Legacy ERISA Regulation Triggers Fiduciary Acknowledgement and Disclosures from Plan Advisers

By Monte Schatz

The Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule became effective June 9, 2017.  A whole new set of client disclosures will be required for advisers who previously were not operating under the fiduciary standard.  Interestingly, many of these disclosure requirements are not mandated by the fiduciary rule itself, but under a regulation that was part of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 commonly referred to as ERISA.

29 C.F.R. § 408(b)(2) requires certain pension plan service providers to disclose information about the service providers’ compensation and potential conflict of interests.   Ironically, this regulation was introduced originally as an interim rule in 2010.  It was published as a final rule on February 3, 2012.  The intent and purpose of the regulation was to assist plan fiduciaries in assessing the reasonableness of compensation paid for services.  Also, the disclosure requirements are designed to assist plan fiduciaries to act prudently and solely in the interest of the plan’s participants by defraying reasonable expenses of administering the plan and avoiding conflicts of interest.

From 2012 to the present day, brokers and other non-fiduciary providers to ERISA retirement plans largely didn’t disclose they were fiduciaries.   However, with the institution of the fiduciary rule the status of those types of advisers have been elevated to the fiduciary standard which triggers the new disclosure requirements.  This subjects those groups to covered provider status.  The three major categories of covered service providers include:

(1) fiduciary investment managers and advisors,

(2) record keeping platforms and broker/dealers, and

(3) providers of other types of services that also receive revenue sharing payments                   or other “indirect” compensation other than from the plan or plan sponsor

The groups that fall under the provisions of 408(b)(2) must provide updated disclosures to plan fiduciaries within 60 days from the date of which the covered service provider is informed of such a change in status.   The 60 day standard is vague as it doesn’t define whether it is June 9th, 2017 or if the 60 days begins to run from the first day an adviser makes an investment recommendation post-June 9th.   The general consensus is to take the conservative approach and commence providing updated disclosure immediately and assume the 60 day clock runs from June 9th, 2017.

For advisers who previously have operated under the fiduciary standard the 408(b)(2) requirements will be “business as usual”.  For those advisers that are new to the fiduciary standard it is imperative that they provide the required disclosures in a concise and understandable one page format.   Previous plan adviser agreements that placed disclosures in multiple documents will no longer satisfy the disclosure requirements that are a critical part of the fiduciary rule.

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SOURCES:

http://www.investmentnews.com/article/20170608/FREE/170609941/the-disclosure-401-k-advisers-may-be-missing-under-the-dol-fiduciary?utm_source=Morning-20170609&utm_campaign=investmentnews&utm_medium=email&utm_visit=655100

http://www.investmentnews.com/article/20120202/FREE/120209978/labor-department-unveils-kinder-gentler-fee-disclosure-regs

http://webapps.dol.gov/federalregister/PdfDisplay.aspx?DocId=25781

U.S. Supreme Court Interpretation Permits Thousands of “Church Plans” – Including Many for Hospitals and Health Systems – to Remain Exempt from ERISA

On June 5, 2017, the United States Supreme Court unanimously adopted a “broad” interpretation of the exemption allowed under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) for “church plans.”   The decision effectively permits thousands of retirement plans adopted by church-affiliated organizations – including numerous hospitals, schools and social-service organizations – to remain exempt from most ERISA requirements.

Plaintiffs in the case of Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton argued that a “narrow” interpretation of the “church plan” exemption was appropriate, and that they were damaged by their employers failing to comply with ERISA’s various requirements designed to protect employee retirement savings.  Advocates of the “narrow” interpretation argued that only plans actually established by a church should be eligible for the exemption.

A split among the United States Courts of Appeal between the “broad” and “narrow” interpretations of the exemption had left plan sponsors and participants in an uncertain state where the applicable plan was maintained by a church-affiliated group and not established by the church itself.

A considerable number of plans in question related to church-affiliated hospitals and health systems.  A “narrow” interpretation would render such plans subject to ERISA.

In an 8-0 decision authored by Justice Elena Kagan, the Supreme Court concluded that principles of statutory interpretation favored the conclusion that Congress chose language indicating a “broad” exemption.  The “broad” exemption had been employed in interpretive materials, advisory opinions and private letter rulings of the Internal Revenue Service and Department of Labor, so the decision eliminates, for now, the uncertainty that had arisen with respect to plans that had relied on said interpretation.

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IRS Denies Tax-Favored Status to Certain “Self-Funding” Health Plans

By James Pieper

The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) has issued a memorandum (“Memorandum”) indicating that it will deny tax-favored status to payments received under certain health plans marketed by their promoters as “self-funding.”

The Memorandum indicates that payments made under such plans will be considered “income” on the part of the employee (and thus not excluded from “gross income” for purposes of the income tax), and will be considered “wages” for purposes of the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) and Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) taxes paid by the employer.

The Memorandum cites plans being offered by promoters as “fixed indemnity health plans” with associated “wellness plans.”  The benefit promoted is that the plans are “self-funding” because the purported tax benefits will offset the expense, and employees can gain apparently tax-favored payments as a result of the plan while reducing the FICA purportedly owed by the employer.

The key to the plans is that the employee receives a monthly payment, not as income, but as a “health benefit” in return for a simple but voluntary act such as calling a toll-free number to obtain health advice or participating in biometric screening.  So long as the employee undertakes one act per month, then the benefit is paid.  Promoters of such plans contend that the employee receives comparable take-home pay and the employer receives tax benefits, all on a self-funded basis.

The IRS, however, concludes in the Memorandum that the plans do not constitute “insurance” because the “health benefit” is almost certain to be paid, and, on an actuarial basis, the amount of “benefits” is almost certain to exceed the amount paid as “premium.”

Accordingly, the IRS concluded that payments related to the so-called “self-funding” plans will be considered “income” and “wages” – and, therefore, the apparent “self-funding” mechanism obtained via tax-favored treatment is illusory.

Any employers considering any sort of “self-funding” plan should consider the Memorandum as strong evidence that such a plan is not likely to produce the tax benefits promised.

© 2017 Vandenack Weaver LLC
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Federal Judge Orders IRS to Refund Tax Preparers for PTIN Fees

In 2014, tax return preparers brought a federal class action lawsuit challenging the legality of fees charged by the IRS for PTINs (Preparer Tax Identification Number). Regulations promulgated in 2010 and 2011 imposed requirements on tax return preparers including obtaining a specific PTIN and paying a fee associated with obtaining such PTIN. Currently, the application and renewal fee for a PTIN is $50.00.

The preparers in the class action argued that the fees are unlawful since tax preparers receive no special benefits from the PTIN and secondly the fee is unreasonable in comparison to the costs the IRS incurs to issue the PTIN.

On June 1, 2017, Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia held that the IRS may continue to require PTINs but granted summary judgment in favor of the tax preparers stating, in part, that the IRS may not charge fees for issuing PTINs. Following a review of applicable case law, the Court found that PTINs are not a “service or thing of value” provided by the IRS. The IRS will be enjoined from charging fees in the future and is required to refund fees charged for the PTINs to all members of the class.

The order granting summary judgment is not yet a final judgment. Such final judgment will indicate the amount owed to each member of the class and may be subject to appeal by the IRS.

For more information, including court documents and the opinion rendered by Judge Lamberth see http://ptinclassaction.com/

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IRS’s Large Business & International Division to Implement Campaigns

The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) Large Business and International (“LB&I”) division recently announced the roll-out of thirteen campaigns as part of the IRS’s examination process.  A campaign is an issue-based compliance process that centers on focused examinations.  These campaigns cover a range of topics, including positions on related party transactions and S Corporation losses claimed in excess of basis.  Campaigns are a new approach to enforcement by the IRS that the IRS hopes will identify the most serious tax administration risks, create specific plans to move toward compliance, and effectively deploy IRS resources.  A taxpayer can be the subject of multiple campaigns during an examination.

The IRS will issue “soft letters” to some taxpayers, in which the IRS identifies the campaign issue and indicates the taxpayer’s return appears to include this position.  The letter will articulate the IRS’s legal position and ask whether the taxpayer agrees to change its position by amending the return.  Soft letters will not be released publicly.

The IRS recently informed taxpayers that the receipt of a soft letter does not mean the IRS has opened an examination.  Further, taxpayers are not required to respond to the letters.  However, failure to respond could lead to an examination.

Taxpayers should be aware that this new approach means businesses and high-net-worth individuals dealing with any of the identified issues may face increased IRS audit risk.  These taxpayers should work with their legal advisors to avoid or prepare for IRS challenges.

© 2017 Vandenack Weaver LLC
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IRS Issues Tax and Reporting Relief for Proposed Fiduciary Standard Consistent with Department of Labor Regulations

By Monte Schatz

There have been a significant series of regulatory announcements and rulings related to the fiduciary duty and its application to employee benefit plans.  The final fiduciary duty rule became effective on June 7, 2016, and has an applicability date of April 10, 2017. The President by Memorandum to the Secretary of Labor directed the Labor Department to examine the impact of the fiduciary duty rule.  On March 2nd the DOL published 82 FR 12319 seeking public comments about questions raised in the Presidential Memorandum.  The March 2nd notice also provided that a 60-day delay in implementation would be effective on the date of publication of a final rule

The Principal Transactions Exemptions and the accompanying Best Interest Contract provisions, included as part of the fiduciary duty rule, also have an applicability date of April 10, 2017, with a phased implementation period ending on January 1, 2018. The BIC Exemption effectively states that the fiduciary advisor must sign a “Best Interests Contract” (BIC) with the client, stipulating that the advisor will provide advice that is in the Best Interests of the client.   The Principal Transactions Exemption allows compensation for certain transactions by certain broker-dealers, insurance agents, and others that will act as investment advice fiduciaries that would otherwise violate prohibited transaction rules that trigger excise taxes and civil liability.

Most investment industry groups’ concerns regarding any non-compliance during a “gap period” of the financial fiduciary rule focused on Department of Labor and its potential civil liability enforcement provisions as outlined under ERISA.  Additional concerns were raised concerning Internal Revenue Service enforcement provisions found in Internal Revenue Code §4975 prohibited transaction rules that provides for the imposition of excise taxes for violations of that rule.

As a result of delays of the Fiduciary Standard rules, the Department of Labor published Field Assistance Bulletin (FAB) 2017-01.  FAB 2017-01 provides that, to the extent circumstances surrounding its decision on the proposed delay of the April 10 applicability date give rise to the need for other temporary relief, including retroactive prohibited transaction relief, the DOL will consider taking such additional steps as necessary with respect to the arrangements and transactions covered by the DOL temporary enforcement policy and any subsequent related DOL enforcement guidance.

In Announcement 2017–4 the IRS stated, Because the Code and ERISA contemplate consistency in the enforcement of the prohibited transaction rules by the IRS and the DOL, the Treasury Department and the IRS have determined that it is appropriate to adopt a temporary excise tax non-applicability policy that conforms with the DOL’s temporary enforcement policy described in FAB 2017-01. Accordingly, the IRS will not apply § 4975 and related reporting obligations with respect to any transaction or agreement to which the DOL’s temporary enforcement policy, or other subsequent related enforcement guidance, would apply.

SOURCES:

http://www.asppa.org/News/Article/ArticleID/8480

https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/a-17-04.pdf

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New Minimum Wage Law in Iowa

Iowa enacted a new law, Iowa House File 295, that prohibits counties and cities from regulating certain employment matters that are regulated by the state. On a practical level, for employers, this will reduce some compliance burdens, including eliminating different minimum wage rates across the state. The law, which took effect on March 30, 2017, preempts city and county rules pertaining to minimum wage, employment leave, hiring practices, employee benefits, and similar matters that pertain to terms of employment. For example, Johnson County, Iowa, had a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour, but that has preempted with the new state law, which means the minimum wage in Johnson County is now $7.25 an hour. Now, regardless of the action taken by county or city government, including actions taken prior to the new Iowa law, the state law will preempt and govern practices by employers.

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