savings tools that can help employees prepare for retirement in his blog “Retirement readiness: How long will you live in retirement? Want to bet on it?”
18. The Benefits Alert entitled “Revised mortality assumptions issued for pension plans,” published by Milliman’s Employee Benefit Research Group, provides pension plan sponsors actuarial perspective on the Society of Actuaries’ revised mortality tables.
17. In her blog, “PBGC variable rate premium: Should plans make the switch?,” Milliman’s Maria Moliterno provides examples of how consultants can estimate variable rate premiums using either the standard premium funding target or the alternative premium funding target for 2014 and 2015 plan years.
16. Milliman’s infographic “The boomerang generation’s retirement planning” features 12 tips Millennials should consider when developing their retirement strategy.
15. “Young uninsureds ask, ‘Do I feel lucky?’” examines the dilemma young consumers face when deciding to purchase insurance on the health exchange or go uninsured.
14. Last year’s #1 blog, “Retiring early under ACA: An unexpected outcome for employers?,” is still going strong. The blog authored by Jeff Bradley discusses the impact that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act could have on early retirees.
13. Genny Sedgwick’s “Fee leveling in DC plans: Disclosure is just the beginning” blog also made our list for the second consecutive year. Genny explains how different fee assessment methodologies, when used with a strategy to normalize revenue sharing among participant accounts, can significantly modify the impact of plan fees in participant accounts.
12. Doug Conkel discusses how the Supreme Court’s decision to rule on Tibble vs. Edison may impact defined contribution plans in his blog “Tibble vs. Edison: What will it mean for plan sponsors and fiduciaries?”
11. In her blog “Retirement plan leakage and retirement readiness,” Kara Tedesco discusses some problems created by the outflow of retirement savings. She also provides perspective on how employers can help employees keep money in their plans.
The recent issuance by the Society of Actuaries of a new mortality table for possible use in valuing pension liabilities has some plan sponsors thinking they should consider terminating their frozen pension plans by the end of 2015. The plan termination consideration is due to speculation that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may require the use of the new mortality table for calculating lump-sum distributions of pension benefits beginning in 2016, which would increase lump-sum amounts. There are many other considerations beyond the possible timing of the new mortality table that a plan sponsor should take into account before deciding to terminate a frozen pension plan by the end of 2015, which are summarized below.
In support of 2015 plan termination:
1. Avoidance of scheduled increases to Premium Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) premium rates after 2015.
2. No prospective concerns about trying to annually manage pension cost volatility.
3. Elimination of annual administration costs.
4. If a lump-sum distribution is offered, active participants have the opportunity to have immediate access to the value of their frozen benefits.
Disadvantages of 2015 plan termination:
1. Lump-sum and annuity purchase liability interest rates are currently very low, which results in higher plan termination liabilities.
2. A large one-time pension settlement accounting loss may be incurred on the company’s financial statements.
3. A very large pension contribution may be necessary to fully fund plan termination liabilities, which in part is due to the low interest rate environment.
4. A plan termination is a time-consuming process with various steps required, including trying to locate missing participants.
5. Recent funding relief legislation may result in lower minimum required contributions over the next several years.
In order to accomplish a plan termination by the end of 2015, a plan sponsor will need to make a decision to terminate early in 2015 to account for the entire plan termination process. The decision process should include discussing with the plan’s legal counsel whether or not it is advisable to distribute plan assets following PBGC approval but prior to IRS approval of the plan termination.