IRS Issues New HSA and HRA limits

The IRS issued Revenue Procedure 2021-25 on May 10, 2021, to announce the 2022 inflation-adjusted amounts for health savings accounts (HSAs) under Section 223 of the Internal Revenue Code (Code) and the maximum amount that may be made newly available for excepted benefit health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs).


HSA Limits

HIGHLIGHTS:

Individuals with HDHP: $3,650

Family with HDHP: $7,300

 

ALL THE DETAILS:

For calendar year 2022, the HSA annual limitation on deductions for an individual with self-only coverage under a high deductible health plan is $3,650. The 2022 HSA annual limitation on deductions for an individual with family coverage under a high deductible health plan is $7,300. The IRS guidance provides that for calendar year 2022, a “high deductible health plan” is defined as a health plan with an annual deductible that is not less than $1,400 for self-only coverage or $2,800 for family coverage, and the annual out-of-pocket expenses (deductibles, copayments, and other amounts, but not premiums) do not exceed $7,050 for self-only coverage or $14,100 for family coverage.


HRA Limits

HIGHLIGHTS:

Max Amount: $1,800

ALL THE DETAILS:

For plan years beginning in 2022, the maximum amount that may be made newly available for the plan year for an excepted benefit HRA is $1,800. Treasury Regulation §54.9831-1(c)(3)(viii)(B)(1) provides further explanation of the calculation.

 


Compliance Check - April 2021

OVERVIEW

March 2021 was an eventful month with regard to new guidance on recently passed legislation and expanded provisions from the IRS to provide relief to individuals and businesses impacted by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Most significantly, on March 11, 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (overview) was enacted into law which, in part, mandates that eligible individuals receive a six-month 100% COBRA.

Below is a summary of the many changes and updates for review.

IRS Notice 2021-21

Due to the COVID-19 national emergency, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Notice 2021-21 (Notice) that extends the deadline for filing income returns on Form 1040, Form 1040-SR, Form 1040-NR, Form 1040-PR, Form 1040-SS, or Form 1040 (SP). The Notice extends the general April 15, 2021, deadline to May 17, 2021. The Notice provides that individuals with a deadline to file a claim for credit or refund of federal income tax filed on the Form 1040 series or on a Form 1040-X that falls on or after April 15, 2021, and before May 17,
2021, have until May 17, 2021, to file the claims for credit or refund.

The Notice also extends the deadline to file and furnish Form 5498 (individual retirement account (IRA) Contribution Information), Form 5498-ESA (Coverdell education savings account (ESA) Contribution Information), and Form 5498-SA (health savings account (HSA), Archer Medical Savings Account (Archer MSA), or Medicare Advantage Medical Savings Accounts (Medicare Advantage MSA) Information). The Notice extends the general June 1, 2021, deadline to June 30, 2021. The deadline for making contributions to IRAs, Roth IRAs, HSAs, Archer MSAs, and Coverdell ESAs has also been extended from April 15, 2021, to May 17, 2021.

 

PPE as Section 213(d) Qualified Medical Expenses

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Announcement 2021-7 providing that amounts paid for personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes, for the primary purpose of preventing the spread of COVID-19, are qualified medical expenses under Internal Revenue Code Section 213(d). Therefore, these expenses are eligible for reimbursement from account-based plans, including health flexible spending arrangements (health FSAs), Archer medical savings accounts (Archer MSAs), health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), and health savings accounts (HSAs). Note that if the expense is reimbursed under an account-based plan, it is not deductible for the taxpayer under Section 213 (no double benefit).

The IRS provides that group health plans, including health FSAs and HRAs, will need to be amended if the plans prohibit reimbursement of PPE. Group health plans may be amended to provide for such reimbursement of PPE expenses incurred for any period beginning on or after
January 1, 2020. Such an amendment must be adopted no later than the last day of the first calendar year beginning after the end of the plan year in which the amendment is effective. The amendment can have a retroactive effective date (unless it is adopted after December 31, 2022) if the plan is operated consistent with the terms of the amendment beginning on the effective date of the amendment. The IRS provides that the amendment will not cause plans to fail the Section 125 cafeteria plan requirements.

 

Executive Order on Strengthening Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act

3/24/2021 Update: CMS has extended the new special enrollment period for marketplaces using the Heathcare.gov platform until August 15, 2021. See the updated CMS FAQs for more information. On January 28, 2021, President Biden signed an Executive Order on Strengthening Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. The Executive Order instructs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to consider establishing a special open enrollment period (SEP) for individuals to enroll in or change their current coverage under federally facilitated health insurance marketplaces. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) initially established that the special enrollment period would begin on February 15, 2021, and would continue through May 15, 2021. CMS extended the SEP to apply from February 15, 2021, through August 15, 2021. This SEP will be available to individuals in the 36 states with marketplaces using the Healthcare.gov platform. Individuals can check their eligibility for this SEP on Healthcare.gov.

The Executive Order instructs HHS, the Department of Labor (DOL), the Department of the Treasury (Treasury), and all other executive departments and agencies with authorities and responsibilities related to Medicaid and the ACA (Agencies) to review all existing  regulations and other guidelines or policies (agency actions) as soon as possible to examine:

  • policies or practices that may undermine protections for people with pre-existing conditions, including complications related to COVID-19, under the ACA;
  • demonstrations and waivers, as well as demonstration and waiver policies, that may reduce coverage under or otherwise undermine Medicaid or the ACA;
  • policies or practices that may undermine the Health Insurance Marketplace or the individual, small group, or large group markets for health insurance in the United States;
  • policies or practices that may present unnecessary barriers to individuals and families attempting to access Medicaid or ACA coverage, including for mid-year enrollment; and
  • policies or practices that may reduce the affordability of coverage or financial assistance for coverage, including for dependents.

The Executive Order instructs the Agencies to suspend, revise, or revoke, as soon as possible, agency actions that are inconsistent with the policy of the Biden Administration to protect and strengthen Medicaid and the ACA and to make high-quality healthcare accessible and affordable for every American. The Executive Order also instructs the Agencies to consider whether to issue additional agency actions to more fully enforce this policy.

Finally, the Executive Order revokes Executive Order 13765 Minimizing the Economic Burden of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Pending Repeal issued on January 20, 2017, and Executive Order 13813 Promoting Healthcare Choice and Competition Across the United States issued on October 12, 2017. As part of the review of agency actions, the Executive Order instructs the Agencies to consider, as soon as possible, whether to suspend, revise, or rescind agency actions related to these executive orders.

 

American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 – COBRA Premium Assistance

On March 11, 2021, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (Act). The Act is a $1.9 trillion legislative package that includes pandemic relief for individuals and families. The Act contains several provisions including funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, the child tax credit, tax credits for paid sick leave and family and medical leave, the Paycheck Protection Program, grants to state educational agencies, and low-income family assistance. The Act also contains several provisions affecting group health plans. This series of Advisors will focus on the provisions affecting group health plans. Below is an overview of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) coverage premium assistance provisions contained in the Act.

The Act provides COBRA relief for assistance-eligible individuals. An assistance-eligible individual is an individual who is eligible for COBRA due to the COBRA qualifying event of termination of employment or reduction in hours, except for an individual’s voluntary termination of employment, and if he or she elects coverage during the period beginning April 1, 20201, and ending on September 30, 2021.

COBRA Premium Assistance

COBRA premiums for any period of coverage for an assistance-eligible individual covered under COBRA in the period of time beginning April 1, 2021, and ending on September 30, 2021, will be considered paid (that is, assistance-eligible individuals will not be required to pay the COBRA premiums). If an assistance-eligible individual pays any portion of the COBRA premiums, the amount must be reimbursed within 60 days of the date on which the individual made the premium payment.

Permitted Alternative (Different) COBRA Coverage

If an assistance-eligible individual enrolled in a group health plan experiences the COBRA qualifying event of termination of employment or reduction in hours, other than voluntary employment termination, an employer may choose to offer the COBRA-qualified individual different coverage (in addition to the offer of normal COBRA coverage) that is not the same plan as the plan the individual was covered under at the time the COBRA qualifying event. The individual must elect this coverage no later than 90 days after receiving notice of the option. The premium for this different coverage must not exceed the premium for coverage in which the individual was enrolled in at the time the qualifying event occurred. The different coverage in which the individual elects to enroll in must be coverage that is also offered to similarly situated active employees of the employer at the time the individual elects the different coverage. The different coverage cannot be a) coverage that only provides excepted benefits, b) a qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement (QSEHRA), or c) a flexible spending arrangement (FSA). This coverage will be treated as COBRA coverage.

Extension of COBRA Election Period

An individual who a) does not have a COBRA election in effect on April 1, 2021, but who would otherwise be an assistance-eligible individual if an election were in effect; or b) elected COBRA continuation coverage, but discontinued the coverage before April 1, 2021, may elect COBRA continuation coverage during the period beginning April 1, 2021, and ending 60 days after the date on which the administrator of the applicable group health plan (or other entity) provides the additional notification, described below, to the individual.

Any COBRA continuation coverage elected by a qualified beneficiary during an extended election period noted above must begin on or after April 1, 2021, and will not extend beyond the maximum period of COBRA coverage that would have applied had the coverage had been elected and maintained without the extension.

Limitation of the COBRA Premium Subsidy

This COBRA premium subsidy will expire upon the earlier of:

    • The first date that the individual is eligible for benefits under Medicare or eligible for coverage under any other group health plan (not including coverage that a) only provides excepted benefits, b) is a QSEHRA, or c) is an FSA); or
    • The earlier of:
      • the date following the expiration of the applicable maximum COBRA coverage period due to the qualifying event, or
      • The end of the COBRA period that would have applied had the coverage had been elected and maintained without the extension.

An assistance-eligible individual must notify the group health plan when his or her premium subsidy period has expired as noted above. The Act provides that the Department of Labor (DOL) will determine the way the notice must be provided and the deadline by which the notice must be provided.

Notices to Individuals

The required COBRA election notice provided by the plan administrator to individuals that become eligible to elect COBRA continuation coverage during the period of time beginning April 1, 2021, and ending on September 30, 2021, must include an additional written notification (included in the election notice or by a separate document) to the recipient in clear language of the availability of the premium assistance and the option to enroll in different coverage if the employer permits assistance-eligible individuals to elect enrollment in different coverage as described above. In a situation in which the election notice is not required to be provided by the plan administrator, the DOL and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will provide rules requiring the provision of such notice.

The additional notice must include:

    • the forms necessary for establishing eligibility for premium assistance;
    • the name, address, and telephone number necessary to contact the plan administrator and any other person maintaining relevant information in connection with such premium assistance;
    • a description of the extended election period noted above;
    • a description of the obligation of the qualified beneficiary to notify the group health plan when his or her premium subsidy period has expired and the penalty provided under section 6720C of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 for failure to carry out this obligation;
    • a description, displayed in a prominent manner, of the qualified beneficiary’s right to a subsidized premium and any conditions on entitlement to the subsidized premium; and
    • a description of the option of the qualified beneficiary to enroll in different coverage if the employer permits the beneficiary to elect to enroll in different coverage.

In the case of any assistance-eligible individual (or any individual who qualifies for an extended election period noted above who became eligible to elect COBRA continuation coverage before April 1, 2021) the administrator of the applicable group health plan (or other entity) must provide, within 60 days after April 1, 2021, the additional notification required above. Failure to provide the additional notice will be treated as a failure to meet the election notice requirement under COBRA.

The Act instructs the DOL, HHS, and the Department of the Treasury to issue models for the additional notification described above no later than 30 days after the enactment of this Act.

The administrator of the applicable group health plan (or other entity) also must provide an assistance-eligible individual a written notice in clear language that the premium assistance will expire soon and must prominently identify the date the assistance will expire and that the individual may be eligible for COBRA or coverage under a group health plan without premium assistance. This notice must be provided no earlier than 45 days before the expiration date of the assistance and no later than 15 days before the expiration date. Notice is not required to be provided if an individual’s premium assistance expires due to expiration of the COBRA coverage period or the date that the individual is eligible for benefits under Medicare or eligible for coverage under any other group health plan (not including coverage that a) only provides excepted benefits, b) is a QSEHRA, or c) is an FSA).

The Act instructs the DOL, HHS, and the Treasury to issue models for the premium assistance expiration notification described above no later than 45 days after the enactment of this Act.

Premium Assistance Credit

The employer maintaining the plan that is subject to COBRA (or the plan in the case of a multiple employer plan under Section 3(37) of ERISA; in all other cases, the issuer providing coverage) is entitled to a premium assistance credit against the FICA Medicare tax imposed on it. The amount of the premium assistance credit for each calendar quarter is equal to the amount of premiums not paid by assistance-eligible individuals. The credit allowed for each calendar quarter cannot exceed the tax imposed by Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 3111(b), or so much of the taxes imposed under section 3221(a) as are attributable to the rate in effect under Section 3111(b), for such calendar quarter (reduced by any credits allowed against such taxes under Sections 3131, 3132, and 3134) on the wages paid with respect to the employment of all employees of the employer. If the premium assistance credit that an employer is entitled to exceed this limitation, the excess amount must be treated as an overpayment by the employer and refunded to the employer. The premium assistance credit may be advanced according to forms and instructions provided by the IRS. Note that the IRS will waive penalties for failure to pay the FICA Medicare tax up to the premium assistance credit amount if the IRS determines that the failure was due to the anticipation of the credit. If an entity overstates the amount of credit it is entitled to, this will be treated as an underpayment of the FICA Medicare tax.

No premium assistance credit will be allowed for any amount that is taken into account as qualified wages under the employee retention credit or qualified health plan expenses under the federal paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave credit.

The premium assistance credit applies to premiums and wages paid on or after April 1, 2021.

 

American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 – DCAPs and Exchange Health Insurance

On March 11, 2021, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The Act is a $1.9 trillion legislative package, which contains several provisions intended to relieve employers and families from some of the economic burdens associated with COVID-19. The Act contains funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, a child tax credit, tax credits for paid sick leave and family and medical leave, the paycheck protection program, grants to state educational agencies, and low-income family assistance. The Act also contains several provisions affecting group health plans.

Increase in the Maximum Exclusion Under DCAPs

The Act increases the maximum amount that can be excluded from an employee’s income under a dependent care flexible spending arrangement (DCAP) from $5,000 to $10,500 if the employee is married and filing a joint return or if the employee is a single parent ($2,500 to $5,250 for individuals who are married but filing separately) for any taxable year beginning after December 31, 2020, and before January 1, 2022. An employer may amend a DCAP to apply this increased limit retroactively to January 1, 2021, if the amendment is adopted no later than the last day of the plan year in which the amendment is effective and the plan is operated consistent with the terms of the amendment during the period beginning on the effective date of the amendment and ending on the date the amendment is adopted.

Expanded Premium Tax Credit Eligibility and Lower Required Contribution Percentages on the Health Insurance Marketplace/Exchange

For the taxable years of 2021 and 2022, the Act has expanded eligibility for the premium tax credit for individuals who purchase health insurance on an Exchange. Under the Act, there is no upper-income limit on individuals who are eligible for a premium tax credit for 2021 and 2022 (under the existing Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) rules, the premium tax credit is limited to individuals with household income between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level (FPL)). The Act also lowers the percentage of household income that individuals must contribute for health insurance coverage purchased on an Exchange.

In the case of an individual who has received, or has been approved to receive, unemployment compensation for any week beginning during 2021, for that taxable year an Exchange must not take into account any household income of the individual in excess of 133 percent of the poverty limit for a family of the size involved.

 

Mandatory Coverage of COVID-19 Vaccines Under Group Health Plans

3/5/2021 Update: ACIP recommended the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine.

On December 11, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an Emergency Use Authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer vaccine). The following day, December 12, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control Advisory Committee on Immunization
Practices (ACIP) issued an interim recommendation for use of the Pfizer vaccine in persons aged 16 years or older for the prevention of COVID-19.

On December 18, 2020, the FDA issued an Emergency Use Authorization for the Moderna COVID-19 (mRNA-1273) vaccine (Moderna vaccine). The following day, December 19, 2020, ACIP issued an interim recommendation for use of the Moderna vaccine in persons aged 18 or older for the prevention of COVID-19.

On February 27, 2021, the FDA issued an Emergency Use Authorization for the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. The following day, February 28, 2021, ACIP issued an interim recommendation for use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in persons aged 18 or older for the prevention of COVID-19.

Alternative COVID-19 vaccines are likely to be approved by the FDA under emergency authority in the coming weeks. Group health plans are encouraged to prepare to cover the cost of the Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and other approved COVID-19 vaccines.

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), non-grandfathered individual and employer-sponsored group health plans are required to cover the entire cost of preventative services by not imposing cost-sharing in the form of deductibles, copays, coinsurance or other amounts on the following:

  • An item, service, or immunization that is intended to prevent or mitigate the coronavirus disease and is an evidence-based item or service that has a rating of “A” or “B” in the current recommendations of the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF); and
  • An immunization that is intended to prevent or mitigate the coronavirus disease that has a recommendation from ACIP with respect to the individual involved.

The CARES Act requires that the above services be covered as preventive care 15 business days after the date on which a recommendation is made by the USPSTF or ACIP relating to the service. Accordingly, non-grandfathered individual and group health plans must cover the Pfizer vaccine as preventive care no later than January 5, 2021 (based on the December 12, 2020, recommendation from ACIP), the Moderna vaccine as preventive care no later than January 12, 2021 (based on the December 19, 2020, recommendation from ACIP), and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as preventive care no later than March 19, 2021 (based on February 28, 2021 recommendation from ACIP).

ACIP has recommended that only health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities receive the vaccine in the initial phase (Phase 1a) of the COVID-19 vaccination program. ACIP previously recommended that during Phase 1b, the vaccine should be distributed to essential workers such as members of the education sector, food and agriculture, utilities, police, firefighters, corrections officers, and transportation. ACIP has revised this recommendation so that during Phase 1b the vaccine should be offered to persons aged 75 years or older and frontline essential workers (non–health care workers).

ACIP previously recommended that during Phase 1c, the vaccine should be distributed to adults with high-risk medical conditions and adults aged 65 years or older. ACIP has revised this recommendation so that during Phase 1c, the vaccine should be offered to persons aged 65 to 74 years old, persons aged 16 to 64 years old with high-risk medical conditions, and essential workers not recommended for vaccination in Phase 1b.

Phase 2 includes all other persons aged 16 years or older that are not included in Phases 1a, 1b, or 1c.

Employers should ensure that their non-grandfathered group health plans, whether self-insured, or fully insured through carriers, are prepared to cover COVID-19 vaccines as provided under the CARES Act and that the plan documents reflect such coverage. Further, participant communications should be distributed that provide information regarding the availability of COVID-19 vaccinations with no cost-sharing. Grandfathered plans are not required to cover COVID-19 vaccines under the CARES Act. However, employers with such plans should review their plan documents to determine whether COVID-19 vaccines are or should be covered.

 

EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01

3/2/2021 Update: The DOL issued EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01 providing that the outbreak period relief noted below ends on the earlier of one year from the date an individual or plan was first eligible for relief (extension period) or the original outbreak period of 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency. As of the date of this writing, the COVID-19 National Emergency has not ended.

On March 13, 2020, former President Trump issued the Proclamation on Declaring a National Emergency Concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Outbreak and by a separate writing made a determination, under Section 501(b) of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, that a national emergency exists nationwide beginning March 1, 2020, as the result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Department of Labor (DOL) recognizes that the COVID-19 outbreak may impede efforts to comply with various requirements and deadlines under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). As a result, the DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) issued Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01 (Notice 2020-01) that applies to employee benefit plans, employers, labor organizations, and other plan sponsors, plan fiduciaries, participants, beneficiaries, and covered service providers. Notice 2020-01 supplements the extended timeframes final rule issued by the DOL and the Department of the Treasury.

ERISA Notice and Disclosure Relief

In addition to the final rule, Notice 2020-01 provides an extension on deadlines for furnishing other required notices or disclosures to plan participants, beneficiaries, and other persons to grant plan fiduciaries and plan sponsors additional time to meet their obligations under Title I of ERISA during the COVID-19 outbreak. This extension applies to the furnishing of notices, disclosures, and other documents required by provisions of Title I of ERISA over which the DOL has authority, except for those notices and disclosures addressed in the final rule. See the DOL Reporting and Disclosure Guide for Employee Benefit Plans for an overview of the various notice and disclosure requirements under Title I of ERISA.

Under the EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01, an employee benefit plan and the responsible plan fiduciary may disregard the period from March 1, 2020, and ending on the earlier of one year from the date the plan was first eligible for relief (extension period) or the original outbreak period of 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency when determining the date that a notice or disclosure must be provided under Title I of ERISA. This relief will only apply if the plan and responsible fiduciary act in good faith and furnish the notice, disclosure, or document as soon as administratively practicable under the circumstances. Good faith acts include use of electronic alternative means of communicating with plan participants and beneficiaries whom the plan fiduciary reasonably believes have effective access to electronic means of communication, including email, text messages, and continuous access websites.

Plan Loans and Distributions

The DOL has taken a temporary non-enforcement position on retirement plan loan and distribution procedural deficiencies. Under Notice 2020-01, retirement plans that do not follow procedural requirements for plan loans or distributions imposed by the terms of the plan, will not be treated as in violation of Title I of ERISA if: 1) the failure is solely attributable to the COVID19 outbreak; 2) the plan administrator makes a good-faith diligent effort under the circumstances to comply with those requirements; and 3) the plan administrator makes a reasonable attempt to correct any procedural deficiencies, such as assembling any missing documentation, as soon as administratively practicable. The relief is limited to the DOL’s authority under Title I of ERISA and does not extend to Title II of ERISA, which contains provisions analogous to those under the Internal Revenue Code and subject to the jurisdiction of the IRS, such as the spousal consent rules for distributions.

Under Notice 2020-01, the DOL will not consider any person to have violated Title I of ERISA, including the requirement that the loan be adequately secured by the account balance, solely because: 1) the person made a plan loan to a qualified individual during the loan relief period in compliance with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) and the provisions of any related IRS notice or other published guidance; or 2) a qualified individual delayed making a plan loan repayment in compliance with the CARES Act and the provisions of any related IRS notice or other published guidance.

Notice 2020-01 provides that an employee pension benefit plan may be amended to provide the relief for plan loans and distributions described in section 2202 of the CARES Act and the DOL will treat the plan as being operated in accordance with the terms of the amendment prior to its adoption if: 1) the amendment is made on or before the last day of the first plan year beginning on or after January 1, 2022, or such later date prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury, and 2) the amendment meets the conditions of section 2202(c)(2)(B) of the CARES Act.

Participant Contributions and Loan Repayments

Under Notice 2020-01, as amended by Notice 2021-01, the DOL will not take enforcement action with respect to a temporary delay in forwarding participant payments and withholdings to employee pension benefit plans during the period from March 1, 2020, and ending on the earlier of one year from the date the plan was first eligible for relief (extension period) or the original outbreak period of 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency if the delay is solely attributable to the COVID-19 outbreak. However,  employers and service providers must act reasonably, prudently, and in the interest of employees to comply as soon as administratively practicable under the circumstances.

Blackout Notices

Notice 2020-01 provides individual account plan administrators with relief from the requirement that 30 days’ advance written notice be provided to participants before implementing a blackout period that restricts participants’ ability to direct investments and to obtain loans and other distributions from the plan. The relief is available when a plan administrator is unable to comply with the advance notice requirement due to events beyond the reasonable control of the plan administrator. The DOL will not require plan administrators to make a written determination when seeking relief from the 30 days’ advance notice requirement due to a pandemic, such as COVID-19.

General ERISA Fiduciary Compliance

Notice 2020-01 provides that plan fiduciaries should make reasonable accommodations to prevent the loss of benefits or undue delay in benefits payments and should attempt to minimize the possibility of individuals losing benefits because of a failure to comply with pre-established timeframes. The DOL recognizes that there may be instances when plans and service providers may be unable to achieve full and timely compliance with claims processing and other ERISA requirements. The DOL notes that it will implement grace periods and other relief where appropriate, including when physical disruption to a plan or service provider’s principal place of business makes compliance with pre-established timeframes for certain claims’ decisions or disclosures impossible.

The DOL will continue to monitor the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak and may provide additional relief when necessary.

 

Final Rule on the Extension of Certain Timeframes for Employee Benefit Plans, Participants, and Beneficiaries Due to COVID-19

3/2/2021 Update: The DOL issued EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01 providing that the outbreak period relief noted below ends on the earlier of one year from the date an individual or plan was first eligible for relief (extension period) or the original outbreak period of 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency. As of the date of this writing, the COVID-19 National Emergency has not ended. If a deadline noted below fell on March 1, 2020, it would be extended until February 28, 2021 (one year from March 1, 2020). However, if a deadline fell after March 1, 2020, the deadline would be extended to a date after February 28, 2021 because the extension is up to one year following the deadline or 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency, if earlier.

On March 13, 2020, former President Trump issued the Proclamation on Declaring a National Emergency Concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Outbreak and by separate letter made a determination, under Section 501(b) of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, that a national emergency exists nationwide beginning March 1, 2020, as the result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) issued a final rule that extends certain timeframes under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and Internal Revenue Code (IRC) for group health plans, disability, and other welfare plans, pension plans, and participants and beneficiaries of these plans during the COVID-19 national emergency. The timing extensions are issued to help alleviate problems faced by health plans to comply with strict ERISA and IRC timeframes and problems faced by participants and beneficiaries in exercising their rights under health plans during the COVID-19 national emergency. The final rule provides the timeframe extensions based on the end date of the “national emergency” (as of the date of this publication, the national emergency end date has not been announced) and the end date of the “outbreak period” which is the 60th day after the end of the national emergency. Under EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01, the end of the outbreak period relief is the earlier of one year from the date they were first eligible for relief (extension period), or the original outbreak period of 60 days after the announced end of the national emergency. Under the final rule the outbreak period will be disregarded, meaning the timeframes for the group health plan requirements noted below will be paused until after the outbreak period has ended.

HIPAA Special Enrollment Periods

Under HIPAA, group health plans must provide special enrollment periods in certain circumstances, including when an employee or dependent loses eligibility for any group health plan or other health insurance coverage in which the employee or the employee’s dependents were previously enrolled (including coverage under Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program), and when a person becomes a dependent of an eligible employee by birth, marriage, adoption, or placement for adoption. Generally, group health plans must allow such individuals to enroll in the group health plan if they are otherwise eligible and if enrollment is requested within 30 days of the occurrence of the event (or within 60 days, in the case of loss of Medicaid or state Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage or eligibility for state premium assistance subsidy from Medicaid or CHIP).

Under the final rule and EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01, the one-year extension period or original outbreak period, if earlier, must be disregarded when determining if a participant timely requested HIPAA special enrollment (i.e., the 30-day or 60-day period will begin to run the day after the outbreak period). See the Appendix for examples.

COBRA

The COBRA continuation coverage provisions generally provide a qualified beneficiary a period of at least 60 days to elect COBRA continuation coverage under a group health plan. Plans are required to allow payment of premiums in monthly installments, and plans cannot require payment of premiums before 45 days after the day of the initial COBRA election. COBRA continuation coverage may be terminated for failure to pay premiums on time. Under the COBRA rules, a premium is considered paid on time if it is made no later than 30 days after the first day of the period for which payment is being made. Notice requirements prescribe time periods for employers to notify the plan of certain qualifying events and for individuals to notify the plan of certain qualifying events or a determination of disability. Notice requirements also prescribe a time period for plans to notify qualified beneficiaries of their rights to elect COBRA continuation coverage.

Under the final rule and EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01, the one-year extension period or original outbreak period, if earlier, must be disregarded when determining the 60-day COBRA election period, the date for making COBRA premium payments, and the date for qualified beneficiaries to notify the plan of a qualifying event or determination of disability. The outbreak period must also be disregarded when determining the date by which a COBRA election notice must be provided to a qualified beneficiary. See the Appendix for examples.

Claims Procedure

ERISA-covered employee benefit plans and non-grandfathered group health plans and health insurance issuers offering non-grandfathered group or individual health insurance coverage are required to establish and maintain a procedure governing the filing and initial disposition of benefit claims, and to provide participants with a reasonable opportunity to appeal an adverse benefit determination to an appropriate named fiduciary. Plans may not have provisions that unduly inhibit or hamper the initiation or processing of claims for benefits. Further, group health plans and disability plans must provide participants at least 180 days following receipt of an adverse benefit determination to appeal (60 days in the case of pension plans and other welfare benefit plans).

Under the final rule and EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01, the one-year extension period or original outbreak period, if earlier, must be disregarded when determining the date for participants to file a benefit claim under the plan’s claims procedures and the date by which a participant may file an appeal of an adverse benefit determination under the plan’s claims procedure.

External Review Process

ERISA sets forth standards for external review that apply to non-grandfathered group health plans and health insurance issuers offering non-grandfathered group or individual health insurance coverage and provides for either a state external review process or a federal external review process. Standards for external review processes and timeframes for submitting claims to the independent reviewer for group health plans or health insurance issuers may vary depending on whether a plan uses a state or federal external review process. For plans or issuers that use the federal external review process, the process must allow at least four months after the receipt of a notice of an adverse benefit determination or final internal adverse benefit determination for a request for an external review to be filed. The federal external review process also provides for a preliminary review of a request for external review. The regulation provides that if such request is not complete, the federal external review process must provide for a notification that describes the information or materials needed to make the request complete, and the plan or issuer must allow a claimant to perfect the request for external review within the four-month filing period or within the 48-hour period following the receipt of the notification, whichever is later.

Under the final rule and EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01, the one-year extension period or original outbreak period, if earlier, must be disregarded when determining the date by which a participant may file a request for an external review after receiving an adverse benefit determination or final internal adverse benefit determination and the date by which a participant must file a corrected request for external review upon a finding that the request was not complete.

Plan Administrator/Fiduciary Obligations Regarding the End of the Outbreak Period

The DOL instructs that if the plan administrator or other responsible plan fiduciary knows, or should reasonably know, that the end of the outbreak period for an individual action is exposing a participant or beneficiary to a risk of losing protections, benefits, or rights under the plan, the administrator or other fiduciary should consider sending a notice regarding the end of the outbreak period. The DOL also notes that plan disclosures issued prior to or during the pandemic may need to be reissued or amended if such disclosures failed to provide accurate information regarding the time in which participants and beneficiaries were required to take action (e.g., COBRA election notices and claims procedure notices). The DOL provides that group health plans should consider ways to ensure that participants and beneficiaries who are losing coverage are made aware of other coverage options that may be available to them, including the opportunity to obtain coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace in their state.

The DOL acknowledges that there may be instances when full and timely compliance with ERISA’s disclosure and claims processing requirements by plans and service providers may not be possible, such as when pandemic or natural disaster-related disruption to a plan or service provider’s principal place of business makes compliance with pre-established time frames for certain claims’ decisions or disclosures impossible. The DOL will take into account fiduciaries that have acted in good faith and with reasonable diligence under the circumstances when enforcing ERISA requirements.


IRS: Added FSA / Dependent Care Flexibility for Employee Benefit Plans

IRS adds FSA flexibility due to pandemicOn February 18th, due to the pandemic, the IRS provided greater flexibility to employee benefit plans offering health flexible spending arrangements (FSA) and/or dependent care assistance programs.

Generally, under these plans, an employer allows its employees to set aside a certain amount of pre-tax wages to pay for medical care and dependent care expenses. Amounts spent by the employee are then reimbursed from their designated health FSAs or dependent care assistance programs.

The added flexibility with Notice 2021-15, is in addition to the changes enacted under the COVID-related Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020, which enabled plans to have additional discretion in 2021 and 2020 to adjust their programs to help employees during the pandemic.

Take a quick read of the overview below to ensure you are aware of these changes that may offer a positive impact for your employees.

 

Moving the Carry Over Goalpost

Resource: Notice 2021-15

As a result of COVID-19, many regular-use medical or dependent care services were lacking accessibility resulting in participating employees being more likely to have unused health FSA amounts or dependent care assistance program amounts at the end of 2020 and 2021.

Notice 2021-15 provides added (FSA / Dependent Care) flexibility for employers to:
  • Handle carryover of unused amounts from 2020 and 2021 plan years;
  • Extend the permissible period for incurring claims (2020 and 2021 plan years);
  • Adopt a special rule regarding post-termination health FSA reimbursements;
  • Incorporate a special claims period and carryover rule for dependent care assistance programs when a dependent "ages out" during the COVID-19 public health emergency; and
  • Allow certain mid-year election changes for health FSAs and dependent care assistance programs for plan years ending in 2021.

 

Prior Guidance (FSA & Dependent Care)

Previously adopted changes provided flexibility with cafeteria plans through the end of calendar year 2020, during which employers could permit employees to apply unused health FSA amounts and dependent care assistance program amounts to pay for or reimburse medical care or dependent care expenses. The Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020, signed into law on December 27, 2020, extends and expands flexibility for these arrangements in 2021 and 2022.

 

Next Steps

The decision to adjust these employee benefit programs is at the discretion of the employer that sponsors the plan.

Notice 2021-15 gives employers the option to amend their plans to provide greater flexibility for employees to elect and use these programs during the pandemic without risking the forfeiture of the amounts they have set aside.

If you need help in understanding if making these adjustments is right for you, contact one of our Consultants for a more detailed analysis of your current plan offerings. 


IRS promises full, immediate reimbursement for coronavirus leave

As employers are becoming subjected to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), questions regarding reimbursements are being raised. Read this blog post to learn more.


Dive Brief:

  • Employers subject to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) will be eligible for two new refundable payroll tax credits that will "immediately and fully reimburse them" for complying with its paid leave mandate, the IRS and U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced March 20.
  • The credits are designed to grant 100% reimbursement for paid leave pursuant to the FFCRA, DOL said. Health insurance costs are included in the credit. Employers face no tax liability and self-employed individuals will receive an equivalent credit. For the law's emergency Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave, the credit is equal to two-thirds of the employee's regular pay, capped at $200 per day or $10,000 in the aggregate. Up to 10 weeks of qualifying leave can be counted towards the credit.
  • The credit available for FFCRA's paid sick time differs depending on how an employee uses the time. If the employee is unable to work because of a quarantine or self-quarantine or has COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis, employers may receive a refundable sick leave credit for sick leave at the employee's regular rate of pay, up to $511 per day and $5,110 in the aggregate, for a total of 10 days. If the employee is caring for someone with COVID-19, or is caring for a child because the child's school or child care facility is closed or otherwise unavailable due to COVID-19, employers may claim a credit for two-thirds of the employee's regular rate of pay, up to $200 per day and $2,000 in the aggregate, for up to 10 days.

Dive Insight:

The announcement, made in conjunction with the U.S. Department of the Treasury, should be welcome news to employers affected by the FFCRA, Littler Mendelson shareholder Jeff Nowak told HR Dive in an interview.

Reacting to initial news of the law's enactment, Nowak and others expressed concerns. Though the FFCRA specified that employers would be eligible to receive tax credits, Nowak said this week that many feared the timing of the credit would be "far too late … particularly for small businesses that would be out of business by this time next year." The DOL's assurance of prompt payment may ease such fears.

As news continues to develop around the FFCRA, DOL has added additional clarifications for employers to note. First, the agency stated Tuesday that the FFCRA would be implemented April 1, 2020. In the same document, it added more information around its plan to codify exemptions for certain private entities employing fewer than 50 employees. Employers choosing to seek this exemption may need to document why their business meets the criteria for an exemption. These criteria will be set forth by DOL in future regulations.

"You should not send any materials to the Department of Labor when seeking a small business exemption for paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave," DOL said.

The agency also previously announced that it would observe a 30-day temporary period of non-enforcement of the FFCRA once the law takes effect April 1. This non-enforcement would be in effect so long as the employer in question "has acted reasonably and in good faith" to comply with the law, DOL said, but sources previously told HR Dive that employees could still bring legal action against certain non-complying employers.

Nowak noted that the tax credit provision would allow employers to recoup the maximum paid leave costs provided for by the FFCRA. In other words, if an employer provides additional paid leave beyond what is mandated by the FFCRA for a given scenario, that employer should not expect to receive a reimbursement for the cost of providing those additional amounts of leave, Nowak said.

The DOL document released Tuesday also specifies how employers should determine whether they meet the FFCRA's classification of employing fewer than 500 employees. According to Nowak, employers should look at their headcount at the time an employee requests leave. "It will be an additional burden to the employer's HR department," Nowak said. "You will be calculating coverage whenever an employee requests FMLA or paid sick leave."

DOL said it will provide a model notice of the FFCRA's requirements — which employers will then need to post in a conspicuous place on their premises — no later than March 25. Finally, the agency has said it will hold a "national online dialogue" allowing employers to comment on the DOL's compliance materials and outreach strategies related to the implementation of the FFCRA through March 29.

SOURCE: Golden, R. (25 March 2020) "IRS promises full, immediate reimbursement for coronavirus leave" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.hrdive.com/news/irs-promises-full-immediate-reimbursement-for-coronavirus-leave/574881/


Saver's Credit Can Spur Retirement Plan Contributions

Many employees are not aware of employer-sponsored retirement accounts, or individual retirement accounts (IRA), which could be costing those more money. Tax season is the best time for employers to educate their employees on how they can earn extra tax credits through their 401(k) plans. Read this blog post to learn more about how to educate employees on what retirement account opportunities that are available to them.


Many workers don't know that they're eligible for a tax credit by saving in an employer-sponsored retirement plan or individual retirement account (IRA)—and that could be costing them money. Tax time, however, is prime time for employers to inform eligible workers about the saver's credit.

The Retirement Savings Contributions Credit, or saver's credit, is available to low- and moderate-income workers who are putting money aside for retirement. But only 29 percent of workers with annual household income below $50,000 know about the saver's credit, according to the nonprofit Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies in Los Angeles, which surveyed nearly 6,000 employees last fall.

"Tax season is an ideal time to tell eligible workers how they can earn extra tax credits by saving through their employer's 401(k) or a similar retirement plan," said Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center. "The saver's credit might just be the motivator for those not yet saving for retirement to get started."

Scott Spann, a senior financial planner with Financial Finesse, a provider of workplace financial wellness programs in Charleston, S.C., said, "Saving for retirement is a challenge for many households in America. Special tax incentives help make the process of saving easier."

What Is the Saver's Credit?

Like other tax credits, the saver's credit can increase a taxpayer's refund or reduce the tax owed. Here's how it works:

The amount of the credit is a maximum of 50 percent of an employee's retirement plan contributions up to $2,000 (or $4,000 for married couples filing jointly), depending on the filer's adjusted gross income as reported on Form 1040. Consequently, the maximum saver's credit is $1,000 (or $2,000 for married couples filing jointly).

The saver's credit "is different than a tax deduction due to the fact that a tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction of your gross tax liability, which is the total amount of taxes you're responsible for paying before any credits are applied," Spann explained.

The saver's credit also differs from the separate tax benefit of contributing pretax dollars to a qualified retirement plan, such as an employer-sponsored 401(k) or an IRA. "Many eligible retirement savers may be confusing these two incentives because the notion of a double tax benefit"—pretax contributions and an additional tax credit—"seems too good to be true," Collinson said.

Who Can Claim the Saver's Credit?

The credit is available to workers age 18 or older who have contributed to a company-sponsored retirement plan or an IRA in the past year and meet the income requirements shown in the table below. The filer cannot be a full-time student nor claimed as a dependent on another person's tax return.

Income Caps for Tax Years 2019 and 2020

For eligible workers, the amount of the available tax credit diminishes as adjusted gross income (AGI) rises. To help preserve the credit's value, income thresholds are adjusted annually to keep pace with inflation. Below are the AGI caps for tax year 2019 (for tax returns filed this year) and 2020 (for returns filed next year).

2019 Saver's Credit
Tax Credit Rate Single Filers and Married, Filing Separately* Married, Filing Jointly Heads of Household
50% of contribution AGI not more than - $19,250 AGI not more than $38,500 AGI not more than $28,875
20% of contribution AGI of $19,251 - $20,750 AGI of $38,501 - $41,500 AGI of $28,876 - $31,125
10% of contribution AGI of $20,751- $32,000 AGI of $41,501 - $64,000 AGI of $31,126 - $48,000
No credit AGI more than $32,000 AGI more than $64,000 AGI more than $48,000

 

2020 Saver's Credit
Tax Credit Rate Single Filers and Married, Filing Separately* Married, Filing Jointly Heads of Household
50% of contribution AGI not more than $19,500 AGI not more than $39,000 AGI not more than $29,250
20% of contribution AGI of $19,501 - $21,250 AGI of $39,001 - $42,500 AGI of $29,251 - $31,875
10% of contribution AGI of $21,251 - $32,500 AGI of $42,501 - $65,000 AGI of $31,876 - $48,750
No credit AGI more than $32,500 AGI more than $65,000 AGI more than $48,750

Deadlines for Retirement Contributions

"You must make eligible contributions to your employer-sponsored retirement plan or IRA for the tax year for which you are claiming the income tax credit," Spann said.

While 401(k) contributions for a tax year can be made only up to Dec. 31, those who are eligible but did not save last year can still make a tax year 2019 IRA contribution until April 15, 2020.

Filing for the Saver's Credit

Employers can advise eligible workers to take the following steps to claim the saver's credit, according to the Transamerica Center:

  • If using tax-preparation software, including those programs offered through the IRS Free File program, use Form 1040 or Form 1040NR for nonresident aliens. Answer questions about the saver's credit, which may be referred to as the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit or the Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions.
  • If preparing tax returns manually, complete Form 8880, Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions, to determine your exact credit rate and amount. Then transfer the amount to the designated line on Form 1040 (Schedule 3) or Form 1040NR.
  • If using a professional tax preparer, ask about the saver's credit.

Financial planners advise having tax refunds directly deposited into an IRA to further boost your retirement savings.

The Transamerica Center has additional information, in English and Spanish, on its Saver's Credit webpage, along with a downloadable fact sheet.


IRS Free File Program Is Available

Another potentially overlooked opportunity for workers is the IRS Free File program, which offers federal income tax preparation software at no charge to tax filers with an AGI of $69,000 or less.

Free File opened on Jan. 10, 2020, for the preparation of 2019 tax returns. Eligible taxpayers can do their taxes now, and the Free File provider will submit the return once the IRS officially opens the tax filing season on Jan. 27.

For 2020, the Free File partners are: 1040Now, Inc., ezTaxReturn.com (English and Spanish), FileYourTaxes.com, Free tax Returns.com, H&R Block, Intuit, On-Line Taxes, Inc., Tax ACT, TaxHawk, Inc. and TaxSlayer (English and Spanish).

Here's how Free File works:

  1. Taxpayers go to IRS.gov/FreeFile to see all Free File options.
  2. They browse each of the offers or use a "look up" tool to help find the right product. Each Free File partner sets its own eligibility standards generally based on income, age and state residency. But if the taxpayer's adjusted gross income was $69,000 or less, they will find at least one free product to use.
  3. They select a provider and follow the links to their web page to begin a tax return.
  4. They complete and e-File a tax return if they have all the income and deduction records they need. The fastest way to get a refund is by filing electronically and selecting direct deposit. For taxes owed, they can use direct pay or electronic options.

Many Free File online products also offer free state tax preparation, although some charge a state fee. Taxpayers should read each provider's information carefully.

"The IRS has worked to improve the program for this year, and we encourage taxpayers to visit IRS.gov, and consider using the Free File option to get a head start on tax season," said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig.

Nearly 57 million returns have been filed through the Free File program since it began in 2003, and 70 percent of U.S. taxpayers (about 100 million people) are eligible for Free File, according to the IRS.


SOURCE: Miller, S. (10 January 2020) "Saver's Credit Can Spur Retirement Plan Contributions" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/remind-low-wage-earners-about-savers-credit.aspx


IRS increases retirement contributions for 2020

Recently, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that workers contributing to 401(k), 403(b), 457 and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plans will be able to add up to $19,500 in 2020. Read this blog post to learn more about this increase in retirement contributions.


The IRS said this week that workers contributing to 401(k), 403(b), 457 and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plans plans can add $19,500 next year, an increase from $19,000 in 2019.

The move could help workers save more for retirement, but it may be inconvenient for employers who’ve already started open enrollment, experts say. Employees are now able to set aside $500 more for retirement.

“Every penny counts when you’re saving for retirement, and the higher contribution limit is definitely going to help,” says Jacob Mattinson, partner at McDermott, Will & Emery, a Chicago-based law firm. “But since companies are in the midst of open enrollment, employers may have to go back in and change the entries for employees who want to contribute the max.”

There are about 27.1 million 401(k) plan participants using roughly 110,794 employer-sponsored 401(k) plans, the Employee Benefit Research Institute says. Ninety-three percent of employers offer a 401(k) plan, and around 74% of companies match workers’ contributions, according to data from the Society for Human Resource Management.

While the vast majority of employers do offer retirement savings plans, employees may still be struggling to sock away money. Around 70% of workers say debt has negatively impacted their ability to save for retirement, EBRI says.

“Thirty-two percent of workers with a major debt problem are not at all confident about their prospects for a financially secure retirement, compared with 5% of workers without a debt problem,” says Craig Copeland, EBRI senior research associate.

The IRS also upped contribution limits on Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees plans, or SIMPLE retirement accounts, to $13,500 from $13,000. The agency did not change the contribution limits to IRAs, which remain at $6,000 annually.

SOURCE: Hroncich, C. (7 November 2019) "IRS increases retirement contributions for 2020" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/irs-increases-retirement-contributions-for-2020


IRS updates rules on retirement plan hardship distributions

Recently, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) finalized updates to the hardship distribution regulations. These new regulations make the requirements more flexible and participant friendly. Read this blog post to learn more about these updated regulations.


Employers who allow for hardship distributions from their 401(k) or 403(b) plans should be aware that the Internal Revenue Service recently finalized updates to the hardship distribution regulations to reflect legislative changes. The new rules make the hardship distribution requirements more flexible and participant-friendly.

Hardship distributions are in-service distributions from 401(k) or 403(b) plans that are available only to participants with an immediate and heavy financial need. Plans are not required to offer hardship distributions. But there are certain requirements if a plan does offer hardship distributions. Generally, a hardship distribution may be made to a participant only if the participant has an immediate and heavy financial need, and the distribution is necessary and not in excess of the amount needed (plus related taxes or penalties) to satisfy that financial need.

An administrator of a 401(k) or 403(b) plan can determine whether a participant satisfies these requirements based on all of the facts and circumstances, or the administrator may rely on certain tests that the IRS has established, called safe harbors.

Over the last fifteen years, Congress has changed the laws that apply to hardship distributions. The new rules align existing IRS regulations with Congress’s legislative changes. Some of the changes are mandatory and some are optional. The new rules make the following changes. The following changes are required.

Elimination of six-month suspension.

Employers may no longer impose a six-month suspension of employee elective deferrals following the receipt of a hardship distribution.

Required certification of financial need.

Employers must now require participants to certify in writing or by other electronic means that they do not have sufficient cash or liquid assets reasonably available, in order to satisfy the financial need and qualify for a hardship distribution.

There were also some optional changes made to hardship distributions.

Removal of the requirement to take a plan loan.

Employers have the option, but are not mandated, to eliminate the requirement that participants take a plan loan before qualifying for a hardship distribution. In order to qualify for a hardship distribution, participants are still required to first take all available distributions from all of the employer’s tax-qualified and nonqualified deferred compensation plans to satisfy the participant’s immediate and heavy financial need. The optional elimination of the plan loan requirement may first apply beginning January 1, 2019.

Expanded safe harbor expenses to qualify for hardship.

The new hardship distribution regulations expand the existing list of pre-approved expenses that are deemed to be an immediate and heavy financial need. Prior to the new regulations, the list included the following expenses:

  • Expenses for deductible medical care under Section 213(d) of the Internal Revenue Code;
  • Costs related to the purchase of a principal residence;
  • Payment of tuition and related expenses for a spouse, child, or dependent;
  • Payment of amounts to prevent eviction or foreclosure related to the participant’s principal residence;
  • Payments for burial or funeral expenses for a spouse, child, or dependent; and
  • Expenses for repair of damage to a principal residence that would qualify for a casualty loss deduction under Section 165 of the Internal Revenue Code.

The new regulations expand this list of permissible expenses by adding a participant’s primary beneficiary under the plan as a person for whom medical, tuition and burial expenses can be incurred. The new regulations also clarify that the immediate and heavy financial need for principal residence repair and casualty loss expenses is not affected by recent changes to Section 165 of the Internal Revenue Code, which allows for a deduction of such expenses only if the principal residence is located in a federally declared disaster zone. Finally, the new regulations add an additional permissible financial need to the list above for expenses incurred due to federally declared disasters.

New contribution sources for hardships.

The law and regulations provide that employers may now elect to allow participants to obtain hardship distributions from safe harbor contributions that employers use to satisfy nondiscrimination requirements, qualified nonelective elective contributions (QNECS), qualified matching contributions (QMACs) and earnings on elective deferral contributions. However, 403(b) plans are not permitted to make hardship distributions from earnings on elective deferrals, and QNECS and QMACs are distributable as hardship distributions only from 403(b) plans not held in a custodial account.

As this list indicates, the new regulations make substantial changes to the hardship distribution rules.

The deadline for adopting this amendment depends on the type of plan the employer maintains and when the employer elects to apply the changes. Plan sponsors should work with their document providers and legal counsel to determine the specific deadlines for making amendments.

SOURCE: Tavares, L. (01 November 2019) "IRS updates rules on retirement plan hardship distributions" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/irs-updates-rules-on-401k-403b-plan-hardship-distributions


How 401(k) Taxes Work and How to Minimize the Tax Bill

Are you familiar with how 401(k) taxes work? Most 401(k) plans are tax-deferred, meaning that you won't pay income taxes until you withdraw the money you've put into your 401(k). Read this blog post for an overview of how these taxes work.


Most 401(k) plans are tax-deferred, which means you don’t pay income tax on the money you put into the account until you withdraw it. That makes the 401(k) not just a way to save for retirement; it’s also a great way to cut your tax bill. But there are a few rules about 401(k) taxes to know, as well as a few strategies that can get your tax bill even lower.

Here’s an overview of how 401(k) taxes work and how to pay less tax when the IRS asks for a cut of your retirement savings.

How do 401(k) taxes on contributions work?

Contributions to a traditional 401(k) plan come out of your paycheck before the IRS takes its cut. So if you earn $1,000 before taxes at work and you contribute $200 of it to your 401(k), that’s $200 less that you’ll be taxed on. When you file your tax return, you’d report $800 rather than $1,000.

  • If your employer offers a Roth 401(k), that means you contribute after-tax money instead of pre-tax money as with the traditional 401(k). This has a few advantages (see the section about withdrawals).
  • You still have to pay Medicare and Social Security taxes on your payroll contributions to a 401(k).
  • In 2019, you can contribute up to $19,000 a year to a 401(k) plan, which means you can shield $19,000 a year from income taxes. If you’re 50 or older, you can contribute $25,000 in 2019.
  • The annual contribution limit is per person, and it applies to all of your traditional or Roth 401(k) contributions in total.
  • Your employer will send you a W-2 in January that shows how much it paid you during the previous calendar year, as well as how much you contributed to your 401(k) and how much withholding tax you paid.

Do 401(k) taxes apply while your money is in the account?

While money is in a traditional 401(k), you pay no taxes on investment gains, interest or dividends.  This is true for a Roth 401(k), as well.

Roth 401(k) vs. Traditional 401(k)

Traditional 401(k) Roth 401(k)
Tax treatment of contributions Contributions are made pre-tax, which reduces your current adjusted gross income. Contributions are made after taxes, with no effect on current adjusted gross income. Employer matching dollars must go into a pre-tax account and are taxed when distributed.
Tax treatment of withdrawals Distributions in retirement are taxed as ordinary income. No taxes on qualified distributions in retirement.
Withdrawal rules Withdrawals of contributions and earnings are taxed. Distributions may be penalized if taken before age 59½, unless you meet one of the IRS exceptions. Withdrawals of contributions and earnings are not taxed as long as the distribution is considered qualified by the IRS: The account has been held for five years or more and the distribution is:

  • Due to disability or death
  • On or after age 59½

Unlike a Roth IRA, you cannot withdraw contributions at any time.

How do 401(k) taxes apply to withdrawals?

In technical terms, your contributions and the investment growth in a traditional 401(k) are tax-deferred — that is, you don’t pay taxes on the money until you make withdrawals from the account. At that point, you’ll owe income taxes to Uncle Sam. If you’re in a Roth 401(k), in most cases you won’t owe any taxes at all when you withdraw the money because you will have already paid the taxes upfront.

401(k) taxes if you withdraw the money in retirement

  • For traditional 401(k)s, the money you withdraw is taxable as regular income — like income from a job — in the year you take the distribution (remember, you didn’t pay income taxes on it back when you put it in the account; now it’s time to pay the piper).
  • For Roth 401(k)s, the money you withdraw is not taxable (you already paid the income taxes on it back when you put the money in the account).
  • You can begin withdrawing money from your traditional 401(k) without penalty when you turn age 59½.
  • You can begin withdrawing money from your Roth 401(k) without penalty once you’ve held the account for at least five years and you’re at least 59½.
  • If you’ve retired, you have to start taking required minimum distributions from your account starting on April 1 of the year following the year in which you turn 70½.
  • If you’re still working at age 70½, you can put off taking distributions from your traditional 401(k).
  • If you don’t take the required minimum distribution when you’re supposed to, the IRS can assess a penalty of 50% of the amount not distributed.
  • You can withdraw more than the minimum.

401(k) taxes if you withdraw the money early

For traditional 401(k)s, there are three big consequences of an early withdrawal or cashing out before age 59½:

  1. Taxes will be withheld. The IRS generally requires automatic withholding of 20% of a 401(k) early withdrawal for taxes. So if you withdraw the $10,000 in your 401(k) at age 40, you may get only about $8,000.
  2. The IRS will penalize you. If you withdraw money from your 401(k) before you’re 59½, the IRS usually assesses a 10% penalty when you file your tax return. That could mean giving the government another $1,000 of that $10,000 withdrawal.
  3. You may have less money for later, especially if the market is down when you start making withdrawals. That could have long-term consequences.

There are a lot of exceptions. This article has more details, but in a nutshell, you might be able to escape the IRS’s 10% penalty for early withdrawals from a traditional 401(k) if you:

  • Receive the payout over time.
  • Qualify for a hardship distribution with the plan administrator.
  • Leave your job and are over a certain age.
  • Are getting divorced.
  • Are or become disabled.
  • Put the money in another retirement account.
  • Use the money to pay an IRS levy.
  • Use the money to pay certain medical expenses.
  • Were a disaster victim.
  • Overcontributed to your 401(k).
  • Were in the military.
  • Die.

You can withdraw money from a Roth 401(k) early if you’ve held the account for at least five years and need the money due to disability or death.

7 quick tips to minimize 401(k) taxes

  1. Wait as long as you can to take money out of your account. Withdrawals are what can trigger taxes.
  2. If you must make an early withdrawal from a 401(k), see if you qualify for an exception that will help you avoid paying an early withdrawal penalty.
  3. See if you qualify for the Saver’s Credit on your contributions.
  4. Be careful with how you roll over your account. Rolling an old 401(k) account into another 401(k) or into an IRA usually won’t trigger taxes — if you get the money into the new account within 60 days. Otherwise, the IRS might consider the move a distribution, triggering taxes and maybe even a penalty.
  5. Borrow from your 401(k) instead of making an early withdrawal. Not all 401(k) plans offer loans, though. Also, in most circumstances you’ll need to repay the loan within five years and make regular payments. Check with your plan administrator for the rules.
  6. Use tax-loss harvesting. You might be able to offset the taxes on your 401(k) withdrawal by selling underperforming securities at a loss in some other regular investment account you might have. Those losses can offset some or all of the taxes on your 401(k) withdrawal.
  7. See a tax professional. There are other ways to minimize your 401(k) taxes, too, so find a qualified tax pro and discuss your options.

SOURCE: Orem, T. (19 September 2019) "How 401(k) Taxes Work and How to Minimize the Tax Bill" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/taxes/401k-taxes/


A 401(k) plan administrators’ guide to the recent IRS revenue ruling

The IRS recently released a new revenue ruling that provides 401(k) plan administrators with helpful guidance on reporting and withholding from 401(k) plan distributions. Read the blog post below to learn more about this new ruling.


The IRS recently issued revenue ruling 2019-19. The revenue ruling provides 401(k) plan administrators with helpful guidance on how to report and withhold from 401(k) plan distributions when a plan participant actually receives the distribution but for some reason, does not cash the check.

Unfortunately, this new guidance does not provide answers to the complex issues that 401(k) plan administrators face when the plan must make a distribution, but the plan participant is missing.

Let’s hope revenue ruling 2019-19 is just the first in a series of much-needed guidance from the IRS and the Department of Labor about how 401(k) plan administrators should handle the increasingly common administrative issues related to uncashed checks and missing plan participants.

There are many situations in which a 401(k) plan must make a distribution to a plan participant. For example, plans must distribute small benefit cash outs (e.g., account balances that are $1,000 or less) or required minimum distributions to plan participants who reach age 70 and a half. This may come as a surprise, but plan participants fail to actually cash these checks with some regularity.

In the ruling, the IRS confirmed that 401(k) plan administrators should withhold taxes on a 401(k) plan distribution and report the distribution on a Form 1099-R in the year the check is distributed to the participant, even if the participant does not cash the check until a later year.

Similarly, the participant needs to include the plan distribution as taxable income in the year in which the plan makes the distribution even if the participant fails to cash the check until a later year. While this guidance is not surprising, it does provide clarity to 401(k) plan administrators as to how they must withhold and report normal course and required plan distributions. In particular, 401(k) plan administrators should not reverse the tax withholding or reporting of the distribution when the participant receives the distribution and simply does not cash the check until a later year.

Unfortunately, this new IRS guidance has limited use because the ruling uses an example that specifically concedes that the plan participant actually received the plan distribution check, but simply failed to cash it. What should 401(k) plan administrators do when the participant may not have received the distribution check at all (e.g., a check is returned for an invalid address) or the plan itself does not have current contact information for the participant?

Retirement plan administrators have an ERISA fiduciary obligation to implement a diligent and prudent process to find missing plan participants and to take additional steps to make sure participants actually receive plan distributions. Uncashed 401(k) plan distribution checks are still retirement plan assets which means the 401(k) plan administrator is still subject to ERISA fiduciary standards of care, prudence and diligence related to those amounts. As a result, the IRS and DOL have increased their focus on uncashed checks and missing participants in retirement plan audits.

Plan administrators would be well-served by establishing and implementing a consistent process to stay on top of any missing plan participants or uncashed checks and taking steps to locate those participants and properly address uncashed checks. Plan administrators should also carefully document the steps that they take in this regard. The IRS and DOL have currently provided limited guidance on the steps a 401(k) plan administrator can take to locate missing participants, but more guidance is needed — let’s hope revenue ruling 2019-19 is just the beginning.

This article originally appeared on the Foley & Lardner website. The information in this legal alert is for educational purposes only and should not be taken as specific legal advice.

SOURCE: Dreyfus Bardunias, K. (6 September 2019) "A 401(k) plan administrators’ guide to the recent IRS revenue ruling" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/401k-administrators-guide-to-the-irs-revenue-ruling-2019-19


PCORI Fee Is Due by July 31 for Self-Insured Health Plans

The annual fee for the federal Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) is due July 31, 2019. Plans with terms ending after September 30, 2012, and before October 1, 2019, are required to pay an annual PCORI fee. Read this article from SHRM to learn more.


An earlier version of this article was posted on November 6, 2018

The next annual fee that sponsors of self-insured health plans must pay to fund the federal Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) is due July 31, 2019.

The Affordable Care Act mandated payment of an annual PCORI fee by plans with terms ending after Sept. 30, 2012, and before Oct. 1, 2019, to provide initial funding for the Washington, D.C.-based institute, which funds research on the comparative effectiveness of medical treatments. Self-insured plans pay the fee themselves, while insurance companies pay the fee for fully insured plans but may pass the cost along to employers through higher premiums.

The IRS treats the fee like an excise tax.

The PCORI fee is due by the July 31 following the last day of the plan year. The final PCORI payment for sponsors of 2018 calendar-year plans is due by July 31, 2019. The final PCORI fee for plan years ending from Jan. 1, 2019 to Sept. 30, 2019, will be due by July 31, 2020.

In Notice 2018-85, the IRS set the amount used to calculate the PCORI fee at $2.45 per person covered by plan years ending Oct. 1, 2018, through Sept. 30, 2019.

The chart below shows the fees to be paid in 2019, which are slightly higher than the fees owed in 2018. The per-enrollee amount depends on when the plan year ended, as in previous years.

Fee per Plan Enrollee for Payment Due
July 31, 2019
Plan years ending from Oct. 1, 2018, through Sept. 30, 2019. $2.45
Fee per Plan Enrollee for Payment Due
July 31, 2018
Plan years ending from Oct. 1, 2017, through Dec. 31, 2017, including calendar-year plans. $2.39
Plan years ending from Jan. 1, 2017, through Sept. 30, 2017 $2.26
Source: IRS.

Nearing the End

The PCORI fee will not be assessed for plan years ending after Sept. 30, 2019, "which means that for a calendar-year plan, the last year for assessment is the 2018 calendar year," wrote Richard Stover, a New York City-based principal at HR consultancy Buck Global, and Amy Dunn, a principal in Buck's Knowledge Resource Center.

For noncalendar-year plans that end between Jan. 1, 2019 and Sept. 30, 3019, however, there will be one last PCORI payment due by July 31, 2020.

"There will not be any PCORI fee for plan years that end on October 1, 2019 or later," according to 360 Corporate Benefit Advisors.

The PCORI fee was first assessed for plan years ending after Sept. 30, 2012. The fee for the first plan year was $1 per plan enrollee, which increased to $2 per enrollee in the second year and was then indexed in subsequent years based on the increase in national health expenditures.

FSAs and HRAs

In addition to self-insured medical plans, health flexible spending accounts (health FSAs) and health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) that fail to qualify as “excepted benefits” would be required to pay the per-enrollee fee, wrote Gary Kushner, president and CEO of Kushner & Co., a benefits advisory firm based in Portage, Mich.

As set forth in the Department of Labor's Technical Release 2013-03:

  • health FSA is an excepted benefit if the employer does not contribute more than $500 a year to any employee accounts and also offers a group health plan with nonexcepted benefits.
  • An HRA is an excepted benefit if it only reimburses for limited-scope dental and vision expenses or long-term care coverage and is not integrated with a group health plan.

Kushner explained that:

  • If the employer sponsors a fully insured group health plan for which the insurance carrier is filing and paying the PCORI fee and the same employer sponsors an employer-funded health care FSA or an HRA not exempted from the fee, employers should only count the employees participating in the FSA or HRA, and not spouses or dependents, when paying the fee.
  • If the employer sponsors a self-funded group health plan, then the employer needs to file the form and pay the PCORI fee only on the number of individuals enrolled in the group health plan, and not in the employer-funded health care FSA or HRA.

An employer that sponsors a self-insured HRA along with a fully insured medical plan "must pay PCORI fees based on the number of employees (dependents are not included in this count) participating in the HRA, while the insurer pays the PCORI fee on the individuals (including dependents) covered under the insured plan," wrote Mark Holloway, senior vice president and director of compliance services at Lockton Companies, a benefits broker and services firm based in Kansas City, Mo. Where an employer maintains an HRA along with a self-funded medical plan and both have the same plan year, "the employer pays a single PCORI fee based on the number of covered lives in the self-funded medical plan (the HRA is disregarded)."

Paying PCORI Fees

Self-insured employers are responsible for submitting the fee and accompanying paperwork to the IRS, as "third-party reporting and payment of the fee is not permitted for self-funded plans," Holloway noted.

For the coming year, self-insured health plan sponsors should use Form 720 for the second calendar quarter to report and pay the PCORI fee by July 31, 2019.

"On p. 2 of Form 720, under Part II, the employer needs to designate the average number of covered lives under its applicable self-insured plan," Holloway explained. The number of covered lives will be multiplied by $2.45 for plan years ending on or after Oct. 1, 2018, to determine the total fee owed to the IRS next July.

To calculate "the average number of lives covered" or plan enrollees, employers should use one of three methods listed on pages 8 and 9 of the Instructions for Form 720. A white paper by Keller Benefit Services describes these methods in greater detail.

Although the fee is paid annually, employers should indicate on the Payment Voucher (720-V), located at the end of Form 720, that the tax period for the fee is the second quarter of the year. "Failure to properly designate 'second quarter' on the voucher will result in the IRS's software generating a tardy filing notice, with all the incumbent aggravation on the employer to correct the matter with the IRS," Holloway warned.

A few other points to keep in mind: "The U.S. Department of Labor believes the fee cannot be paid from plan assets," he said. In other words, for self-insured health plans, "the PCORI fee must be paid by the plan sponsor. It is not a permissible expense of a self-funded plan and cannot be paid in whole or part by participant contributions."

In addition, PCORI fees "should not be included in the plan's cost when computing the plan's COBRA premium," Holloway noted. But "the IRS has indicated the fee is, however, a tax-deductible business expense for employers with self-funded plans," he added, citing a May 2013 IRS memorandum.

SOURCE: Miller, S. (2 July 2019) "PCORI Fee Is Due by July 31 for Self-Insured Health Plans" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/2019-pcori-fees.aspx