Avoiding red flags: How to lower your plan's audit risk

Any size plan can be selected for an IRS or DOL audit. Businesses should learn how to avoid the red flags to help lower their plan’s audit risk. Read this blog post to learn more.


Are only the largest retirement plans audited? The truth is that plans of any size can be audited by the IRS and the DOL. Your plan could be selected for a random audit, or as a result of IRS datasets that target certain types of plans. However, lots of audits are triggered by specific events. Learning to avoid the red flags can help reduce your risk and increase the odds that you will survive any audit for which you are selected without major problems.

Your Form 5500 can be audit bait

Bad answers to Form 5500 can attract the Labor Department’s attention and serve as audit bait. The best way to make sure that your Form 5500 filing doesn’t lead to an audit is to check it carefully — with outside assistance if necessary — to make sure that the compliance questions are answered correctly.

For example, one compliance question asks whether the plan is protected by an ERISA bond and if so, the amount of coverage. Never answer “no” to this question. If for some reason you didn’t have a bond before, get one now. It is even possible to obtain retroactive coverage.

A coverage amount that is too low is also a red flag. In most cases, the bond must be for at least 10% of plan assets at the beginning of the year, although plans with certain types of investments must have higher coverage. Since assets at prior year end and at the beginning of the year are also shown on the 5500, showing an amount lower than 10% of those assets will invite the DOL to follow up.

The DOL will also look at the investment and financial information shown in the asset report. If your plan has many alternative investments such as hedge funds, has invested in other hard-to-value investments, or if you have large amounts of un-invested cash, you may also be inviting a follow up by the DOL. If your asset values as of the end of the prior year do not match your opening year balance for the succeeding year, you are also inviting unwanted inquiries.

Other answers that may get you targeted for further investigation are: if you indicate that you have late deposits of employee contributions or that you have not made required minimum distributions to former employees who are 70.5 years old. Note that this question does not need to be answered “Yes” if reasonable efforts have been made to find the participants but they still can’t be located.

Don’t ignore employee claims and complaints

Many plan sponsors don’t realize that employee complaints to the IRS and DOL often lead to audits. Make sure that employee questions and complaints receive a response, and if a formal claim for benefits is filed, make sure to follow the ERISA regulations on benefit claims and appeals. It is a good idea to run any denials past your ERISA attorney to make sure they are consistent with the written plan terms and clearly explain the participant’s appeal rights and the reason for the denial.

Be prepared

If your plan is selected for IRS or DOL audit, expect to be asked to provide executed plan documents, participant notices and fiduciary policies, such as your Investment Policy Statement. Keep these in a file to avoid a last-minute scramble to satisfy the auditor’s requests. You should also be prepared to show that you are making diligent efforts to find missing participants, deal with defaulted loans and review plan fees, which are current hot issues for auditors.

To be even better prepared, you can do a self-audit to identify problems that need correction before the IRS or DOL do.

SOURCE: Buckmann, C (29 June 2018) "Avoiding red flags: How to lower your plan's audit risk" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from: https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/irs-dol-audit-red-flags-and-avoiding-plan-risks


Consequences and/or Remedies for Late or Missing Form 5500s

The Form 5500 deadline is approaching quickly. Below, Employee Benefits Corporation discusses the three different options employers have if they fail to file their Form 5500 or if they file late.


The Form 5500 is due on the last day following seven months after the end of the plan year. In order to be granted an extension, the employer would have to send the IRS a Form 5558 for each plan subject to Form 5500 obligations. The Form 5558 needs to be postmarked by the original due date or it will be rejected.

Failure to file or failure to file required Form 5500s on time can prove to be costly for an employer as daily penalties are assessed for late or missing filings.

What should an employer do if they find out they never filed a Form 5500 or they failed to file the Form 5500 by the deadline?

The employer should consider their risk tolerance, the number of plans they have not filed and the potential penalties to determine what the best course of action is for them.

They have three options:

  1. Do not file and hope that no one questions them if they are audited. There is a potential consequence of $300/day for each plan (per plan/ per plan year) that did not get filed or get filed on time. Penalties capped at $30,000 per year.
  2. File late and hope that no one notices. There is a potential consequence of $50/day for each plan (per plan/per plan year) that filed late or not on time. No cap on the penalty in this case.
  3. File late under the Delinquent Filers Voluntary Compliance Program (DFVCP). There is late fee of $10/day for each plan (per plan per plan year) that is filing late. Penalties capped at $2,000 per large plan/$750 per small plan if filing multiple plan years for a plan. Penalties for large plans that file more than 1 delinquent plan year per plan number filing at the same time, the maximum penalty is $4,000 per plan and $1,500 for small plans.

The Bottom Line:

Employee Benefits Corporation can assist employers with the preparation of their delinquent Form 5500s as part of our Compliance Services offerings. Employers will pay the DFVCP penalties directly to the DOL online as part of the process. We can help educate the employer on the risk factors associated with each approach and to assist, if contracted to do so, in the preparation of the Form 5500s.

SOURCE:
Employee Benefits Corporation (29 June 2018) "Consequences and/or Remedies for Late or Missing Form 5500s" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.ebcflex.com/Education/ComplianceBuzz/tabid/1140/ArticleID/613/Consequences-and-or-Remedies-for-Late-or-Missing-Form-5500s.aspx?utm_source=7.19.18+Need+to+Know+%7C+Missing+Form+5500s&utm_campaign=7-19-18_Need+to+Know+email-Form+5500+season&utm_medium=email


Health Savings Accounts: What Did The IRS Change?

 

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Don’t Get Tripped Up By The IRS’ Tweak To Health Savings Accounts

It’s tax time, and this week I answered questions from readers about the penalty for not having health insurance as well as changes to health savings accounts. I also discuss health insurance coverage options for a reader’s parents who are immigrants and green card holders.

Q: I heard that health savings account rules would be loosened under the new spending bill passed by Congress last month. Did that happen?

No. In fact, the standards have become slightly tighter this year. In recent years, members of Congress from both parties have supported expanding eligibility for health savings accounts and how the money in them can be spent, among other things. To date, though, those proposals haven’t become law.

Health savings accounts, which are linked to high-deductible health plans, continue to multiply. In 2017, there were 22 million accounts totaling more than $45 billion in assets, an increase of 11 percent in the number of accounts over the previous year, according to Devenir, a firm that offers advice on HSA investments. Money deposited in HSAs is tax-deductible, grows tax-free and can be used without owing tax to pay for medical expenses. Advocates promote the plans as a way to help consumers play a larger role in controlling their health spending and say that the tax advantages help people afford care.

The Internal Revenue Service announced last month that the maximum amount individuals with family coverage could contribute to their health savings accounts would actually be reduced slightly from their previously announced limit for 2018. The maximum contribution for people with individual coverage in 2018 remains $3,450. The $50 family coverage contribution reduction, from $6,900 to $6,850, is pretty small change. It happened because the federal government altered the way it calculates inflation adjustments to the contribution limits.

But ignoring the new limit could create headaches for people who have already made the maximum HSA contribution for the year based on the $6,900 figure, said Roy Ramthun, president of HSA Consulting Services. If you don’t ask the bank that handles your HSA to return the $50 plus any earnings that have accrued before the next tax season, your taxable income will be off by that amount, plus you’ll be on the hook for a 6 percent penalty for exceeding the maximum contribution allowed. That’s not going to amount to a lot of money, but there’s more than financial pain to consider, Ramthun said. “Do you really want to give the IRS a reason to come find you?”

Q: I didn’t have health insurance for one month last year, in January 2017. Do I owe a penalty for not having health insurance when I file my taxes this spring?

If you were uninsured for only one month in 2017, you won’t owe a penalty. People can be uninsured for up to three consecutive months during the year without triggering a tax penalty for not having coverage, said Tara Straw, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. This year, for the first time, the Internal Revenue Service won’t accept electronically filed tax returns unless filers report whether they had health insurance all year, were exempt from the requirement or will pay a penalty for not having had coverage. Tax refunds that are due with paper returns that don’t have this information may be delayed, according to the IRS.

—khn.org


Change to 2018 HSA Family Contribution Limit

Yesterday, the IRS released a bulletin that includes a change impacting contributions to Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).

  • The family maximum HSA contribution limit has decreased from $6,900 to$6,850.
  • This change is effective January 1, 2018 and for the entire 2018 calendar year.
  • The self-only maximum HSA contribution limit has not changed. 
  • This means that current 2018 HSA contribution limits are $3,450 (self-only) and $6,850 (family).

 

Why is the change happening so abruptly?

The IRS continues to make adjustments to accommodate the new tax law that passed at the end of 2017. Tax reform updates require the IRS to implement a modified method of calculating inflation-adjusted or cost-of-living-adjusted limits for 2018. The IRS is now using a different index (Chained Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers) to calculate benefit-related inflationary adjustments.

Typically, the IRS adjusts the HSA limits for inflation on an annual basis about six months before the start of the impacted year. For example, the IRS established the 2018 limits in May 2017. Today’s bulletin supersedes those limits.

 

Resource:

• IRS Bulletin IRB 2018-10March 5, 2018


The IRS Is Still Enforcing The Individual Mandate, Despite What Many Taxpayers Believe

Did you know that there are many people who still don't believe that they will be hit by tax penalty if they do not have health insurance? Here is an informative article by Timothy Jost from Health Affairs on why everyone should be keeping up with their health insurance in-order to avoid a tax penalty by the IRS.

There has been considerable speculation since President Trump’s Inauguration Day Affordable Care Act Executive Order as to whether the Internal Revenue Service is in fact enforcing the individual and employer mandates. The IRS website has insisted that the mandates are still in force, despite the Executive Order and despite the fact that the IRS decided not to implement for 2016 tax filings a program rejecting “silent returns” that did not indicate compliance with individual mandate requirements.

There is evidence, however, that many taxpayers do not believe it. An April report from the Treasury Inspector General for Taxpayer Services found that as of March 31, a third fewer taxpayers were paying the penalty than had been the case a year earlier. More importantly, insurers seem to believe that the IRS is not enforcing the mandate, or at least that taxpayers do not believe the IRS is enforcing the mandate, and are raising their rates for 2018 to account for the deteriorating of the risk pool that nonenforcement of the mandate will cause.

It is of note, therefore, that Robert Sheen at the ACA Times has identified several letters from the IRS reaffirming that it is still in fact enforcing the individual, and employer, mandates.

One is a letter reportedly sent in April by the IRS General Counsel to Congressman Bill Huizenga (R-MI) in response to an inquiry as to whether the IRS could waive the employer mandate with respect to a particular employer. The IRS replied that there was no provision in the ACA for waiver of the mandate penalty when it applied and that: “The Executive Order does not change the law; the legislative provisions of the ACA are still in force until changed by the Congress, and taxpayers remain required to follow the law and pay what they may owe.”

In a second letter in June, responding to an individual who had written to President Trump, the IRS similarly responded:

The Executive Order does not change the law; the legislative provisions of the ACA are still in force until changed by the Congress, and taxpayers remain required to follow the law, including the requirement to have minimum essential coverage for each month, qualify for a coverage exemption for the month, or make a shared responsibility payment.

Of course, whether taxpayers believe it, and whether insurers believe taxpayers believe it, is another question.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Jost T. (2017 August 21). The IRS is still enforcing the individual mandate, despite what many taxpayers believe [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2017/08/21/the-irs-is-still-enforcing-the-individual-mandate-despite-what-many-taxpayers-believe/


Prospect for Tax Reform Remains Unclear as Mounting Priorities Compete for Attention

Has the news surrounding tax-reform left you worried about your employee benefits program? Check out this great article by Kathleen Coulombe from SHRM on what you should know about the potential over haul of our tax code and what it means for your employee benefits program.

As efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act continue to plod along in Congress, House and Senate tax writers have been working with the Trump administration to find a way forward on tax reform.

Hearings continue to take place, most recently last week with both the House Ways and Means Tax Policy Subcommittee and the Senate Finance Committee looking at a path forward on tax reform. One area Members of Congress are reviewing is the tax-favored status of employer-sponsored retirement and welfare benefits.  The House Ways and Means Tax Policy Subcommittee hearing focused on individual reform, which frequently touched on retirement security. One of the key issues discussed during the hearing was shifting the way individuals plan and save for retirement from a traditional pre-tax 401(k) account to an after-tax Roth model (aka "Rothification"). While hearing panelists noted that moving individuals saving for retirement to an after-tax 401(k) model would generate additional tax revenue for the U.S. Government, it could also disrupt the current retirement system.

SHRM believes a comprehensive employer-sponsored benefits package is a key component that employers use to attract and retain top talent. Two of the most widely utilized benefits are employer-provided health care and retirement plans. SHRM believes tax incentives should be used to expend access to and participation in health care and retirement savings plans.

The SHRM-led Coalition to Protect Retirement has expressed concerns to congressional members about moving individual retirement to an after-tax approach, as we believe it will undermine savings for retirement.

While tax reform legislation is not expected to be released until the fall, a set of principles will be released prior to the House adjourning for its August recess.

In the absence of a comprehensive tax reform plan moving ahead, there remains the strong possibility that a bill aimed strictly at tax cuts could be an alternative and could move as soon as members return to Washington in early September.

Aside from charting the course on tax reform, members must also fund the government for FY2018 by September 30 and increase the debt ceiling limit. While the House Budget Committee approved a FY18 budget resolution along party lines that contained tax reconciliation instructions, to move forward the resolution will have to pass both chambers and be signed by the president.

The resolution also requires congressional committees in both the House and Senate to achieve specific deficit reduction levels for 2018-2027 and submit recommendations by October 6, 2017. Given the challenges the budget resolution is facing and the fact that the House and Senate have not passed any of the 12 appropriations bills necessary to fund the government, a short-term continuing resolution will need to be enacted by October 1 to keep the federal government open and it could include an increase in the debt ceiling.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Coulombe K. (2017 August 1). Prospect for tax reforms remains unclear as mounting priorities compete for attention [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://blog.shrm.org/blog/prospect-for-tax-reform-remains-unclear-as-mounting-priorities-compete-for


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10 Ways Millennials are Saving for the Future

Have your millennial employees started saving for their retirement? Check out this article by Marlene Y. Satter from Benefits Pro and see what millennial across the country are doing to prepare themselves for retirement.

They’re called spendthrifts by other generations, are laden with student debt and burdened with lower-paying jobs.

But that doesn’t mean that millennials aren’t thinking about the future and saving for it.

And they could certainly use a little help—from human resources and from plan sponsors—to be more successful at it, since both the debt and the jobs don’t leave them much to work with when all expenses are accounted for.

Both HR and sponsors might want to consider how retirement savings plans and their features—auto-enrollment, auto-escalation, employer matching funds—could be tweaked to give millennials a boost in meeting major life goals and in saving for retirement, as well as for the health expenses it undoubtedly will bring along with it.

In the meantime, they can consider how millennials are already trying to stretch every dollar till it snaps—some in very unconventional ways.

In a survey, digital banking app Varo Money, Inc. has uncovered a range of methods millennials are using to make those paychecks go farther.

And while retirement is certainly on their radar, that’s not the only goal they’re pursuing; of course they have a whole life to live first. Some of their prime goals are travel, buying property and dreaming about a new car, while

Here are some of the strategies to which millennials resort in the quest to fund their futures. Can plan sponsors be less imaginative than some of these? Surely not….

10. Half of millennials surveyed save automatically.

While respondents say they aren’t fond of spreadsheets—they don’t track their money constantly, or input figures into programs like Excel or Mint to create detailed, category-based budgets—they do watch their bank balances regularly and are pretty aware of what they spend monthly.

They view it as “hands-off” money management.

What they do, however, is save automatically out of each paycheck, with 50 percent socking away a percentage every payday. So they’re prime candidates for savings plans with auto features—enrollment, escalation, etc.

report from the Society of Human Resource Management points to multiple studies indicating that auto escalation in particular—but to a high level such as 10 percent—results in higher savings for employees, since few actually opt out of a rate higher than they might have chosen for themselves.

9. Millennials are looking to climb the corporate ladder—to a higher paycheck.

An impressive 39 percent of millennials are on the prowl for a better-paying job opportunity, which is yet another reason that HR personnel and plan sponsors hoping to retain good staff might want to keep an eye on millennials’ rate of pay, as well as their rate of savings.

Reviewing other benefits wouldn’t hurt, either, since the more attractive an existing job is, the more likely an employee is to stay.

Considering the cost of finding, hiring and training replacements, a raise and better benefits might be cheaper in the long run.

8. Millennials know food is cheaper at home, especially with a partner to share it.

Millennials, despite their spendthrift reputation, are willing to skip little luxuries like the much-vaunted avocado toast or make coffee and meals at home.

In fact, 36 percent stick with the coffeepot on the counter instead of the barista at the corner, while 11 percent of men and 3 percent of women are willing to abandon the avocado toast—after all, everyone has his, or her, breaking point when economizing.

And 26 percent of respondents point out that cooking for two is cheaper than dining solo at home—much less in a restaurant.

7. Millennials recognize how much cheaper it is to live as a couple.

While 75 percent of millennials are conscious of the financial benefits in being half of a couple. 44 percent point to the cheaper rent when there are two to share the load.

And that helps them both save more.

Even those who aren’t part of a couple are looking for roommates, according to Mashable, which reports on a SmartAsset study finding that in high-rent cities like San Francisco, New York and Boston a person can save at least $700 a month by having a roommate.

Cue in the cooking-at-home technique for group meals, and the savings grow even more.

6. Millennials go on fewer dates to save money.

Being in a relationship, say 16 percent of millennials, is cheaper than still looking, since they save money by not going out on so many dates.

5. They save on taxes if they’re married.

Ever-practical, these millennials. They recognize that being half of a married couple can save on their tax bill—and they don’t forget that either when looking for cash to stash for the future.

4. They bargain-hunt for credit card perks.

Make no mistake, among millennials travel is a big deal: 58 percent said travel destinations are their favorite topic of conversation.

And asked what they would purchase with $2,000 if they could only spend it on one thing, 25 percent said plane tickets.

As a result, they tend to be particularly savvy when it comes to being able to travel, with 16 percent seeking out credit cards that provide big mileage bonuses.

3. They leverage perks to pursue other little luxuries without having to lay out cash for them.

In fact, they’re fond of doing it for travel, with 7 percent using airline miles to upgrade to business class.

In addition, 7 percent use status from premium credit cards for hotel upgrades, and 6 percent use premium cards for lounge access.

2. They’re planning on grad school.

While that may not seem like saving—even though it’s definitely ahead of the 11 percent of male millennials who are saving for a new luxury car and the 12 percent of female millennials saving for a new wardrobe—they’re looking toward an advanced degree for a leg up the job ladder.

Oh, and 27 percent are saving for a place of their own.

1. They stay away from credit cards.

Mashable reports that, despite their spendthrift reputations, millennials are actually opting for other types of technology—digital wallets, for instance—but not so much credit cards.

It cites a BankRate finding that in fact, 67 percent of millennials don't have credit cards—the lowest amount of people without credit cards in any demographic, among adults.

And they’d rather be paid in cash, thank you very much. So say 58 percent, and they’re smart; it wards off unnecessary purchases and helps keep them out of credit card debt.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Satter M.  (2017 June 29). 10 ways millennials are saving for the future [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/06/29/10-ways-millennials-are-saving-for-the-future?ref=mostpopular&page_all=1


The American Health Care Act: Economic and Employment Consequences for States

Could health insurance reductions under the American Health Care Act (AHCA) cause problems for employment in the future? Check out this article from The Commonwealth Fund to learn more.

Abstract

Issue: The American Health Care Act (AHCA), passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The Congressional Budget Office indicates that the AHCA could increase the number of uninsured by 23 million by 2026.
Goal: To determine the consequences of the AHCA on employment and economic activity in every state.
Methods: We compute changes in federal spending and revenue from 2018 to 2026 for each state and use the PI+ model to project the effects on states’ employment and economies.
Findings and Conclusions: The AHCA would raise employment and economic activity at first, but lower them in the long run. It initially raises the federal deficit when taxes are repealed, leading to 864,000 more jobs in 2018. In later years, reductions in support for health insurance cause negative economic effects. By 2026, 924,000 jobs would be lost, gross state products would be $93 billion lower, and business output would be $148 billion less. About three-quarters of jobs lost (725,000) would be in the health care sector. States which expanded Medicaid would experience faster and deeper economic losses.

Background

On May 24, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA, H.R. 1628) to partially repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. The U.S. Senate is currently developing its own version of the legislation.

A January 2017 analysis found that repealing certain elements of the ACA—the Medicaid expansion and premium tax credits—could lead to 2.6 million jobs lost and lower gross state products of $1.5 trillion over five years.1,2 That brief focused only on specific repeal elements because other details were not available. This brief examines all aspects of the AHCA, including restructuring Medicaid and health tax credits and repealing ACA taxes (Exhibit 1).

Exhibit 1
Key Provisions of the American Health Care Act as Passed by the U.S. House of Representatives
Eliminates individual penalties for not having health insurance and penalties for employers that do not offer adequate coverage to employees. Raises premiums for people who do not maintain continuous insurance coverage.
Replaces the current income-related premium tax credits to subsidize nongroup health insurance with age-based tax credits. Allows premiums to be five times higher for the oldest individuals, compared to the current threefold maximum.
Restricts state Medicaid eligibility expansions for adults, primarily by reducing federal matching rates from 90 percent beginning in 2020 to rates ranging between 50 percent and 75 percent.
Creates temporary funding for safety-net health services in states that did not expand Medicaid.
Restructures Medicaid funding based on per capita allotments rather than the current entitlement. States may adopt fixed block grants instead.
Creates a Patient and State Stability Fund and Invisible Risk-Sharing Program.
Terminates the Prevention and Public Health Fund.
Repeals numerous taxes included in the ACA, including Medicare taxes on investment income and on high-income earnings, taxes on health insurance and medical devices, and a tax on high-cost insurance (i.e., the “Cadillac tax”); raises limits for health savings accounts and lowers the threshold for medical care deductions.
Allows states to waive key insurance rules, like community rating of health insurance and essential health benefits. Creates a fund that states could use to lower costs for those adversely affected by the waiver.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported the AHCA would increase the number of uninsured Americans under age 65 by 14 million in fiscal year 2018, eventually reaching 23 million more by 2026.3 A RAND analysis of an earlier version of the bill was similar: 14 million more uninsured in 2020 and 20 million in 2026.4

This report examines the potential economic effects of the AHCA from calendar years 2018 to 2026, including:

    • employment levels, measured as changes in the number of jobs created or lost due to policy changes
    • state economic growth, as measured by changes in gross state products in current dollars, adjusted for inflation; an aggregate measure of state economies, analogous to the gross domestic product at the national level

state business output,

    as measured by changes in business receipts in current dollars at production, wholesale, and retail levels, encompassing multiple levels of business activity.

Our estimates are based on changes in federal funding gained or lost to states, consumers, and businesses. The AHCA significantly reduces federal funding for Medicaid. It lowers federal match funding for the 31 states and District of Columbia that expanded Medicaid, encouraging them to discontinue their expansions. It gives states an option to either adopt per capita allotments for Medicaid or fixed block grants; either option lowers federal Medicaid expenditures. Eliminating the tax penalty for individuals without health insurance reduces incentives to purchase insurance, raising the number of uninsured people. Restructuring premium tax credits and widening age-related differences in premiums are expected to shrink nongroup insurance coverage and reduce federal spending for health insurance subsidies. The AHCA is designed so that tax cuts take effect sooner than reductions in health insurance subsidies. Thus, state employment and economies could grow at first but shrink in later years as the coverage reductions deepen.

How Federal Health Funding Stimulates Job Creation and State Economies

Federal health funds are used to purchase health care. Then, fiscal effects ripple out through the rest of the economy, creating employment and other economic growth. This phenomenon is called the multiplier effect. Health funds directly pay hospitals, doctors’ offices, and other providers; this is the direct effect of federal funding. These facilities use revenue to pay their employees and buy goods and services, such as rent or equipment; this is the indirect effect of the initial spending. In addition, there are induced effects that occur as health care employees or other businesses (and eventually their workers) use their income to purchase consumer goods like housing, transportation, or food, producing sales for a diverse range of businesses. Similarly, when federal taxes are reduced, consumers or businesses retain income and can purchase goods and services, invest, or save. Due to interstate commerce, each type of effect can flow across state lines.

Both government spending increases and tax reductions can stimulate job creation and economic growth. The relative effects depend on how the funds are used. Government spending or transfers, like health insurance subsidies, typically have stronger multiplier effects in stimulating consumption and economic growth than do tax cuts. Tax cuts usually aid people with high incomes who shift much of their gains into savings, stimulating less economic activity.5,6,7 A recent analysis found that 90 percent of the AHCA’s tax cuts go to the top one-fifth of the population by income.8

This report estimates how the AHCA will change federal funds gained or lost for all 50 states and the District of Columbia from 2018 to 2026. We allocate federal funding changes, based on CBO estimates, for each state. We then analyze how federal funding changes ripple through state economies, using the PI+ economic model, developed by Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI).9 (See Appendix B. Study Methods.)

Findings

Overall Effects

As illustrated in Exhibit 2, most of the AHCA’s tax repeals begin almost at once, while coverage-related spending reductions phase in. The net effect initially raises the federal deficit. In 2018, the number of jobs would rise by 864,000 and state economies would grow. Health sector employment begins to fall immediately in 2018, with a loss of 24,000 jobs, and continues dropping to 725,000 health jobs lost by 2026 (Exhibit 3). Most other employment sectors gain initially, but then drop off and experience losses.

By 2020, the reduction in federal funding for coverage would roughly equal the total level of tax cuts. By the following year, 2021, coverage reductions outpace tax cuts. As a result, there are 205,000 fewer jobs than without the AHCA and state economies begin to shrink.

By 2026, 924,000 fewer people would have jobs. Gross state products would drop by $93 billion and business output would be $148 billion lower. These downward trends would continue after 2026.

Looking at Coverage-Related and Tax Repeal Policies

To better understand how the AHCA affects state economies and employment, Exhibit 4 looks at the two major components of the AHCA separately. The coverage-related policies (Title I of the AHCA and sections related to premium tax credits and individual and employer mandates) generally lower federal spending, particularly due to cuts to Medicaid and premium tax credits. Some policies partially offset those large cuts, such as the Patient and State Stability Fund. The tax repeal policies (Title II, except for sections about premium tax credits and individual and employer mandates), such as repeal of Medicare-related taxes, Cadillac tax, or medical device tax, predominantly help people with high incomes or selected businesses.

Implemented alone, the coverage-related policies would lead to steep job losses over time, reaching 1.9 million by 2026, driven by deep Medicaid cuts (Exhibit 4). Job losses begin to mount in 2019.

Alternatively, the tax repeal policies on their own would be associated with higher employment and state economic growth. Gains begin with 837,000 more jobs in 2018; this rises through 2024, and leads to 1 million additional jobs in 2026. Combined, tax repeal and coverage-related changes lead to initial economic and employment growth but eventual losses.

The detailed employment results show how these two components of the AHCA affect different economic sectors. Coverage and spending-related policies are directly related to funding for health services (e.g., Medicaid, premium tax credits, high-risk pools). The reductions directly affect the health sector—hospitals, doctors’ offices, or pharmacies—but then flow out to other sectors. Thus, about two-fifths of jobs lost due to coverage policies are in the health sector while three-fifths are in other sectors. Tax changes affect consumption broadly, spreading effects over most job sectors.

Within the health sector, job losses due to coverage-related cuts are much greater than gains due to tax repeal; losses in health care jobs begin immediately. In other sectors, employment grows at the beginning but later declines.

State-Level Effects

Consequences differ from state to state. We summarize data for nine states: Alaska, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Exhibit 5 shows the effects of the AHCA in 2018 and in 2026. Complete results for all 50 states and the District of Columbia are available in Appendices A1–A4. In this analysis, states that expanded Medicaid tend to experience deeper and faster economic declines, although substantial losses occur even among nonexpansion states:

  • Eight of the nine states (Alaska, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia) begin with positive economic and employment effects in 2018, but are worse off by 2026, with outcomes typically turning negative well before 2026.
  • Michigan is worse off in 2018 and continues to decline through 2026. We assume Michigan will terminate its Medicaid expansion immediately because of a state law that automatically cancels the expansion if the federal matching rate changes.10 Six other states (Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Washington) have similar legislation and experience losses sooner than other states.
  • Most job losses are in health care. In six states (Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, and West Virginia) health care job losses begin in 2018, but all nine states have significant reductions in health employment by 2026. Looking at the U.S. overall, in most states, losses in health care jobs begin by 2020 (Appendix A2).
  • States that expanded Medicaid have deeper and faster losses. Having earned more federal funds, they lose more when Medicaid matching rates fall. While cutting funds to states that expanded health insurance for low-income Medicaid populations, the bill temporarily increases funding to states that did not expand Medicaid. Nonetheless, states that did not expand Medicaid, like Florida and Maine, experience job and economic losses after a few years. In fact, Florida has the third-highest level of job loss in the nation by 2026.
  • Other factors that can affect the size of economic and employment effects include:
    • the extent to which states gained coverage in the ACA health insurance marketplaces; states with higher marketplace enrollment tend to lose more
    • the cost of health insurance in the state; the new tax credits are the same regardless of location, making insurance less affordable in high-cost states and reducing participation
    • age structure; older people will find insurance less affordable
    • state population size; the population size of states magnifies their losses or gains
    • other factors that affect tax distribution, like number of residents with investment income or high incomes or whether medical device or pharmaceutical manufacturers are located in the state.

Overall, the 10 states with the largest job losses by 2026 are: New York (86,000), Pennsylvania (85,000), Florida (83,000), Michigan (51,000), Illinois (46,000), New Jersey (42,000), Ohio (42,000), North Carolina (41,000), California (32,000), and Tennessee (28,000). Forty-seven states have job losses by 2026; four states (Colorado, Hawaii, Utah, and Washington) have small job gains in 2026, but would likely incur losses in another year or two (Appendix A1).

Conclusions

The House bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would greatly reduce the number of people with insurance coverage, effectively reversing gains made since the law’s enactment. The AHCA would initially create more employment and economic growth, driven by a federal deficit increase in 2018 and 2019, but the effects turn negative as coverage reductions deepen, with job losses and lower economic growth beginning in 2021. By 2026, 924,000 jobs would be lost, gross state products would be $93 billion lower, and business output could fall by $148 billion.

Health care has been one of the main areas of job growth in recent years.11 Under the AHCA, the sector would lose jobs immediately, with a loss of 24,000 jobs in 2018. By 2026, 725,000 fewer health sector jobs would exist. This would be a major reversal from current trends. While our analysis shows other employment sectors grow initially, most other sectors would experience losses within a decade.

It may be useful to look at these findings in a macroeconomic context. The U.S. unemployment rate for May 2017 was 4.3 percent, the lowest in 16 years and about half as high as during the recent recession. When unemployment is low, additional job growth creates a tighter labor market, so that businesses often have greater difficulties filling job vacancies. In turn, this can accelerate inflation.

It is likely that the business cycle will eventually slow down again. In that event, the AHCA could accentuate job loss and economic contraction. Combined with major increases in the number of uninsured, this could contribute to a period of economic and medical hardship in the U.S. The AHCA could exaggerate both the highs and lows of the business cycle. From a national policy perspective, it may be more useful to develop countercyclical policies that strengthen employment and the economy during times of contraction.

This analysis finds that the net effect of the AHCA would be a loss of almost 1 million jobs by 2026, combined with 23 million more Americans without health insurance, according to the CBO. In late May, the Trump administration released its budget proposal, which appears to propose an additional $610 billion in Medicaid cuts, beyond those included in the AHCA.12 Such deep cuts would further deepen the employment and economic losses discussed in this study.

This analysis has many limitations. We do not know whether or when the AHCA or an alternative will be enacted into law. Alternative policies could yield different effects. We focus only on the consequences of the AHCA. Other legislation, such as infrastructure, trade, national security, or tax policies, may be considered by Congress and might also affect economic growth and employment.

These projections, like others, are fraught with uncertainty. Economic, technical, or policy changes could alter results. In particular, the AHCA grants substantial discretion to states, such as in Medicaid expansions, waivers of federal regulations, and use of new funds like the Patient and State Stability Fund. While this analysis is aligned with CBO’s national estimates, we developed state-level projections, introducing further uncertainty. Our approach conservatively spreads changes across states and may underestimate the highs and lows for individual states.

See original article Here.

Source:

Ku, L., Steinmetz, E., Brantley, E., Holla, N., Bruen, B. (14 June 2017). The American Health Care Act: Economic and Employment Consequences for States. [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2017/jun/ahca-economic-and-employment-consequences


401(k) Borrowing Isn’t Free

Have your employees been dipping into their 401(k)s to support their financial needs? Then take a look at this article by David Sherman from Employee Benefit Adviser on why employees shouldn't dip into their 401(k)s and what employers can do to help employees support themselves financially without having to use the money saved in their 401(k)s.

When dire financial need strikes, employees often tap their retirement accounts. While there are cases in which a 401(k) withdrawal makes sense, these loans should be viewed as an absolute last resort.

There are significant downsides related to 401(k) loans such as including penalties, administration and maintenance fees as well as “leakage” from retirement accounts. This occurs when an employee takes a loan on their 401(k), cashes out entirely or leaves their job and rolls over their account to their new employer.

Borrowing from retirement plans presents hazards to the employer, as well. More employers are minimizing the ability of employees to dip into their 401(k) savings by limiting the number of loans from 66% in 2012 to 45% in 2016, according to SHRM. Despite this, the bottom line is that employees need access to low cost credit.

More than 1-in-4 participants use their 401(k) savings for non-retirement needs, according to financial education provider HelloWallet. That amounts to a startling $70 billion of retirement savings that employees are siphoning away from their future.

There are hidden costs to 401(k) loans. One of the perceived benefits of a 401(k) loan is that the borrower isn’t charged any interest. That’s a fallacy: 401(k) loans typically include interest rates that are 1 to 2 points higher than the current Prime Rate plus administrative fees. While the borrower pays this money to him or herself rather than to a bank, these “repayments” don’t take into account penalty of taking money out of a 401(k) for months or years when it might have enjoyed market gains.

The downside of the interest rate is that it makes paying back the loan more difficult and this will likely lead to 401(k) leakage. In some cases, loopholes that allow employees to raid their 401(k)s before retirement reduce the aggregate wealth in those accounts by 25%. Simply put, this translates into having the most senior and highest paid employees stay on the job because they do not have enough funds in their account to retire. From an HR administrator’s standpoint, that can increase overall costs, since employees who cannot afford to retire are drawing higher-than-average salaries. And thanks to their advanced age, they also run-up costs on the employer’s medical plan.

The financial wellness alternative

Employers should offer socially responsible alternatives to borrowing from their 401k. Not only to ensure that older workers can afford to retire and make room for younger, less-expensive hires, but to ease the financial burden for employees when emergencies do happen. This should be offered as a voluntary benefit with no risk to employers. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, “The Rising Retirement Perils of 401(k) ‘Leakage’” Redner’s Markets made that leap offering a low-cost Kashable loan to its employees. It stopped leakage and offered employees of the online grocer much needed relief from financial stress.

Adding a financial wellness solution to the employee voluntary benefits package that provides access to responsible credit is a first step in untangling employees’ financials. For employees struggling with college loans and credit card debt, this financial-wellness benefit allows them to borrow when needed at a low rate. For the 35% of employees surveyed by PWC in 2016 that said they had trouble meeting their monthly household expenses and the 29% that said they had trouble meeting their minimum credit card charges each month, this voluntary program provides multiple benefits. For the employee, it is an opportunity to build or improve their credit score, and provide relief from financial stress. To the employer, it’s a risk-free solution to stop the leakage from retirement accounts.

 

See the original article Here.

Source:

Sherman D. (2017 June 5). 401(k) borrowing isn't free [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/401-k-borrowing-isnt-free?feed=00000152-1377-d1cc-a5fa-7fff0c920000


The 10 Biggest 401(k) Plan Misconceptions

Do you know everything you need to know about your 401(k)? Check out this great article from Employee Benefit News about the top 10 misconceptions people have about their 401(k)s by Robert C. Lawton.

Unfortunately for plan sponsors, 401(k) plan participants have some big misconceptions about their retirement plan.

Having worked as a 401(k) plan consultant for more than 30 years with some of the most prestigious companies in the world — including Apple, AT&T, IBM, John Deere, Northern Trust, Northwestern Mutual — I’m always surprised by the simple but significant 401(k) plan misconceptions many plan participants have. Following are the most common and noteworthy —all of which employers need to help employees address.

1. I only need to contribute up to the maximum company match

Many participants believe that their company is sending them a message on how much they should contribute. As a result, they only contribute up to the maximum matched contribution percentage. In most plans, that works out to be only 6% in employee contributions. Many studies have indicated that participants need to average at least 15% in contributions each year. To dispel this misperception, and motivate participants to contribute something closer to what they should, plan sponsors should consider stretching their matching contribution.

2. It’s OK to take a participant loan

I have had many participants tell me, “If this were a bad thing why would the company let me do it?” Account leakage via defaulted loans is one of the reasons why some participants never save enough for retirement. In addition, taking a participant loan is a horribleinvestment strategy. Plan participants should first explore taking a home equity loan, where the interest is tax deductible. Plan sponsors should consider curtailing or eliminating their loan provisions.

3. Rolling a 401(k) account into an IRA is a good idea

There are many investment advisers working hard to convince participants this is a good thing to do. However, higher fees, lack of free investment advice, use of higher-cost investment options, lack of availability of stable value and guaranteed fund investment options and many other factors make this a bad idea for most participants.

4. My 401(k) account is a good way to save for college, a first home, etc.

When 401(k) plans were first rolled out to employees decades ago, human resources staff helped persuade skeptical employees to contribute by saying the plans could be used for saving for many different things. They shouldn’t be. It is a bad idea to use a 401(k) plan to save for an initial down payment on a home or to finance a home. Similarly, a 401(k) plan is not the best place to save for a child’s education — 529 plans work much better. Try to eliminate the language in your communication materials that promotes your 401(k) plan as a place to do anything other than save for retirement.

5. I should stop making 401(k) contributions when the stock market crashes

This is a more prevalent feeling among plan participants than you might think. I have had many participants say to me, “Bob, why should I invest my money in the stock market when it is going down. I'm just going to lose money!” These are the same individuals who will be rushing into the stock market at market tops. This logic is important to unravel with participants and something plan sponsors should emphasize in their employee education sessions.

6. Actively trading my 401(k) account will help me maximize my account balance

Trying to time the market, or following newsletters or a trader's advice, is rarely a winning strategy. Consistently adhering to an asset allocation strategy that is appropriate to a participant's age and ability to bear risk is the best approach for most plan participants.

7. Indexing is always superior to active management

Although index investing ensures a low-cost portfolio, it doesn't guarantee superior performance or proper diversification. Access to commodity, real estate and international funds is often sacrificed by many pure indexing strategies. A blend of active and passive investments often proves to be the best investment strategy for plan participants.

8. Target date funds are not good investments

Most experts who say that target date funds are not good investments are not comparing them to a participant's allocations prior to investing in target date funds. Target date funds offer proper age-based diversification. Many participants, before investing in target date funds, may have invested in only one fund or a few funds that were inappropriate risk-wise for their age.

9. Money market funds are good investments

These funds have been guaranteed money losers for a number of years because they have not kept pace with inflation. Unless a participant is five years or less away from retirement or has difficulty taking on even a small amount of risk, these funds are below-average investments. As a result of the new money market fund rules, plan sponsors should offer guaranteed or stable value investment options instead.

10. I can contribute less because I will make my investments will work harder

Many participants have said to me, “Bob, I don’t have to contribute as much as others because I am going to make my investments do more of the work.” Most participants feel that the majority of their final account balance will come from earnings in their 401(k) account. However, studies have shown that the major determinant of how much participants end up with at retirement is the amount of contributions they make, not the amount of earnings. This is another misconception that plan sponsors should work hard to unwind in their employee education sessions.

Make sure you address all of these misconceptions in your next employee education sessions.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Lawton R. (2017 April 4). The 10 biggest 401(k) plan misconceptions[Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/the-10-biggest-401-k-plan-misperceptions?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001