After making my way through the newly-proposed and voluminous (100+ pages) 403(b) regulations (mentioned here in this previous post), one of the items that stands out overall is the plan document requirement. Proposed regulation section 1.403(b)-3(b)(3) provides: A contract does…
After making my way through the newly-proposed and voluminous (100+ pages) 403(b) regulations (mentioned here in this previous post), one of the items that stands out overall is the plan document requirement. Proposed regulation section 1.403(b)-3(b)(3) provides:
A contract does not satisfy paragraph (a) of this section unless it is maintained pursuant to a plan. For this purpose, a plan is a written defined contribution plan, which, in both form and operation, satisfies the requirements of this section and sections 1.403(b)-4 through 1.403(b)-10. For purposes of this section and sections 4.1403(b)-4 through 1.403(b)-10, the plan must contain all the material terms and conditions for eligibility, benefits, applicable limitations, the contracts available under the plan, and the time and form under which benefits distributions would be made. . .
How will this new requirement impact whether or not a 403(b) plan ends up falling under the purview of ERISA? Although the IRS states in the regulations that having a plan document would not necessarily lead to the application of ERISA, it is expected that the DOL will provide guidance on this issue. Here is what the regulations have to say on the plan document requirement and the application of ERISA:
The Treasury Department and the IRS have consulted with the Department of Labor concerning the interaction between Title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and section 403(b) of the Code. The Department of Labor has advised the Treasury Department and the IRS that Title I of ERISA generally applies to “any plan, fund, or program . . . established or maintained by an employer or by an employee organization, or by both, to the extent that . . . such plan, fund, or program . . .provides retirement income to employees, or . . . results in a deferral of income by employees for periods extending to the termination of covered employment or beyond.” ERISA, section 3(2)(A). However, governmental plans and church plans are generally excluded from coverage under Title I of ERISA. See ERISA, section 4(b)(1) and (2). Therefore, section 403(b) contracts purchased or provided under a program that is either a “governmental plan” under section 3(32) of ERISA or a “church plan” under section 3(33) of ERISA are not generally covered under Title I. However, section 403(b) of the Code is also available with respect to contracts purchased or provided by employers for employees of a section 501(c)(3) organization, and many programs for the purchase of section 403(b) contracts offered by such employers are covered under Title I of ERISA as part of an “employee pension benefit plan” within the meaning of section 3(2)(A) of ERISA. The Department of Labor has promulgated a regulation, 29 CFR 2510.3-2(f), describing circumstances under which an employer’s program for the purchase of section 403(b) contracts for its employees, which is not otherwise excluded from coverage under Title I, will not be considered to constitute the establishment or maintenance of an “employee pension benefit plan” under Title I of ERISA.
These proposed regulations are generally limited to the requirements imposed under section 403(b). In this regard, the proposed regulations require that a section 403(b) program be maintained pursuant to a plan, which for this purpose is defined as a written defined contribution plan which, in both form and operation, satisfies the regulatory requirements of section 403(b) and contains all the material terms and conditions for benefits under the plan. The Department of Labor has advised the Treasury Department and the IRS that, although it does not appear that the proposed regulations would mandate the establishment or maintenance of an employee pension benefit plan in order to satisfy its requirements, it leaves open the possibility that an employer may undertake responsibilities that would constitute establishing and maintaining an ERISA-covered plan. The Department of Labor has further advised the Treasury Department and the IRS that whether the manner in which any particular employer decides to satisfy particular responsibilities under these proposed regulations will cause the employer to be considered to have established or to maintain a plan that is covered under Title I of ERISA must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis, applying the criteria set forth in 29 CFR 2510.3-2(f), including the employer’s involvement as contemplated by the plan documents and in operation.
To the extent that these proposed regulations may raise questions for employers concerning the scope and application of the regulation at 29 CFR 2510.3 -2(f), the Treasury Department and the IRS are requesting comments.
McDermott Will & Emery also comments on the issue in their article on the new regulations here. (From Benefitslink.com.)The article makes the point that the plan document requirement may impact “whether the plan document will effectively supersede and control the main contractual document between the employer and the 403(b) vendor (such as a 403(b) group annuity contract issued by an insurer).”
By the way, in the recent “Extra Special Edition of the Employee Plans News” published by the IRS, Carol Gold, Director of EP, indicates that the IRS is not yet ready to begin implementation of a 403(b) determination letter program until the 403(b) regulations are finalized. She notes, however, that the proposed regulations do indeed “move the ‘403(b) plan’ closer to the concept of a ‘qualified plan’ and leaves the door open for the development of such a program for 403(b) plans in the near future. Here is most of what she had to say:
This week, proposed regulations under section 403(b) were published in the Federal Register. These regulations take the important step of requiring a 403(b) contract to be maintained pursuant to a plan in order for amounts contributed by employers for the purchase of annuity contracts to be excluded from the gross income of employees. For purposes of the regulation, a plan is a written defined contribution plan which must satisfy the applicable requirements of the regulation both in form and operation. Furthermore, the proposed regulation provides rules by which 403(b) plans may be terminated.
Clearly, the proposed regulations move the “403(b) plan” closer to the concept of a “qualified plan”. However, we anticipate it will be a while yet before the regulations are finalized. Nevertheless, we recognize that if 403(b) annuity contracts are treated as ”plans” under the regulations when finalized, there will be more of an impetus to create a program to review plans and plan amendments, and possibly to issue determination letters on those plans or amendments.
We would welcome the opportunity to work with the public on considering such a program. At this point, however, we feel it would be premature to actively develop such a program prior to the finalization of the regulation. Therefore, I would suggest that we continue to exchange ideas about what a program could look like while agreeing that substantive change will have to wait a little longer.