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Fiduciary Rules and Practices



MarketBeat is a series of articles on key topics in the 403(b) and 457 space. It is a product of NTSA’s Communications Committee, whose volunteer members collaborate in writing and reviewing each article. Prior to the launch of NTSA Net in April 2014, Market Beat existed as an e-newsletter for NTSA members produced six times a year. 

The net result is a library of more than 60 Market Beat articles on topics ranging from charter schools to IRA rollovers. The topic index below provides the title and a brief summary of each article in the Market Beat library, organized by subject area. Within each topic area, the articles are listed in chron order, with the newest on top.


The 403(b) QLAC
The Treasury Department took a huge step into lifetime income when it issued regulations creating qualified longevity annuity contracts to be provided by 401(a) plans, 403(b) plans, 457(b) governmental plans and IRAs. Robert J. Toth discusses what QLACs do and how they work.

Longevity Annuities in Retirement Plans — Much Ado About Nothing? 
The IRS and the Department of Labor are actively encouraging lifetime income and enhancing retirement security. The most recent part of that effort is a final regulation the IRS released that permits longevity annuities in retirement plans and IRAs. But will this guidance actually change participant behaviors? Or is it much ado about nothing? Michael Webb discusses the use of longevity annuities in 403(b) and other retirement plans and examines the potential impact of the IRS guidance. 

The Impact of the DOL Fiduciary Regulations on Variable Annuities
Some argue that the DOL’s fiduciary regulations could be the death of variable annuities; others disagree. Ellie Lowder discusses the status and importance of variable annuities in light of the rule.

Secure 2.0’s New QDRO Rules: The Mainstreaming of the QLAC?

There are only 10 (or so) different provisions under SECURE 2.0 which seem to have any sort of direct relation to the provision of lifetime income through defined contribution plans (LI), and none of them seem to have the bold, systemic effects that we saw under the some of the terms under SECURE 1.0, writes Robert Toth. He continues that while there are a number of technical questions which need to be addressed under each of these sections, none of them seem to have any broad, meaningful impact on the LI market.


Charter Schools

The Growth of Charter Schools
Forty-two states and the District of Columbia allow charter schools. They tend to treat their benefits packages in the same way as a typical for-profit employer and not in the way a traditional K-12 school does. Diane D. Capone of Lincoln Investment writes that it is important to know who is working with charter schools in your area and to develop a relationship, including one with third party administrators, that will facilitate a 403(b) retirement plan and allow you to help in properly establishing and running a charter school’s retirement plan. 

Starting to Crack the Code on Governmental Plans
We may be getting a better understanding of when an employer-sponsored plan is considered to be a governmental plan if the employer is a charter school, based on Notice 2015-07. Linda Segal Blinn explains what this guidance means and the impact it could have.

Charter Schools: A Growing Market
According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, there are 6,400 charter schools in 42 states, with 2.5 million students. Many NTSA members do include charter schools in their target market. Ellie Lowder discusses some unusual situations that may arise in administering a 403(b) plan for a charter school.

Charter Schools: Origin, Growth and Employer-Sponsored Plans
Charter schools are the fastest-growing school choice option in the U.S. public education system. Richard H. Ford offers a discussion of their origin and growth, and how and retirement plans are handled for their employees. 


Church Plans

Ministers’ Housing Allowance as a Tax-Free Benefit
Ministers are subject to certain exclusions from federal taxation and an “in-kind” housing allowance under the federal tax Code, and regulations that implement that rule provides a broad definition of the term. Kimberly Flett discusses how the allowance works.

Church Plan Litigation is Headed for a Standoff in the Circuit Courts (or Beyond)
More than a year after five major Catholic-affiliated hospital systems were sued and accused of violating ERISA-plan laws, there have been conflicting developments in the courts on whether or not church-affiliated hospitals qualify for exemptions under the law. Thomas E. Clark breaks down the contradictions, case-by-case, and discusses the ramifications that could come as a result.

New: Legislation Affecting Church 403(b) Plans
The PATH Act made extraordinary and fundamental changes to church 403(b) plans. Robert Toth writes that merging 403(b)s and 401(a)s has been an ongoing issue in the tax-exempt marketplace, and discusses how the Internal Revenue Code now will allow such mergers and the transfer of assets from these two kinds of plans. 

An Important Takeaway from the Church Plan Litigation: Know Thy Churches
There have been more than a dozen church plan cases filed in the past couple of years, and the Supreme Court has now decided to take up the matter. Robert Toth writes that the final decision could have a significant impact on a very large number of 403(b) plans of church-related schools, hospitals, nursing homes and others.

Different and Unique: Government and Church Plans

Compliance can be a challenge for any employee benefit plan, but it can be even more complex if the arrangement in question is a church or governmental plan. Susan Diehl looks at just such complications.

Church Plans Revisited

The church plan exemption has been built into ERISA since its adoption.  Barry Salkin writes that it has only been in the last decade or so that there have been a proliferation of cases analyzing whether an employee benefit plan, particularly a tax-qualified defined benefit plan, constitutes a church plan.



Facts and Myths of Corrective Distributions Regarding 403(b) Plan 
One aspect of 403(b) plans that is not easily understood is the correction deadline for the actual contribution percentage (ACP) non-discrimination test. Farhad Mirzada provides an overview of the penalty-free and statutory deadlines for corrections for failed tests.

Distribution of Small Accounts Not Easy for 403(b) Plans
The IRS changed the 403(b) world with the regulations it issued eight years ago, but Robert Toth says there still are circumstances with no easy solutions; he argues that addressing some of the more intractable daily 403(b) problems requires dealing with “small amounts” in former employees’ 403(b) annuity contracts.

Disability and the Premature Distribution Penalty May Not Be what You Think!
Disability is among the reasons premature may be allowed from most retirement plans, including 403(b) plans and IRAs, without penalty. David Blask answers questions that can arise concerning such distributions and examines how the definition of disability is in play. 

Did Your Client Fail to Take the RMD?
Your client failed to take a required minimum distribution; this is a costly error, and your client is in a state of panic. Ellie Lowder tells us what the client should do.

Qualified Charitable Distributions Made Permanent
Qualified charitable distributions (QCD) are now permanent. Lynn Knight writes about what this feature allows IRA owners and beneficiaries who are at least 70½ or older to do.

The Taxman Cometh – Maybe
Ben Franklin once said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” But what if there was a way to avoid paying taxes on amounts in a retirement plan? Lynn Knight writes that there is a way to receive a tax-free distribution of amounts from a retirement plan through designated Roth contributions (DRCs) as long as certain conditions are met.

Lifetime Income and Retirement Security Through the IRA?
In early 2012, the Treasury released new regulations that laid out the basis by which defined contribution plans can provide lifetime income. Robert Toth discusses retirement plan annuity providers’ interest in taking advantage of these new opportunities and what he calls a growing innovation movement within the IRA marketplace.

What Are Subsequent Beneficiaries?
Simply put, a subsequent beneficiary is nothing more than a beneficiary naming a beneficiary! Susan Diehl discusses the beneficiary’s ability to designate a subsequent beneficiary in the event the original beneficiary dies before the entire account is distributed to that beneficiary. She also looks at some scenarios regarding what happens after the original beneficiary’s death.

General Rules and Exceptions to the 3 Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) Rules
Terminology is central to the rules around required minimum distributions (RMDs). Barbara Webb discusses some key terms fundamental to RMDs.

What Is the 'Step into the Shoes Rule' for RMDs?
Determining how assets must be disbursed from retirement accounts after a participant’s death can be quite complex. Barbara Webb discusses how required minimum distributions (RMDs) should be handled in certain circumstances. 

Naming Your Trust as Beneficiary of an IRA

Estate planning is complicated and tricky; Richard Ford and Ellie Lowder suggest that naming the right beneficiary of an IRA is a simple, crucial, yet often misunderstood first step in planning a legacy.

The 403(b) Hardship Distribution Which is Not a Hardship Distribution

Under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, the hardship relief that was granted to 401(k) plans is does not apply to the “hardship” distribution of 403(b) QNECs and QMACs. Robert Toth says that this has a very real practical and operational effect.

Select Topics on 403(b) Distributions

There are important rules for the many aspects of distributions.  David Blask offers a discussion of how to handle distributions upon attaining age 59½; severance of employment; and due to death and disability.

The Cuban Missile Crisis and RMDs

What connection could there possibly be between required minimum distributions and the most perilous confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union? John Iekel discusses Richard Seyfarth’s blog post that argues that RMDs and the Cuban Missile Crisis have a connection.

A Strategic Take on Decumulation

Decumulation — actually tapping into funds set aside for retirement — garners less attention than accumulation. John Iekel discusses a recent article that takes a look at that lesser-explored aspect of retirement funding and argues for a strategic approach.

Do RMDs Have to Be Paid for a Deceased Participant?

John Iekel discusses a blog post that answers the seemingly obvious question of whether RMDs have to be paid for a deceased participant.

How Do the New RMD Rules Under the SECURE Act Affect Financial Statement Audits?

The SECURE Act changed the age at which non-5% owners who have terminated employment with a retirement plan sponsor must take RMDs. Maria Hurd writes about the RMD rules under the SECURE Act and how they affect financial statement audits.

The Fiduciary Angle to the Participant COVID-19 Certification Due to Spousal Employment Loss

All parties involved in plan administration are struggling with whether the employer or the participant have the right under the CARES Act to loans and distributions from a variety of perspectives. Robert Toth discusses those challenges, and how fiduciary rules figure in meeting them.

Qualified Birth or Adoption Distributions Q&As

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act includes a provision permitting qualified childbirth and adoption expenses to be distributable events, and the IRS has issued guidance to provide some clarity on the new distributable event and how it works. John Iekel writes about an Oct. 7, 2020 webcast in which Bob Kaplan and Robert M. Richter, respectively the American Retirement Association’s Director of Technical Education and Retirement Education Counsel, examined selected provisions of the SECURE Act in Q&A format—including qualified childbirth and adoption expenses.

Distributions: Important Reminders 

The rules and regulations governing distributions have changed in the last two years. John Iekel writes about a recent webcast in which two experts discussed how some of the key rules concerning distributions have changed and what should be done under them.



Yet Another EPCRS Update: Automatic Enrollment
IRS Revenue Procedure (Rev. Proc.) 2015-27 updated the Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (EPCRS). On April 2, the IRS released Rev. Proc. 2015-28, outlining even more changes — this time, concerning auto-enrollment. Michael Webb examines the auto-enrollment changes to EPCRS regarding their specific impact on 403(b)/457(b) plan sponsors.

The EPCRS Changes and Their Impact on 403(b)/457(b) Plans
The IRS recently updated the Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (EPCRS), a means to correct plan defects. Michael Webb examines the changes made to EPCRS and discusses their specific impact (or lack thereof) on 403(b)/457(b) plan sponsors.

The New 403(b) EPCRS Rules: It's Complicated...
Robert Toth uses his law expertise to explain plainly how plan advisors can make sense of recent IRS regulations that affect the industry.

401(a)(17) Failure? It’s All Right… ’Cuz You’re Saved By the EPCRS

Tia J. Thornton takes a look at the 401(a)(17) compensation limit, when it should be applied and how to correct a Section 401(a)(17) failure through EPCRS.



It's That Time of Year Again for ERISA Plan Sponsors!
For sponsors of large ERISA plans — including most ERISA 403(b) plans — with calendar year plans, it’s Form 5500 time. Michael Webb seeks to help make the 2014 5500 filing process easier for plan sponsors and those who work with them.

What Plan Sponsors Need to Know About Bonding Requirements for ERISA Plans
If you are working with ERISA plans, you will need to respond to questions from your employer clients about meeting the mandatory bonding requirements which must cover any employee handling assets of the plan. Ellie Lowder suggests how to answer the most common questions.

Basic Due Diligence Process for ERISA 403(b) Plans
Advisors working in the ERISA 403(b) marketplace often are asked to help plan sponsors meet their fiduciary duties under ERISA. Diane Capone provides some basics on the process an ERISA fiduciary plan sponsor needs to follow in order to comply with their obligations to the plan.

The Top Five Things You Need to Know About ERISA 404(c)
Section 404(c) is a historically misunderstood part of ERISA, with misconceptions rampant even before the 404(a)(5) participant fee disclosure regulations added to the confusion. Michael Webb addresses fundamental ERISA Section 404(c) issues every advisor should master.

Impact of 408(b)(2) Guide on 403(b) Advisors
The DOL has issued numerous fee disclosure rules, including regulations under ERISA Section 408(b)(2), to help fiduciaries determine what a “reasonable” fee is. Kimberly Flett and Jeannine Souders discuss what those regulations require of service providers. 

It Matters! Is This 403(b) Plan Subject to ERISA?
Plan sponsors that sponsor 403(b) plans sometimes struggle with whether the plan is subject to the requirements of ERISA. Some are; some are not! Ellie Lowder helps answer the question.

Annual Reporting and Disclosure Proposed Amendments — Issued Jointly by DOL, IRS and PBGC!
On July 21, 2016, three federal agencies issued proposed amendments to the Form 5500 series in a Notice of Proposed Forms Revisions. Susan Diehl writes that the proposed regulation, and related forms revisions, would improve employee benefit plan reporting for filers, the public and the Agencies. 

Are Employment Agreements a Protection Against ERISA Claims?

Can employment agreements limit an employer’s exposure to the risk of ERISA fiduciary breach claims? John Iekel discusses a recent blog entry that zeroes in on a recent court decision to address that question.


Fiduciary Issues

In Tussey, Plaintiffs' Error Hands Win to ABB, Inc., in Fund Change Case
A recent ruling on remand in the long-running Tussey v. ABB litigation, which favored the fiduciaries, was largely under the radar screen. Farhad Mirzada offers a look at the recent developments.

DOL Provides Key ERISA Guidance on QLAC/DC Lifetime Income
The DOL recently published its first serious guidance on supporting lifetime income with the publication of Field Assistance Bulletin 2015-2. Robert Toth discusses the guidance and why it is very necessary for the success of the qualified longevity annuity contracts as well as defined contribution lifetime income.

NTSA Conference Presentation Sheds More Light on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule
During the first round of breakout sessions at the 2015 NTSA 403(b) Summit in Nashville, an expert panel led a lively and engaging discussion about the Department of Labor’s re-proposed fiduciary rule, and the potential impact on common business practices. Amy L. Simonson summarizes the who, what, when, where, why and how of the proposed rule.

Five Fast Facts Regarding the New DOL Proposed Fiduciary Rule
On April 14, 2015, the Department of Labor released a proposed fiduciary rule that expands the definition of who a fiduciary is and attempts to broaden the scope of its fiduciary oversight. Michael Webb makes some observations regarding the possible impact of the proposed rule.

Reps. Kline, Roe Press for Details on DOL, SEC Coordination
The formal roll out of the latest iteration of the fiduciary regulations appears to be imminent, and it has generated plenty of attention. Nevin Adams discusses the letter two members of the U.S. House of Representatives who seek details sent to the DOL.

Who Is in Charge Here? Will the Real Fiduciary Please Stand Up?
Distinguishing who the fiduciary is within a 403(b) plan or other qualified plan is an important determination, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s an easy or clear determination. Quite the contrary: it is a highly confused, misinterpreted and somewhat gray area that many plan sponsors wish to forgo and would gladly delegate the role to another third-party.  Kimberly Flett, CPA, QKA, QPA, discusses if and how that can be done, as well as some common applications of the role of the fiduciary. 

Am I A Fiduciary? Well, That Depends...
Michael Webb and Cammack LaRhette break down the caveats and exceptions in the IRS’ current definition of what a fiduciary is, depending on which kind of non-profit clients you represent.

Fiduciary Responsibilities (or Lack Thereof) in Non-ERISA Plans
Depending on the state, or even on the type of organization within a state, fiduciary responsibility can be a) nonexistent b) comprehensive, or c) somewhere in between. Mike Webb attempts to assist plan sponsors and those who work with them in determining what fiduciary responsibility, if any, they have, depending on where they live and who they work for.

What Plans do the Final DOL Fiduciary Rule and its Exemptions Cover?
Financial advisers need to grasp what plans the new fiduciary rule and its exemptions cover, in order to understand how they affect their business. Diane Capone argues that the rule will affect your business and offers a discussion that provides background information on the rule and the types of plans it covers.

DOL Makes Some BIC Fixes
The Department of Labor (DOL) has made some “technical corrections” to the Best Interest Contract (BIC) Exemption of the fiduciary regulation. Nevin Adams discusses the corrections, which either fix typos, clarify provisions that might be confusing, or bring the text of the exemption into agreement with what the DOL viewed as “common understanding.”

Issues Related to the University 403(b) Lawsuits
The recent flurry of lawsuits against major universities on their (very large) 403(b) plans has raised significant concerns in the market related to what has been very common plan designs. Robert Toth discusses what the differences between 403(b) plans and 401(k) plans mean regarding the application of ERISA’s fiduciary rules to the investments.

Fiduciary Rule Set to Trigger Surge in Fund Reviews
A new report claims that the Labor Department’s fiduciary rule will cause a surge in mutual funds being reviewed and replaced in defined contribution plans, even before the Jan. 1, 2018 deadline for full compliance. The NTSA Net staff takes a look at that report. 

The Fiduciary Underpinnings of Plan Loans
Prudence, diversifying investments and administering a plan in accordance with its documents are critical. However, writes Robert Toth, it is easy to forget that the fiduciary’s exclusive obligation is to provide retirement income from plans and that the point behind the rules governing plans becomes very real when dealing with plan loans.

2nd Set of COI FAQs Tackles Technical Issues
The Department of Labor released a much-anticipated second set of fiduciary regulation FAQs on Friday the 13th. Nevin Adams writes that they focus particularly on investment advice concerning ERISA-covered plans, IRAs and other plans covered by Code Section 4975(e)(1).

The Fiduciary Rule: Where Things Stand Now
On Feb. 3, 2017, President Trump issued an executive memorandum on the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule. In fact, it issued a draft and a final version that differed from the earlier iteration. Nevin Adams discusses the memoranda and what they mean for the rule and those affected by it.

Ultimately No Turning Back on Fiduciary Rule?
The Trump administration's rapid-fire executive orders and regulatory announcements and reviews could delay, gut or even kill the fiduciary rule. But a recent analysis suggests the genie may be out of the bottle. John Iekel discusses a recent analysis that suggests changes in the industry may end up implementing the rule regardless of what the government does. 

DOL Delays Fiduciary Rule 60 Days
The DOL delayed the fiduciary rule 60 days from April 10, 2017 to June 9, 2017. Kimberly Flett writes that although this postponement is in effect, plan sponsors, retirement plan investors and advisers should be aware of the important components of this rule and prepare for the outcome.

The Requirement to Disclose Fiduciary Status — and When
The new fiduciary rule will convert many current non-fiduciary advisers into fiduciaries. We provide a blog post by Fred Reish in which he discusses what this means for newly minted fiduciary advisors.

The Value of Good Advice
Most of the debate about the fiduciary regulation has been focused on the cost of bad advice. But there’s another side to the issue, writes Nevin Adams, who discusses the value of advisors and what they do. 

The 4th Impartial Conduct Standard
The Department of Labor recently issued a set of FAQs on the fiduciary rule. We discuss a blog post by Fred Reish in which he points out that one of those FAQs “raises some significant issues” for broker-dealers and RIAs.

Which Plans Are — and Are Not — Covered by the Fiduciary Regulation? 
So what plans ARE covered by the fiduciary rule? Here we feature a blog post by Fred Reish (with help from some of his colleagues at Drinker Biddle) addresses that question, as well as which plans the rule does not cover. 

What Is ‘Best Interest’?

“Best interest” is a very familiar term after extended discussion of fiduciary rules and standards, but its meaning is still fluid and wide-ranging. A recent blog post by Fred Reish discusses what “best interest” really means.

Reduce the Risk of Fiduciary Errors

Running and maintaining a plan can be complicated — and fiduciary rules are part of the reason.  John Lekel discusses a recent blog entry that offers some suggestions regarding how to reduce the risk of making fiduciary errors in operating a plan.

Business as Unusual: Fiduciary Do’s and Don’ts

It’s normal that firms extend more favorable terms and discounts to those who do business with them, but those practices can cause trouble when doing business with ERISA-governed plans. Nevin Adams takes a look at how.    

4 Fiduciary Lessons from the Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones may have wound to a close, but it left plenty to mull over from its eight-season run.  Nevin Adams writes that the series offered some lessons for retirement amidst the mayhem.

5 Things of Which Plan Fiduciaries Need to Be Aware

Whoever said ignorance was bliss surely wasn’t talking about fiduciary litigation. Nevin Adams discusses some things that he argues plan fiduciaries of any plan size should be aware, and of which responsible plan fiduciaries should have a working knowledge.

Is Fiduciary Responsibility Retroactive?

In Fuller v. SunTrust Banks, Inc. a federal judge has weighed in on a question relevant to new plan committee fiduciaries. In Market Beat, Nevin Adams discusses the decision and that question: When and how does their liability for the decisions of previous committee members begin?

Better Fiduciary Compliance Through Plan Governance

Fiduciary duties are central to complying with rules and regulations, and ultimately to serving participants well. John Lekel writes about a blog entry that argues that plan governance affects fulfilling fiduciary duties and offers suggestions regarding how to better go about it.

Beyond Plan Audit Compliance

At a 2019 meeting of the Department of Labor’s 2019 Advisory Council on Employee Welfare and Pension Benefit Plans, American Retirement Association Chief Content Officer Nevin Adams offered a look at a new ARA effort to help plan sponsors better understand and fulfill their obligations as sponsor and fiduciary and improve the financial statement audit process.

Benefit Plan Audits: Be Ready!

Compliance is serious business and audits of an employee benefit program are no joke. But the mere fact that one is scheduled need not spell imminent doom. John Iekel discusses a recent blog entry that argues that there are steps one can take to be ready — and, in the process, better ensure that the plan is in compliance. 

Supremes Punt ‘More Harm Than Good’ Review

Those who had hoped for some clarity – or perhaps a shift – in the standards involving where, and how, to draw the line between the obligations of corporate officials and ERISA plan fiduciaries – will have to wait a little longer., writes Nevin Adams.

Tips for Building an Investment Committee

Knowing, and fulfilling, fiduciary duties are critical to effective plan administration, and their importance will not be lessening. In Market Beat, John Iekel discusses a recent blog post that suggests that investment committees can be helpful in knowing, and fulfilling, fiduciary duties and offers tips on building or strengthening one. 

What Makes a Plan the Target of Excessive Fee Litigation?

Nearly every employer that sponsors a retirement plan should be concerned about potential liability for excessive fee claims. Ted Godbout discusses a white paper that  examines the recent history and trends relating to excessive fee claims, plan features that may make them a target of litigation and steps fiduciaries can take to reduce exposure to excessive fee lawsuits. 

The Best Defense(s)

In a year full of challenges for plans and plan sponsors alike, we’ve seen a spate of litigation against retirement programs like none in recent memory. Nevin E. Adams, J.D. discusses what a plan fiduciary is to do. 

Private Equity and DC Plans: Points to Consider

The Department of Labor has indicated, at least in one case, that it will allow defined contribution plans to offer indirect investment in private equities. John Iekel writes about a recent blog entry that offers food for thought regarding private equity and considerations concerning such investments.

Tips for Prudent Governance by Plan Fiduciaries

How well a plan fiduciary fulfills its duties is always important, but heightened enforcement efforts bring that into sharper relief, write two experts in legal issues and practices concerning plan governance. John Iekel writes about a blog entry in which Winston & Strawn LLP partners Nancy Gerrie and Joanna Kerpen warn that what fiduciaries and committees do—and don’t do—are subject to greater scrutiny now, and discuss what plan fiduciaries can do to exercise prudence in governing a plan.

Don’t Ignore Often-Overlooked Fiduciary Duties

It goes without saying that fiduciary duties must be fulfilled. John Iekel writes about an industry expert’s warnings that there are fiduciary duties often are overlooked.

Excessive Fee Suits: An Ounce of Prevention

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, it is said. John Iekel writes about a blog entry that argues that even a diligent process for selecting a plan administrator and for monitoring the administrator and investments will not prevent being sued for excessive fees—far more effective, it says, is to examine such lawsuits to get a look at the risk factors and make changes to avoid those pitfalls.

Limiting Fiduciary Liability (Costs)

A recent survey of insurers highlights the criteria that a number of the nation’s leading fiduciary liability insurers identified as the biggest sources of fiduciary risk, writes Nevin E. Adams, JD. However, the report’s authors note that it was specifically focused on sources of risk that are within the control of fiduciaries, he writes, adding that that’s key because there are things that attract litigation that aren’t under their control.

Retirement Plan Correction Solution: The Absentee Fiduciary

Alison J. Cohen discusses what happens when a fiduciary fails to properly monitor service providers and investments. 

Fiduciary Duty: A Refresher

Retirement plans have garnered heightened scrutiny. John Iekel writes about a recent blog entry that argues that increased attention highlights the importance of fulfilling fiduciary duties and not committing a fiduciary breach.

5 Dangerous Fiduciary Assumptions

There’s an old saying that when you assume…Nevin E. Adams, JD, reminds us in. He continues by offering some assumptions that can create real headaches for retirement plan fiduciaries.

The 403(b) CIT and the 12 Month Put

One of the inevitable results of Congress’ failure to cobble together some sort of compromise on what the most suitable “Securities Fix” would be for the 403(b) CIT is a flurry of activity to find some way to craft a solution which would permit 403(b) plans’ investments in 81-100 trusts without a statutory fix, writes Robert Toth. 


457 Plans

State-sponsored 457(b) Plans: How Do Public School Employees Decide?
Public school employees can contribute to a 403(b) plan, or to a 457(b) plan. Sounds great, but doing so can have negative ramifications. David Blask notes that these plans differ in several important ways and observes that the determination regarding which plan is best yields different answers depending on key details in a participant's life and career.

Proposed 457 Regulations Sweep Out Legislative Cobwebs for 457(b) Plans 
The IRS recently issued proposed 457 regulations, which generally apply to compensation deferred under a 457(b) plan for calendar years beginning after the date that the final regulations are published. Linda Segal Blinn tells us what this means for sponsors of a 457(b) plan.

Finally! Proposed Regulations Issued for 457(f) Plans and 409A Plans
After almost nine years of waiting, finally IRS has issued proposed regulations for 457(f) plans! Susan Diehl writes that the new proposed regulations for government and tax-exempt 457(b) and 457(f) plans and for profit-companies’ top-hat plans under Internal Revenue Code Section 409A made expected changes and discusses what the regulations mean. 

When Is a Sick or Vacation Leave Plan Bona Fide?
School districts with an unused accumulated leave procedure may consider monitoring the IRS’ 457 regulatory project, which would define what constitutes a bona fide vacation or sick leave plan. Linda Segal Blinn discusses such leave plans, how Internal Revenue Code Section 457 applies and what that means. 

Different and Unique: Government and Church Plans

Compliance can be a challenge for any employee benefit plan, but it can be even more complex if the arrangement in question is a church or governmental plan. Susan Diehl looks at just such complications.

Know Your 457s

A retirement plan offered under Internal Revenue Code Section 457(b) permits certain employers or employees to contribute money for retirement on a tax-deferred basis, subject to annual limits the IRS sets. John Iekel discusses a recent newsletter by a human resources and employee benefits firm that argues that not all 457(b)(s) are the same.

How Many 457(b) Plans Do You Need?

Many cities and special districts establish and maintain more 457(b) plans than they really need, argues Jeff Chang. He examines how and why this happens and whether there are any advantages or disadvantages to doing this.

A Look at 457(b) Plans and Fiduciary Duty

Retirement plans—including 457(b) plans—have garnered heightened scrutiny. John Iekel writes about a recent blog entry that notes that IRS and DOL have increased the number of plans they audit, and highlights the importance of fulfilling fiduciary duties and not committing a fiduciary breach. 


Investment Issues

SEC Approves Split Rule on Money Market Funds
The SEC adopted new rules affecting the $2.6 trillion money market industry late in July. The purpose of the rules is to alert investors about the risk of investments that were thought to be guaranteed, and they impose floating net asset value like other mutual funds rather than a fixed $1 value. Fred Barstein notes that the rules will apply only to funds institutions hold, and also discusses more about what the rules mean. 

The New Money Market Fund Rules: What's All the Fuss About?
The SEC earlier this year amended Investment Company Act Rule 2a-7, otherwise known as the “Money Market Fund Rule.” Despite years of discussion concerning the rule, confusion about it may persist. Byron Bowman explains the changes made to the rule and their effect on firms and their customers.

Socially Responsible Investing: Investing with a Conscience
A plan sponsor has many investment options it can make available to plan participants. Should the plan offer funds that are invested in stable value or mid cap growth funds? Emerging markets? Real estate investment funds? Target date funds? But there is something else a plan sponsor can keep in mind. Earle Allen posits the notion that a plan sponsor also should consider whether it will offer funds that are invested in companies that act with a social conscience. 

The Different Flavors of 457(b): Tax-Exempt and Governmental Employers
Those who are familiar with 457(b) plans know that they come in two separate and distinct “flavors” — governmental and private sector. In Market Beat, Michael Webb discusses the similarities and differences between the flavors.

A 403(b) Collective Trust? A Note of Caution…..
Collective trusts have seemingly become all the rage in plan investment circles, and for some very good reasons. But what of a 403(b) plan purchasing collective investment trusts (CITs)? Robert Toth discusses issues that need to be addressed concerning 403(b)s and CITs.

The State 403(b) Plan CIT
There are substantial legal challenges related to offering to 403(b) plans the type of collective trust investments that are sold to 401(k) plans. Robert J. Toth points out the legal and regulatory requirements one must meet, and discusses one plan provider’s unique way of applying the collective trust rules to make just such an offering. 

Are Target-Date Funds Enveloped by Unrealistic Expectations?

It isn’t hard to find a plan that has invested in target date funds (TDFs). But it can be hard to find assessments that ask hard questions about them. In a white paper, Rich Glass fills that void and asks whether TDFs are the panacea some may think.

Pros and Cons of Outsourcing Investment Decisions

John Iekel discusses a recent blog entry that focuses on whether or not to outsource, and outlines the advantages and disadvantages of decisions about how a retirement plan’s funds are to be invested.

Behavioral Risk and Designing Retirement Income Strategies

Many factors are in play when you’re designing retirement income strategies. John Lekel discusses a recent analysis from T. Rowe Price that argues that investors’ preferences and tolerance for risk should be most prominent.

Retirement Plan Committees: Consider Investment Trends

Plan fiduciaries and retirement plan committees would do well to consider the trends in the ways that retirement plan funds are invested and the behaviors and attitudes of plan participants. That’s the recommendation of a recent analysis that John Lekel discusses.

Investment Committees and Delegation: Factors to Consider

Investment committees and outsourced chief investment officers (OCIOs) have unique roles in pursuing and implementing strategies for the investment of plan assets. John Lekel discusses a blog entry concerning the basics of how their roles are delineated, the importance of how they themselves delegate duties and their importance in effectively following an investment strategy.

Impact of the CARES Act on Volunteer First Responders’ 457(e)(11) LOSAP Plans

A Length of Service Awards program (LOSAP) is a retirement-type of arrangement under Internal Revenue Code Section 457(e)(11) that acts as a sort of gratuitous payment arrangement which local fire districts adopt under either state or local laws the deferral of a payment of up to $6,000 per year for volunteers providing firefighting and prevention services, emergency medical services, and ambulance services. Robert Toth warns that the CARES Act may have a negative effect on LOSAPs.

Interest Rates and Liability-Driven Investing

How plan funds are invested is of great importance. One of the strategies some plans use is liability-driven investing; John Iekel discusses a recent paper that looks at how interest rates relate to such an approach.

Some Crypto Commentary…

Nevin E. Adams, JD, in the interests of spurring some discussion (and perhaps a few thousand “clicks”), offers some thoughts on cryptocurrency and its (current) place within retirement plans.

Crypto: Powerful Diversifier or Portfolio Kryptonite?

While more investors are interested in cryptocurrencies and the appropriateness of investing crypto in retirement plans is hotly debated, a white paper suggests they are a poor choice for long-term investors, writes Ted Godbout. He adds that in the paper, PGIM contends that the latest crypto collapse highlights one reason why cryptocurrency is an inferior choice for them.

Resetting the Mindset: DC Lifetime Income ‘Decumulation Accumulation’ and their Risk-Related Restrictions

Actuaries and mathematicians will tell us that the “actuarial cost” of any annuity you may purchase is effectively the same, no matter what sort of annuity you purchase, writes Robert Toth. After all, he continues, your life expectancy is what it is; the interest rates are what they are; and the insurance companies investments supporting the lifetime guarantees are what they are.



Tibble v. Edison International: What's All the Fuss About?
The U.S. Supreme Court's Tibble v. Edison International decision seems relatively mundane, and yet it has captured the attention of media outlets everywhere. Michael Webb examines this case and gets to the bottom of its implications for retirement plan sponsors and those who work with them. 

The Windsor Decision: One Year Later
The U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in U.S. v. Windsor — in which it said that retirement plans must treat a same-sex spouse just they would any other spouse for purposes of benefits under the retirement plan — almost one year ago, on June 26, 2013. That makes this an opportune time for Ellie Lowder to review some of the latest guidance that implements the Court’s ruling and with which you must comply.

403(b) Lawsuits — Fees vs. Value
The drumbeat of lawsuits against large 403(b) and qualified plan sponsors continues, and the publicity surrounding these suits is causing concern among employers sponsoring much smaller 403(b) plans. David Blask discusses the cases and what they entail.

Expert Opinions
The judge in one of the first excessive fee suits filed against university 403(b) plans had a lot to say in the decision – about the plan committee members – and the expert witnesses called to testify. Nevin Adams discusses the case and the ruling.



Delivering Investment Advice: Key Differences between 403(b) vs. 401(k) Plans
Asset allocation models are among the key drivers that advisors use to provide education and advice that will help participants make the best possible decisions about saving, investing and preparing for retirement. Amy L. Simonson and Robert J. Toth provide a discussion of the use of such models and the sensitive issues that can entail.

Social Security: What is the Prognosis?
One of the important sources of retirement income, Social Security, is seriously misunderstood. Ellie Lowder discusses the importance of Social Security and of projecting its role in funding retirement.

Are You Ready for Retirement Readiness?
Retirement readiness is an increasing concern among 403(b) plan sponsors. Michael Webb examines retirement readiness and argues that while it is not an easy problem to solve, it also is an opportunity for advisors and plan vendors to provide valuable assistance.

Voluntary Participation Rates are Awful — Or Are They?
While there is room for improvement in 403(b) participation rates, those rates are not as doom-and-gloom as those who market alternatives to 403(b) plan sponsors would like you to believe. Michael Webb explains why it’s a mistake to compare participation rates in 401(k)s to that of 403(b)s and jump to conclusions.

DOL Missing Participants Guidance Gets a Tech Savvy Refresh
The Department of Labor has issued updated guidance on how plan fiduciaries can find missing participants and beneficiaries in expired or terminated defined-contribution plans. Linda Segal Blinn parses through the language to help advisors understand what officially qualifies as due diligence in tracking lost benefactors down.

Increasing Participation Rates in 403(b) Plans
Low participation rates in 403(b) plans — in particular, plans in the public education K-12 market segment — is generating concern among employers. Recent studies have not provided specifics of current participation rates in that sector, but individual employers are reporting that it is not uncommon to see 18-20% participation rates. Ellie Lowder discusses why the industry needs to change that, and offers suggestions as to how.

Financial Literacy Workshops: Helping Your Employees Fill Their Savings Gaps
A new report of reductions in state pension benefits (published by the Center for Local Government Excellence in April 2014) should cause employers to have a new sense of urgency in helping employees participate more fully in their voluntary retirement savings (403(b) plans) and deferred compensation (457(b) plans) plans so that employees can comfortably retire at normal retirement ages. Ellie Lowder discusses the report, and the changes that a number of states have made their sponsored retirement plans.

Personal Bankruptcy and Retirement Plans Revisited
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled recently that an inherited IRA is part of a bankruptcy estate and subject to creditors’ claims. This raises questions: if that is the case with IRAs, does that then have implications for retirement plan assets belonging to those who declare bankruptcy? In Market Beat, Michael Webb discusses what the Court’s ruling means for those who are just such a place. 

Outside of the Box: An Approach for Providing Participant Level Advice
Amy Simonson writes how more Americans than ever are feeling worry about their ability to retire one day, and she discusses how advisors can help them save and grow their nest-egg, starting right now.

Robo Advisors: 'Danger Will Robinson'
Robert Young discusses the increasing use of robo advisors and argues that they are here to stay, but that nonetheless human advisors remain important. 

Saver's Tax Credit Can Boost 403(b) Participation
Employers are required to provide meaningful opportunity to employees to participate in their 403(b) plans or make contribution changes — and that includes low-income employees. Ellie Lowder discusses how the saver’s tax credit can help make it possible for those employees to participate.

Health Savings Accounts as a Retirement Savings Tool?
Health savings accounts provide a tax-free vehicle for participants to accumulate investments in order to reimburse out-of-pocket medical expenses. Kimberly Flett discusses the advantages of establishing one, as well as how they relate to retirement plans. 

Participants Trending to Lifetime Income With 403(b) & 457(b) Savings
In the past, financial advisors will remember having a discussion with the clients participating in 403(b) and/or 457(b) plans about the potential for using retirement savings for lump sum needs, by withdrawing amounts as needed. Ellie Lowder examines what has changed to contribute to the trend of using voluntary savings for additional lifetime income.

When Timing Is Everything: Understanding Includible Compensation in Special Pay Plans
Special pay features became popular among 403(b) plans after EGTRRA enabled 403(b) sponsors to make employer nonelective contributions to the 403(b) account of a former employee. Linda Segal Blinn argues that as is often the case, the devil can be in the details and discusses how the rules work for such features. 

What Should You Do if the Retirement Account Holder Can’t Be Located?
ERISA plans have a procedure that is typically followed by financial institutions if a participant is “lost.” Susan Diehl tells us what you do in a non-ERISA 403(b) or under an IRA if the participant can’t be found.

Employers Ready to Ramp up Financial Wellness Tools
A new survey released at the start of 2017 finds evidence that interest in financial wellness is growing, and that plan sponsors are looking to beef up the tools to support that focus. The NTSA staff discusses some of the highlights of the report. 

Knowing How to Satisfy the Best Interest Standard
The new “transition” exemptions soon will apply to recommendations for IRAs. The NTSA staff discusses a blog post in which Fred Reish looks at how to prepare for that shift.

Coverage Vacuum + State Plans = Opportunity
A handful of states have put in place plans intended to help make sure that retirement plan coverage and participation expands. John Lekel covers a recent conference session that points out that the fact that states are acting to fill the coverage gaps doesn’t spell the end of opportunity for the private sector and may enhance its attractiveness. 

A New Roth Strategy Emerges

Many Americans have heard of the Roth IRA and its benefit of taking tax-free withdrawals during retirement. And some have heard of the “backdoor” Roth — making nondeductible contributions to traditional IRAs and converting them to Roth IRAs.  Ascensus staff discuss a new Roth savings strategy being labeled the “Mega Roth.”

HSAs: Prescription for Retirement?

Health savings accounts (HSAs) can an additional way for individuals to care for themselves during retirement. John Iekel discusses a recent blog entry that points out how HSAs can be more than a way to help cover health-related expenses and also can boost one’s ability to finance retirement.

Retirement Income Projections: Best Practices

In a blog post about best practices, ERISA attorney Fred Reish explores retirement income projections as a way to better serve plan participants. And he cites the 403(b) market as among those such information can serve.

Income Estimates a Simple But Effective Tool

The alarm bells have long been sounding that many retirees are in for a rude shock when they find they didn’t save enough. John Iekel writes about a blog entry that argues that information is a key to improving retirement savings and softening the blow.

Improving the Client Relationship Through Effective Communication

A Jan. 28 session at the NTSA 30th Anniversary Summit offered tips from Toews Corporation Director of Sales and Marketing Eben Burr on how to adjust one’s ways of communicating in order to boost one’s practice, effectiveness and service.

Knowing the Client May not Always = Knowing Client Needs

In order to serve a client effectively — and fulfill fiduciary duties, BTW — a fiduciary of course must know their client. And one also must pursue the client’s best interest. But it’s possible that those goals may not always be congruent; in fact, they may even be mutually exclusive. John Iekel discusses a blog entry that makes that argument and discusses what it means.

Participants: Be Concise and Cut the Jargon

Recent research shows that retirement plan participants are among those who prefer communication that is not riddled with jargon and “inside” terms that are familiar to plan providers, sponsors and administrators but mean little to those whom the plans serve. John Iekel discusses a report about communications and how it is worded.

Separate the Wheat from the Chaff

We have more access — and easier access — to information than at any time in human history. John Iekel discusses a recent blog entry that argues that a good fiduciary can identify which information will most affect clients and their accounts.

The Importance of Effective Retirement Plan Communication

Having a retirement plan and a commitment to facilitating employees’ saving for their retirement is important. John Iekel discusses a recent blog entry that argues that the good that accomplishes can be blunted if the employer and the plan administrators don’t communicate about the plan effectively. 

Unlocking Participant Behavior a Key to Retirement Security

There are many pieces to the puzzle that is retirement security. John Lekel discusses the suggestion of a benefits institute that one of them is the behavior of plan participants and that working with, and influencing, that can help put pieces in place.

NextGen Tech Trends Poised to Transform the Retirement System

Since enactment of the Pension Protection Act in 2006, automaticity has been highly successful in improving retirement readiness. Ted Godbout writes about a new white paper that holds that new, highly personalized fintech advances may help drive retirement readiness to the next level.

Social Security Retirement Age and Fixing the System

John Iekel discusses the Congressional Research Service's updated report on the Social Security retirement age, in which it looks at trends concerning and affecting that threshold and how that age may relate to addressing the challenges facing the Social Security system.

DC Plan Dragons and Leprechauns

The fire and ice of dragons in winter – the stuff of mythology. But even the seemingly commonplace can incorporate a dash of mythology as well. John Iekel discusses what a speaker at a Plan Sponsor Council of America (PSCA) annual conference outlined concerning myths surrounding defined contribution plans.

A Giant Leap for Mankind…

Nevin Adams writes that as we ponder the accomplishments and planning that helped our nation put men on the moon, it’s worth remembering that our “mission” is not only to get tomorrow’s retirees safely to retirement, to take those “small steps” along the way – but ultimately to position them and their finances to carry them safely through  retirement… to their “tranquility base.”

Missing Participants: Concerns, Considerations and Practical Steps

Missing participants, and the problems they occasion, are becoming a more prominent problem for plan administrators, argues ERISA attorney Heather B. Abrigo, who offers her insights on missing participants, concerns and considerations related to them, and practical steps in finding them.

Missed Deferrals: A Closer Look

In a webcast on missed deferrals, Mike Smith, a Vice President at Voya Financial, included questions and answers on the nuts-and-bolts issues involved in missed deferrals and how to correct them.

A Bitter Pill

Sometimes that darned vitamin pill just wouldn’t go down. Nevin Adams writes that he wonders sometimes if that isn’t how workers view the admonitions about how much they are supposed to be saving, and/or how much they are supposed to have accumulated in order to retire.

Helping Participants Make the Most of Their Paycheck

The relentless “save more” message from the retirement industry is quickly becoming dated. Participants are more aware than ever that there are competing interests for their next dollar and retirement savings may not be at the top of their priority list. Shelby George and Cherie Moser offer insights on what employers can do to provide participants with robust financial wellness programs that assist with basic financial education and cash flow tools.

Are Retirement Savers Really Facing a Crisis?

Much has been made of an alleged retirement savings crisis confronting the country, with near-daily gloom-and-doom reports. Ted Godbout discusses a study that challenges the view that the 40-year-old DC system is overly deficient in providing adequate retirement security for American workers.

Understanding the Mindset of Participants Who Take Loans

Most participants tend to be under financial stress when taking a loan from their retirement plan, so repaying it becomes an afterthought that later adds to their stress, says a 2019 study. Ted Godbout writes about a survey of 500 plan participants who took at least one plan loan; it included in-depth interviews. 

Are Retirement Savers Really Facing a Crisis?

Much has been made of an alleged retirement savings crisis confronting the country, with near-daily gloom-and-doom reports. But Ted Godbout discusses a recent study that challenges the view that the 40-year-old DC system is overly deficient in providing adequate retirement security for American workers.

Easy Come, Easy Go?

Earlier in 2019, Nevin Adams commented that it would be interesting to see how expanded access to hardship withdrawals might impact that activity. He writes that late in 2019 we have some answers.

Is Auto-Enrollment Helping or Hurting Long-Term Retirement Saving?

There is little doubt that the use of auto-enrollment has helped increase participation rates. But could it also lead to lower savings rates? Ted Godbout discusses a white paper that explores that possibility. 

Understanding the SECURE Act’s Lifetime Income Provisions

The SECURE Act included three provisions that seek to foster greater adoption of guaranteed lifetime income products by DC plans and participants. Ted Gorbout discusses a webcast that examines whether that will be enough?

Is Social Security Really All There Is for 4 in 10 Retirees?

Some contend that many retirees will depend on only Social Security to finance their retirement. But some experts beg to differ; John Iekel discusses a recent analysis that disputes that finding and points out that there are a wealth of studies and statistics whose conclusion is quite different and not as dire.

A Look at How the Retirement Model Is Changing

The answers as to when retirement begins, and even what it means, are not the same as those even from not so long ago. John Lekel writes about a recent study that offers a discussion of trends occurring to and affecting retirement.

Disclose ‘Sure’

There are few things more annoying in daily existence than those ubiquitous pop-up service agreement acknowledgement, writes Nevin Adams. He discusses a recent Supreme Court decision in which the Court weighed in on a case involving participant disclosures, specifically the issue of whether certain plan disclosures were sufficient to establish a participant’s “actual knowledge” of the design of Intel’s custom target-date series, which had been built including an allocation to hedge funds and other alternative investments, including private equity.

Missing Participants: Audit Investigation Tips

The challenges surrounding missing participants are growing. John Iekel writes about a recent Plan Sponsor Council of America (PSCA) webcast that outlined what that means for plans and what plan sponsors and administrators can do to meet those challenges.

Severance of Employment, Layoff, or Furlough?

In the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak, one of the countless issues facing plan sponsors and practitioners alike is determining a participant’s employment status, more specifically whether there has been a severance of employment. Robert Richter writes that this determination must be made in order to apply a wide variety of rules that apply with qualified plans, Code Section 403(b) arrangements and 457(b) plans.

Uncertainty, Expectation Bias Beset Retirement Savers

John Iekel discusses a recent study that examines individuals’ choices concerning saving for retirement and assesses non-retirees’ subjective expectations—and finds that they have significant biases and uncertainty about their retirement benefits.

Making a Difference

We are living through an extraordinary time in human existence, writes Nevin Adams . He notes that it’s too soon to know what the impact of today’s events will be and how long our lives and life will be impacted, but that it’s worth noting that our private retirement system is not just how America saves—it’s going to make a difference in how America lives.

Retirement Readiness = Finances +…the Mind

Retirement readiness is more than dollars and cents. It’s also timing. And it’s also… the mind. John Iekel writes that a variety of factors are at play in preparing for retirement, and there is growing recognition that employee and participant behavior also are key to being ready.

Improving Saving Behavior: What to Do?

In the second installment of a two-part series on employee saving behavior, John Lekel discusses steps plan sponsors, employers and individuals can take that will ameliorate behaviors that harm or impair retirement readiness, or even arrest and change them. 

Nearly Three Decades of Retirement Savings Growth, Says Analysis

How a little good news? John Iekel discusses an analysis that offers insights on retirement savings since 1989 and prospects for the future that bode well.

Is HSA Investing a Sprint or a Marathon?

The marketplace for investing health savings account (HSA) assets continues to evolve slowly, and the HSA investment experience tends to match the short-term nature of the objectives most employers have in adopting HSA-capable coverage, writes Jack Towarnicky in Market Beat. He notes that most employees’ objectives in HSA participation focus on current year needs and spending, but that that risks severely under-utilizing the HSA’s asset accumulation potential.

HSA—The Ultimate Retirement Savings Tool

As HSAs gain popularity both in the workplace and in the marketplace, more consumers are beginning to understand their value beyond just paying for current healthcare expenses tax-free, write Shelby George, Kelley Long and Karin Rettger. They argue that another way to view HSAs is as a retirement plan benefit.

Are Your Part Time Employees ‘In or Out’ OR ‘In and Out?’

For 403(b) plan eligibility determinations, the IRS says that “Once in, Always in” is much better than “In and Out.” Maria Hurd asks whether your part-time employees are “In and Out.”

Younger Boomers: Special Retirement Considerations

Much has been written about the various generations and their retirement readiness. John Iekel discusses a recent blog entry that observes that within at least one of them there are different circumstances and challenges, and that argues that a mix of approaches can improve its members’ retirement readiness.

Are HSA Investors Born—or Made?

A recent analysis finds that while only 6% of HSA account holders actively invest those funds—nearly two-thirds of those do so within the first year. Nevin Adams writes that the analysis by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) characterizes those early investors as “born,” and that while what distinguishes them from others is not inherently obvious, the report notes “there is some quality intrinsic to them that prompts them to invest their balances immediately.”

Whose Data Is it, Anyway?

In a half dozen different circumstances over two decades, someone who had access to that data for legitimate purposes… lost it. Nevin E. Adams writes that those data breaches notwithstanding, it’s the planned use of participant data that has recently emerged as a matter of concern in a handful of excessive fee litigation suits.   

Communication Best Practices 

Communication with employees about benefits is always critical. And in 2020 there’s an added wrinkle—the pandemic. John Iekel writes about a recent column that argues that current challenges have changed the rule book and offers suggestions on communicating in this upended environment.

Serving Employees and Plan Participants in Challenging Times 

Among those most attuned to retirement plans in challenging times are those approaching retirement. John Iekel writes about a blog entry that argues that while employees are “experiencing extraordinary stress” now, “employees close to a planned retirement date are feeling even greater concerns, wondering whether they can afford to retire.” 

The Real ‘Coverage’ Gap

Teresa Ghilarducci doesn’t give American employers—or advisors—much credit, writes Nevin E. Adams, JD. He discusses an article she wrote that appeared in Forbes, “Employers Can’t Provide Retirement Plans. Let’s Stop Pretending They Can.” He argues that article’s premise is false on its face and that employers have long provided retirement plans, and by the hundreds of thousands. 

Active Management in the COVID-19 Era 

Active management is not new to retirement plans; however, the circumstances and context related to COVID-19 are. John Iekel writes about a blog entry that (1) discusses what active management means and entails in an environment affected by the global pandemic, and (2) looks at five common misconceptions the authors argue have resulted in passive investments becoming more prevalent in DC plans. 

Making a Change to a Retirement Plan? Grandfathering May not Be a Panacea

It’s common practice to put some kind of grandfathering in place when a change is made to a retirement plan. John Iekel discusses a recent analysis that observes that grandfathering some aspects of retirement plans may be helpful, but in some circumstances, it may only seem to be so. 

Opportunity Is Knockin’ on the Door! Let ’em in! 

HSAs are under-utilized, argues PSCA Principal Researcher Jack Towarnicky. He offers some steps employers can take to help rectify that.

Lack of Financial Literacy May Deter Retirement Plan Participation

Ted Godbout writes about the results of a survey that reveals that most Americans, including retirement plan participants, in a 2020 study failed a fluency quiz of key investment selection terms, which can translate into saving less and lower use of investment products.

What Will Retirees Owe in Taxes on Retirement Income?

How much will retirees owe in taxes on their retirement income? John Iekel discusses a paper in which researchers estimate the taxes a group of recently retired households will pay on what they earn during their retirement. They look at Social Security benefits and estimated state tax liabilities to project income and taxes over retirement for each household. 

A Retirement Dashboard for the U.S.?

Noting that the U.S. retirement system is not easy to navigate, a white paper calls for the creation of a retirement dashboard to help savers better manage and keep track of their savings. Ted Godbout discusses the paper’s contention that “While it would not address systemic problems such as coverage, a dashboard could reduce the strain that a complex retirement system imposes on households.” 

3 Retirement Income Impacts That Can Impact Retirement Income

Most of the focus on retirement savings is on those who haven’t saved enough, or who lack access to the platforms to make saving enough easy. Nevin E. Adams, JD, offers an additional insight, writing that even those who have done the “right” things can nonetheless have their retirement planning realities tripped up. 

Missing Participants — What Am I Missing?

Missing participants are a problem—for employers, for plans, for beneficiaries and even for the participants themselves. John Iekel writes about the insights of Maggie Younis, National Director, Consultant Relations at Lincoln Financial Group, and S. Derrin Watson, APM, an attorney who is of counsel with the Ferenczy Benefits Law Center, who discuss the challenge missing participants pose, and what can—and must—be done to meet it.

The ‘Other’ Retirement Question

Most retirement planning focuses on the “when,” and then moves quickly to “how much,” writes Nevin E. Adams, JD, adding that there also is a question that often doesn’t get asked—at least not directly—that has a huge bearing on both: where one plans to retire. That decision can have a huge impact on the “how much”—and more, he writes. 

Mile ‘Markers’

Nevin E. Adams, JD writes that in the 2021 NFL conference title games, two “old” quarterbacks fought it out for the NFC title—Tom Brady (43) and Aaron Rodgers (37)—and two young quarterbacks—Josh Allen (24) and Patrick Mahomes (25) lead their teams in the AFC championship. He uses that as a springboard for discussing the use of age as a milestone for many of our significant life points, including retirement and preparation for it.

Groundhog Ways

Once a year, America turns its attention to Punxsutawney, PA to get a read on the duration of winter. Nevin E. Adams, JD writes that “as complicated as it surely must be to accurately predict the end of winter, that at least is an event in the relatively near term. And one that requires only the emergence from one’s burrow. Predicting retirement outcomes… well, that’s a whole other thing.” 

Practical Tips for Playing ‘Hide and Seek’

Finding missing participants is serious business. But one industry expert likens it to a children’s game—though the stakes are higher than simply finding someone else to be “it.” John Iekel writes that Chris Ciminera in an entry in the Belfint, Lyons, Shuman blog notes that the Department of Labor recently issued guidance on this matter, and offers some practical ideas on ways to implement that guidance and “win the game.” 

Is There a Case for a Social Security Bridge Option?

Retirees face a difficult job figuring out how to draw down their 401(k) and often claim Social Security the earliest they can. Ted Godbout discusses a new white paper that suggests that a “Social Security bridge” could be a helpful solution. 

Is COVID-19 a Retirement Story?

A paper entitled “COVID 19 Is Not a Retirement Story” was issued; a week later, an article on said: “COVID-19 Is Most Certainly a Retirement Story.” Nevin Adams, JD asks, “So, which is it?”

Is it Time to Retire Retirement?

Is the concept of “retirement” no longer relevant? Nevin E. Adams, JD writes that surveys suggest more workers no longer expect to retire, or to do so later than they had thought. He adds that there is a growing consensus that emphasizing “retirement” is ineffective at encouraging individuals to save for retirement—furthering a suggestion that the focus should be achieving financial freedom. 

The Problem(s) with Financial ‘Literacy’

The retirement industry has been talking about the need for some kind of personal finance education in public schools for a long time, writes Nevin Adams. But there’s just one problem, he argues: There actually are such programs already in existence at the moment, but he says he has little sense that it’s moved the needle much with regard to participant knowledge or financial decision making.

Retirement Profiles: One Size Does Not Fit All

When it comes to the lifestyle path that retirees navigate, one thing is clear: There is little homogeneity, writes Ted Godbout, discussing a new study by EBRI that identifies five distinct retirement profiles.

Plan Participants to Sponsors: ‘Watch Your Language’

A study reports that many participants often find their DC plans confusing and wish for clearer language to help them understand their options and make more informed decisions, writes Ted Godbout. He adds that the study examines the impact that language can have on participants’ overall understanding of plan investment menus, the potential benefits of staying in the plan post-retirement and how best to communicate retirement income benefits.

Missing Participants: A Refresher

Missing participants pose a challenge for a variety of reasons, and a plan has certain obligations—but also options—concerning them. John Iekel writes about the take of Kelsey Mayo, ASEA Director of Regulatory Policy and Partner at Poyner & Spruill LLP, on missing participants and what to do about them in her discussion of plan freezes and terminations.

Tuition Intuitions

Comparisons of this kind may be imperfect, but there are some striking similarities between preparing for that big investment in college and that of retirement, writes Nevin E. Adams. There’s uncertainty regarding the ultimate amount, the impact of inflation and/or prices may have along the way and the market’s “contribution,” he notes, not to mention that college has a “target date” of sorts—that can be postponed.

How Behavioral Biases Can Impede Financial Health

While most Americans tend to show some form of behavioral bias, a study finds that higher bias levels correlate directly with worse financial outcomes across a wide range of domains—from 401(k) balances to self-reported credit scores—writes Ted Godbout.

Context and Clarity Key in Communicating with Participants

Communicating with participants is, well, required. But more than that, it’s central to helping participants make the most of their participation in a plan. John Iekel writes about an industry insider’s argument that it is best to use an approach that is clear and presents information in a way that makes it real and actionable. 

What Do Rising Prices Mean for Retirement Saving?

We all know what rising prices mean for the pocketbook and balances now, but what do they portend for retirement plans and saving? John Iekel writes about Chris Carosa’s discussion of what a plan sponsor can do within to help plan participants incorporate inflation into their retirement planning calculus.  

Where’s Waldo? (and Mary…and Joe…and Pat)

Every plan has participants—and, sooner or later, will therefore have “ex” participants—and sometimes those participants go…missing. And that can be a real problem for retirement plan fiduciaries, writes Nevin E. Adams, JD. He adds that while most are likely aware of the fiduciary obligation to keep accurate records, many are less aware that there is also an obligation to take “appropriate steps” to ensure that the participants and beneficiaries are paid their full benefits when due.

Attention Getters

Nevin E. Adams, JD, writes that he was recently taken to task for his column about retirement savings regrets. In fairness, he elaborates, it wasn’t so much the column or even the American Century survey’s findings that came in for criticism, but more the head-scratching that the survey set off among financial professionals as to why people aren’t paying more attention to things like… saving for retirement. 

How Important Are Beneficiary Forms?

When hiring a new employee, one of the initial tasks given to that employee is completing various beneficiary forms for the company’s benefit plans. Leisha Gosling writes that most people will fill it out and not think about the initial election ever again, while some employees may not fill one out at all—and why it’s a big deal.

Managed Accounts and TDFs—Better Together?

While debate remains over whether plan sponsors should offer either managed accounts or target date funds in their plans, writes Ted Godbout, a new study suggests that they shouldn’t have to choose. 

Helping Participants: More than Providing a Plan

The most important step in helping employees to save for retirement is to provide a plan in which they can participate. But a blog entry argues that is only a first step, and that there are important matters that should not be overlooked.

Which Generation Is Most Financially Literate?

Younger generations have lower levels of financial literacy—but the results of a 2021 study suggest that the overall levels and implications may not be what you think. Ted Godbout writes about a study in which the TIAA Institute and the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at the George Washington University School of Business found that financial literacy is alarmingly low within each of the five generations—the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z—but it is the lowest among Gen Z.  

Protecting Confidential Participant Data and Cross-Selling

Ted Godbout writes about a blog post that suggests that in light of the DOL’s increased focus on cybersecurity and participant data, plan sponsors should review their service agreements to ensure they do not give implicit approval to use participant data to cross-sell.

The 4% ‘Solution’

A recent white paper has garnered a lot of discussion by casting “shade” on a traditional premise about retirement plan withdrawals, writes Nevin E. Adams.

Is there Interest in a Social Security Bridge?

Annuities are one way some seek to provide a source of lifetime income; however, as a recent study notes, there is reluctance to use them. John Iekel writes about a study that suggests that one answer may be a Social Security “bridge” option within a 401(k) plan and measures interest in such a strategy.

Considerations for Plan Sponsors Mulling SDBAs

While the current environment appears ripe for self-directed brokerage accounts (SDBAs) as various plan participants welcome the opportunity to select investments that reflect their values and priorities, plan sponsors should carefully consider the tradeoffs, a study suggests. Ted Godbout writes that while SDBAs provide retirement plan participants with access to numerous investment options, the resulting investments can also create potential risks to those participants and plan sponsors, according to the findings.

Why Personalized Advisory Services Are Essential for Retirees

Ted Godbout looks at a paper in which Cerulli argues that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to making plans more effective decumulation vehicles, and that it often takes a personalized experience that includes designing a comprehensive financial plan and an investment and withdrawal strategy that meets retirement investors’ spending requirements and long-term objectives.

A New Matrix for Personalizing Retirement Income Strategies

A new study identifies a set of scorable retirement income factors that can help define preferences for an overall retirement income style, which can point toward an appropriate retirement income strategy. Ted Godbout writes that the researchers explain how they developed a multidimensional tool based on an analysis of existing research and a multipart survey of more than 1,400 participants. 

Advisors Should Educate the Educators

Teachers are woefully unprepared for retirement, argues Edward Dressel, and most are not even aware of what their retirement picture looks like. He argues that rather than leaning on legislatures, we should remember problems often create opportunities, and that proactive advisors could use this as an opportunity to grow their business.

9 Things You May Not Know About the Saver’s Credit

As he was pulling together tax information, Nevin E. Adams writes, he was reminded that, in addition to the benefits of pre-tax savings and deferred taxes on retirement savings, there’s another tax benefit of which many aren’t aware—the Saver’s Credit.

A Savings Account

“My decision as to whether or not to save in my workplace savings plan wasn’t long or complicated,” writes Nevin E. Adams, JD, continuing that “at age 22 I’d not always fully embraced my parents’ counsel—my mother didn’t hesitate to insist that I did so.”  

The Big(ger) Picture

“Our industry often seems to treat participants like children who can’t make big decisions—but a recent research paper suggests they might make better choices if we expanded their perspective,” writes Nevin E. Adams, discussing a paper he says is “intriguingly titled ‘Financial Wellness Meets Behavioral Economics,’” and that “highlights a behavioral tendency known as ‘narrow framing’—basically a tendency to focus on one complex choice, or one element of a complex choice, at a time.”  

NRA to the Rescue of Social Security? 

The challenges the Social Security system faces have been much discussed for almost half a century, and one of the answers often suggested is raising the normal retirement age (NRA). John Iekel writes about a recent paper tht examines that option. 

How to Improve Retirement Readiness in Under-represented Groups

Ted Godbout writes about a new paper that outlines plan features and strategies that can help bolster savings for underserved workers and can help plan sponsors that wonder what they can do to help diverse workers increase their retirement savings. 

How ‘Fresh Start’ Framing Can Boost Retirement Savings

Past behavioral economics research demonstrating that nudges can be a potent tool for increasing savings rates, notes Ted Godbout , writing that the results of a recent study suggest that fresh start framing can be an effective nudge.

How Rising Longevity Is Influencing Retirement Priorities

It’s not just longevity that’s changing people’s retirement journey, but also a growing awareness of their potential longer life is changing Americans’ expectations, attitudes and preparations, writes Ted Godbout. He discusses a study of more than 11,000 North American adults that examines the changing definition of retirement, the patterns of people’s experience in retirement and the keys to thriving along the way. 

Time to Adjust Timing Adjustments?

There are plenty of people who don’t claim Social Security benefits “on time”—some do so “early,” and some “late.” John Iekel writes about a paper that suggests that it could be a good thing to adjust the way in which adjustments for early retirement and delayed retirement are made. 

‘Middle’ Grounds

Nevin E. Adams, JD writes about a report entitled “The Missing Middle” by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS), which he says treads some all-too-familiar ground, myopically focusing on one element of the nation’s private retirement system.

Changing Behavior for a More Secure Retirement

One of the keys to financial security in retirement is behavior; in particular, before retirement—and the earlier the better. According to John Iekel, that was the underlying message of an expert panel in a webinar concerning retirement readiness. 

A Top Barrier to Retirement Saving: Education Costs

Ted Godbout writes about a study that found that the No. 1 reason Millennial and Gen Z investors take early withdrawals from their retirement savings account is to pay for education. He adds that legislative relief could be coming soon for the significant impact education costs are having on young investors’ ability to save for retirement.

Study Finds Disconnect Between Actual and Perceived Retirement Risks

Retirees face many financial risks, such as outliving their money, investment losses and unexpected health expenses—but a new study finds that they may be overestimating some risks while underestimating others, writes Ted Godbout. He continues that the study develops a lifecycle model of a typical retired household facing five categories of risk.

Many Adults Fortified Their Finances During Pandemic

A new study finds signs of improvement in the U.S. adult population’s financial capability, writes Ted Godbout. He notes that the FINRA Investor Education Foundation’s triennial National Financial Capability Study shows that by many measures U.S. adults generally fared better in 2021 than in the decade before the pandemic regarding financial capability, but their financial wellbeing remains uneven.

How Financial Wellness Can Enable Retirement Savings

Exploring the relationship between financial wellness and retirement savings reveals a profound relationship between the two, writes Ted Godbout. He discusses research from T. Rowe Price that found that financial stress is a predictor of financial wellness, and retirement plan participants who report being stressed about debt are saving less for retirement than those who are not stressed.

A Guide Path for Your Glide Path(s)

A recent report—and a new wave of litigation—reminds us that all target-date funds are not designed the same, writes Nevin Adams. We all know that target-date funds are different, even if their names sometimes suggest otherwise, he says, and continues that the difference that can often account for many of the other differences is the glide path.  

The Most Important Retirement Number

What’s the most important number when it comes to retirement? Nevin E. Adams suggests that a more precise focus number in retirement planning is the one that purports to provide some level of financial security in retirement.

Retirement and the Savings Gap

It is well known that there is a retirement savings gap between White workers and non-White workers, writes Hattie Greenan. She discusses a recent PSCA webinar that addressed what that gap looks like, reasons for it, and ways that plan sponsors can help address it for their employees. 

Researchers Say Retirement Plans Unperturbed by COVID 

COVID may have some lasting effects, but changed expectations concerning retirement are not among them, said an expert panel in a webinar held by the Employee Benefits Research Institute and moderated by Nevin Adams, Chief Content Officer, American Retirement Association. John Iekel writes that three industry insiders expressed a positive take on the long-term health of employees’ expectations concerning retirement — despite recent travails. 

Generation Grasp

We deal with a lot of gaps in our lives — gaps because there is a difference between what we want and/or expect and reality, writes Nevin Adams. He discusses the Marist Mindset List, which he says provides some perspective on the shifting generational perspectives of individuals just entering college.

Do Millennials Face a More Precarious Retirement Outlook? 

While retirement is still more than two decades away for Americans born in the 1980s, an Urban Institute report finds that the retirement outlook for early Millennials is reason for concern—particularly compared to older generations, writes Ted Godbout. 

7 Assumptions That Can Derail Your Retirement Reality

The future is an uncertain thing, and planning for uncertainty inevitably involves making some assumptions, writes Nevin E. Adams. He discusses seven assumptions that he says can derail retirement realities if they are handled improperly.

Say This, Not That

Effective communication is key to understanding to productive interaction — and third party administrators can attest to its importance, argued industry experts at an Oct. 24 session of the 2022 ASPPA Annual Conference. John Iekel reports about their insights. 

6 Obstacles to Retirement Income Adoption

It’s ironic that programs designed to provide retirement income pay so little attention to the realization of that objective, writes Nevin E. Adams, JD. Still, he continues, some have said that this could be the year for retirement income — a combination of new offerings, volatile markets, and rising interest rates — and yet, it still seems that there are obstacles to overcome. 

Regret Able?

A 2022 survey once again highlighted a consistent regret among American workers, writes Nevin E. Adams, JD. He continues that according to the survey by American Century Investments, they wish they had saved more for retirement. 

Withdrawal Symptoms?

There’s nothing like a global pandemic to fuel interest in, if not the need for, emergency savings, writes Nevin Adams. Indeed, he continues, there are a half dozen provisions in the new SECURE 2.0 designed to make it easier for workers to tap into their retirement savings — two aimed specifically at emergency savings.

Lack of ‘Longevity Literacy’ May Pose Retirement Planning Challenges 

When asked how long people typically live in retirement, more than half of adult Americans were unable to answer the question correctly in an annual survey, writes Ted Godbout. He continues that this is a crucial knowledge gap that could interfere with saving enough to last through retirement. 

Closing the ‘Opportunity’ Gap

There’s no one silver bullet likely to close the nation’s retirement plan coverage gap — but the target is pretty easy to spot, writes Nevin E. Adams, JD. He continues that the nation’s retirement plan access coverage gap is almost exclusively found among small businesses, and it’s not hard to imagine why.

A Simple (Sorta) Social Security Solvency Fix

In January, Andrew Biggs, a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute known for his contrarian retirement takes and criticism of financial media sensationalism, was nominated to the Social Security Advisory Board. John Sullivan writes that some thought it was a sign of bipartisan hope in an increasingly divided Congress, but that the optimism faded when Biggs explained the process.

The Language of Longevity: How Understanding Prompts Action

Financial literacy, financial wellness, and now …longevity literacy. John Sullivan writes that it’s the latest phrase in the fight to raise awareness of — and preparation for — later-in-life issues, financial, medical, and otherwise, and an idea the TIAA Institute hit upon during its research. 

5 Steps Toward Financial Wellness

American households that adopt some or all of five key financial wellness behaviors are more likely to be saving more and better positioned for building wealth, says a report. Ted Godbout writes that the findings suggest that “retirement saving” is one of the most difficult behaviors to adopt.

What’s Holding Retirement Income Options Back?

In the post-SECURE Act 1.0 era, plan consultants are becoming more comfortable recommending lifetime income options, but there apparently are potential obstacles with newer solutions, according to a MetLife study that Ted Godbout addresses. 

The Where, the How & the When

You may have missed it, but there recently was a mini-financial panic — and it may not be over yet, writes Nevin E. Adams in MarketBeat. He is referring, of course, to the travails of Silicon Valley Bank, or SVB, as it’s been generally referred to. 

Why Employers Can’t Afford to Overlook Employee ‘Care’

Researchers have found that feeling cared for at work is a key driver of employee holistic health and happiness, and not prioritizing it can cause major issues in the workplace, writes Ted Godbout.

A New Fiduciary Standard?

Some say default choices well-intentioned, but also intrusive and demeaning, writes Nevin E. Adams, JD. Nonetheless, it appears that there are employees who WANT that support. All of which, he says, calls to mind a new standard. 

Adulting and Retirement Readiness 

Are younger generations ready for retirement? In MarketBeat, John Iekel writes that it is a more complicated question than it appears at first blush, and it starts with the basics.

Lifetime Income’s QPDA and the IQPA

Any defined contribution lifetime income program that guarantees lifetime income needs to have the ability to make an “in-kind” distribution of an annuity contract, whether that be a certificate under a group annuity contract or an actual individual annuity contract, writes Robert Toth. 

Workers’ Retirement Confidence Takes a Big Hit

A report finds a decline in retirement confidence to levels not seen since the 2008 financial crisis, writes John Sullivan. He continues that the report also finds both workers and retirees are very concerned about inflation and its impact on their savings and spending.

A Plan for the Plan

Recently, the nation’s longest-running gauge of the nation’s retirement confidence painted a bleak, but understandable read on that measure, writes Nevin E. Adams, JD. He continues that in the midst of a volatile market and inflation, it would have been disconcerting if a decline in retirement confidence hadn’t been detected. 

Survey Says—Or Does it?

As human beings, writes Nevin E. Adams JD, we’re drawn to perspectives, surveys, and studies that validate our sense of the world—which tends to make us discount opposing findings. He offers ideas for evaluating those findings.

There Isn’t a Retirement Plan Coverage Gap Between Men and Women, But …

A surprising finding in a comprehensive report from earlier this year, writes John Sullivan in MarketBeat, is that there is no gender gap in access to employer-based retirement plans, nor participation rates. He continues that the same cannot be said for savings.

(How) Has COVID Changed Retirement Expectations?

A study reviews data from two databases to see how (if?) retirement expectations have been impacted by the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, writes Nevin E. Adams, JD.

A Glidepath of/for Life

Nevin E. Adams, JD, writes that he has been getting a lot of … comments …about his version of “retirement,” and includes discussion of allocations of revenue from retirement funds and factors that affect them.

Is the Current Retirement Income System ‘Inadequate?’ The Data Has an Answer

Recent research from the Investment Company Institute sought to answer two critical questions on which retirement policy is often based—how do the amount and compositions of spendable income for individuals change from middle to old age, writes John Sullivan. 

‘Staggering’ Number of Adults Don’t Know How Long Retirements Last

Compounding the problem of low financial literacy is “low longevity literacy,” or a lack of understanding of how long people tend to live in retirement, writes John Sullivan. He discusses research that found that a staggering number of Americans display low longevity literacy, which hinders retirement planning and saving.

Social Security Misconceptions to Avoid

Social Security—often cited as a “third rail”—has been a staple of the retirement landscape for almost 90 years. But that doesn't mean that it’s free of misconceptions; John Iekel discusses a recent commentary that highlights some to avoid. 



Plan Administration

Recent Update to SPARK Institute Best Practices for 403(b) and Related Plans
Guidelines for sharing participant data of 403(b) and governmental 457 plans provided by the SPARK Institute have been widely accepted and are used by the majority of plan vendors. Diane Capone discusses the updated standards and best practices.

Severance of Employment: When Has it Really Occurred?
Is having language in administrators’ employment contracts sufficient legal authority for a school district to adopt and implement a 401(a) plan, or is an additional governing board resolution needed to establish legal authority for the plan? Ellie Lowder tells us.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, But a 403(b) Plan Termination Checklist May Help
The Code Section 403(b) regulations allow employers to terminate their 403(b) plans. Linda Segal Blinn argues that the devil may be in the details, and offers questions and answers to help employers that intend to terminate their 403(b) plans.

The 403(b) Plan Document: LRM Housekeeping and Dealing with Plan Document Errors
Plan documents continue to demand advisors’ attention as we wait for the IRS to approve prototype and volume submitter plans sometime next year. Robert Toth discusses two particularly important plan document issues that advisors can help their 403(b) plan sponsors understand during this period.

As Clear As Mud? The 403(b) Plan Termination Rules
Michael Webb discusses the challenges of the termination of a 403(b) plan. It is worthy of note that the final problem for a plan sponsor may well be employee dissatisfaction of the takeaway of a valued employee benefit.

Are ETFs and Self-Directed Brokerage Accounts Available in 403(b) Plans?
There has been a lot of discussion recently regarding the use of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and self-directed brokerage accounts (SDBAs) in 401(k)s. But what about 403(b)s? Diane D. Capone takes a look at ETFs and SDBAs and the challenges they present to the 403(b) plan sponsor.

403(b)s: Effective Opportunity
Keeping a finger on the pulse of how well a 403(b) plan is fulfilling the requirement that it provide effective opportunity to participate in the plan is one way to take stock of how well the plan is adhering to universal availability — and in the process avoiding not only errors but also the possibility of an audit. Here, Market Beat offers ways to pursue effective opportunity.

From the NTSA Summit: New Best Practices Manual Being Developed 
The NTSA Best Practices Manual has been in use for more than five years to help establish consistency in handling compliance procedures and to help the industry and plan sponsors meet regulatory requirements. Ellie Lowder gives us a look at the discussions at the recent NTSA Masters Summit concerning the manual. 

Breaking Down Barriers for non-ERISA Automatic Enrollment
Ten years ago, the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA) cleared a barrier for some defined contribution retirement plans to offer an automatic enrollment feature. But the PPA left intact state law barriers if a DC plan was not subject to ERISA. Linda Segal Blinn discusses how state laws continue to evolve 10 years later. 

Designated Roth Contributions — Dispelling the Confusion
Designated Roth Contributions (DRCs) have been a permissible retirement plan feature since 2006; however, there is still confusion in the retirement plan community regarding DRCs. Lynn Knight tests your knowledge and dispels the mist. 

Social Media and Your Practice
Why should you care about social media? A Dec. 14, 2017 NTSA webcast discussed how the financial industry is navigating compliance issues regarding social media and offered insights on why social media is important and how it can build and further a practice. 

The Birth of the First Ever IRS Pre-Approved 403(b) Plan Documents!
On Friday the 13th, the IRS issued Revenue Procedure 2017-18 which provides employers with a three-year remedial amendment period that ends March 31, 2020. Susan Diehl writes that “now we are on our way” and discusses the revenue procedure and what comes next.

Take 2 - The Pre-Approved 403(b) Program and Certain 501(c) (3) Organizations
In January, the IRS issued Revenue Procedure 2017-18; since then advisors, investment companies, and employers have posed questions about certain 501(c)(3) organizations and the Pre-Approved 403(b) Program. Susan Diehl writes that these questions have primarily related to charter schools and faith-based organizations and discusses their unique features. 

How Behavioral Biases Affect Financial Professionals
Apparently participants aren’t the only ones struggling with behavioral biases, according to a new report. We feature a recent paper that asserts that financial and investment professionals — along with their clients — reveal a wide array of psychological biases that can result in flawed judgments and decisions.

Cybersecurity More Than an Individual Concern
Cybersecurity is a special concern for the financial industry, a lawyer who handles cybersecurity cases said recently. But its importance goes well beyond the integrity of clients’ and plan participants’ sensitive information — it pervades inter-corporate business functions as well. 

Using Metrics to Plan for Success
How do you measure success? There are as many answers as there are answerers. Nonetheless, some objective criteria can be helpful in gauging it.

Corporate Culture the Key to Training and Teambuilding

Internal culture and environment, and how central it is to training and how well an employer’s workforce functions, was the focus of recent remarks by James McKinney, Chief Operations Officer, Retirement Strategies, Inc.

In Notice 2018-95, the IRS provides relief to plan sponsors who improperly excluded part-time employees from participating in their 403(b) plans. Part I of a two-part series, Lynn Knight focuses on the universal availability rule for 403(b) plans.
Lynn Knight presents Part II of a two-part series on this IRS relief that focuses on relief provided under Notice 2018-95, in which the IRS provides relief to plan sponsors who improperly excluded part-time employees from participating in their 403(b) plan.
John Iekel looks at a recent blog entry that argues that new year’s resolutions about physical fitness are not the only kind that should be made; it suggests that they should also include being ready for a plan audit by the IRS or Department of Labor. 
A plan audit need not be unpleasant, and there are steps that can be taken to prepare for one and make it a smoother experience. John Lekel discusses a recent blog entry that offers suggestions regarding what can be done to prepare for a plan audit and avoid making errors.

Linda Segal Blinn discusses the mechanics of Internal Revenue Code Section 415(c); she writes that determining the 415(c) annual additions limit requires additional information if an individual contributes to more than one 403(b) product or participates in more than one defined contribution retirement plan. 
Cyber threats morph and evolve as quickly as the technology and data they compromise. John Lekel discusses what speakers at SPARK’s 2019 national conference in Falls Church, VA suggested regarding ways to protect against them.
As the restatement process for 403(b) plans continues on, a familiar “vestige” of certain past practices of a major vendor continues to bubble its way to the top. That “vestige” is the 403(b) “Money Purchase Plan.” Robert Toth discusses such arrangements.
Plan fees often elicit complaint and sometimes serious action, as lawsuits and court rulings attest. John Lekel discusses a recent article that looks at the Department of Labor (DOL) rules for controlling fees and what they require, as well as how to protect employees from excessive fees.
Periodic check ups with a physician are a good thing; John Lekel writes about a blog entry that argues that much the same can be said of check-ups of employee benefits plans.
More likely than not, any service provider reading has come across one of several common reasons for why a client missed the Form 5500 filing deadline. In Market Beat, Alison J. Cohen says that even when a Form 5500 is not filed on time, there is an easy way to fix the problem.
Nevin Adams writes that for years, recordkeeping services have been characterized (some might say disparaged) as a “commodity,” while fee compression  continues to fuel consolidation in that industry.

Cybersecurity: Don’t Assume Outsourced Administration Is Duty-Free

For years, there has been a persistent trend toward outsourcing retirement plan recordkeeping and other administrative responsibilities. Matthew H. Hawes  and A. Benjamin Klaber argue that when selecting and monitoring a service provider, one key issue facing retirement plan fiduciaries is their duty with respect to the privacy and security of plan participant data.

Investment Policy Statement Basics

Even amidst maelstroms such as this current one, it can be useful to keep in mind some of the structural aspects of a plan that set its tone and keep it functioning smoothly and effectively. John Iekel discusses a recent blog entry that discusses the key elements of an investment policy statement and how a well-crafted one can be of fundamental importance in the success of a defined contribution plan.

What Retirement Plan Sponsors Can Do About Cybersecurity

An increasing number of retirement plan participants are victims of cyber breaches. John Lekel discusses a recent blog entry that argues that cyber breaches of retirement plans put more than participants at risk—they also put plan sponsors at risk of fiduciary liability.

‘Mission’ Control

If you think planning for retirement is complicated… how about planning a landing on the moon? Nevin E. Adams, JD notes that we’ve just marked the 51st anniversary of the first manned landing on the moon, and argues that like a moon mission, the success of the “mission” of retirement preparedness requires the involvement, engagement, experience and guidance of experts.

Are There ‘Partial Terminations’ of 403(b) Plans?

Of all the difficulties employers face when they struggle with their decisions on managing employees during these disruptive times, it would seem that among the least of their immediate worries is whether or not—and to what extent—the variety of different steps they take to control costs causes a “partial termination” of their 401(k) plan. Robert Toth examines whether there are partial terminations of 403(b) plans and how the rules differ from those concerning other types of retirement plans.

Putting Clients in the Driver's Seat

Since COVID-19 lockdowns began about six months ago, interacting with customers has become more interesting than ever. Edward Dressell, President of RetireReady Solutions, writes that he has been listening intently, wanting to know what has helped some advisors continue to succeed. He asks what they are they doing differently that helps them achieve success, often beyond what they achieved prior to the pandemic.

The Value of an Integrated Benefits Analysis 

Many individuals finance their retirements, or plan to, through a number of means that all work together. John Iekel discusses a blog entry by Edward Dressel, who writes, “Public school teachers often have a pension plan, may or may not have Social Security, and may have some savings in a 403(b), IRA, and/or a 401(k). But the real question is: ‘How do these pieces fit together?’” 

5 Steps to Cyber Security

Reports of 401(k) thefts and an ongoing concern about cybersecurity should have everybody on the alert. Nevin E. Adams, JD points out some things a retirement industry professional, their clients, and their participants should check out.

Kaplan: It’s Never the Wrong Time to Do the Right Thing

In “Ethics—It Is Never the Wrong Time to Do the Right Thing,” American Retirement Association Director of Technical Education Robert M. Kaplan offered a refresher on the importance of ethics in conducting business and serving clients as a member of the retirement industry. 

Confronting Identity Theft

The cyber crime whack-a-mole contest continues. John Iekel writes about a recent blog entry in which Alison J. Cohen of the Ferenczy Benefits Law Center LLP and David Kruse of Tetra Defense warn that cyber criminals are increasingly creative and sophisticated and suggest steps that can be taken against them.

Improving How Retirement Income Is Measured

Data on income during retirement can be fraught with errors in gauging income and poverty levels among the elderly, says a study that also suggests a way to improve that measurement. In MarketBeat, John Iekel writes about “Improving the Measurement of Retirement Income of the Aged Population,” ORES Working Paper No. 116 released in January 2021, in which Irena Dushi and Brad Trenkamp, respectively an economist and policy analyst with the Social Security Administration (SSA), study how that data may be made more accurate.

Putting Technology at the Service of Retirement Plans

Proliferation of technological applications and the need to increase retirement plan participation and savings: Seems like a match made in heaven. John Iekel discusses the insights of a panel of experts regarding how that pairing is faring and how it can function better.

Four Steps to Kick-Start Growth

Several factors are placing pressures on the U.S. retirement system, leaving the industry facing a decelerating revenue growth outlook, but a new report suggests there are “opportunities hiding in plain sight,” writes Ted Godbout. Rising industry-wide fee pressure is one area placing constraints on the profitability of U.S. retirement firms, he writes, and adds that the study says the phenomenon is not just limited to asset managers. 

Protecting Balances from Cyber Thieves

Who exactly is responsible if a participant’s balance is stolen? John Iekel writes that while that may not be clear, a recent blog entry suggests that it may be prudent to take steps to protect participants’ retirement accounts from cyber crime nonetheless. 

A Look at Corrective Amendments

Mistakes in complying with reporting requirements happen; they may even be all but inevitable. And when they do take place, corrective amendments are a way to fix those errors. John Iekel discusses a recent webinar in which American Retirement Association Retirement Education Counsel Robert Richter discussed some of them. 

Cybersecurity and Retirement Plans: What You Need to Know

With a guidance on cybersecurity issued by the Department of Labor (DOL) in April 2021, a webcast outlined some key takeaways—and action steps.

Tips to Heighten Investment Committee Effectiveness

An investment committee can be helpful in making sure a retirement plan’s funds are invested wisely. John Iekel discusses an industry expert’s suggestions regarding best practices concerning investment committees. 

Tips for Plan Committee Best Performance 

Plan committees serve an important role, helping plan sponsors provide benefits, as well as protecting the plan and plan sponsor. John Iekel discusses a recent blog entry that offers tips on how a plan committee can best perform its duties.

Beware Mismatched Definitions of ‘Compensation’

There are many reasons that errors in plan operation may take place. John Iekel writes about the insights of an industry expert who lays some of the blame on disconnection between the way a plan defines compensation and the way it functions.

‘Hacking Stances’

A couple of Saturdays back I discovered that one of my online accounts had been “hacked,” writes Nevin E. Adams, JD; he discusses the importance of taking steps to make sure such breaches don’t happen.  

Recruiting: Virtually Real

Business practices had to change on a dime as the tidal wave of COVID-19 swept the familiar out of its way—and with little or perhaps even no notice or time to beta test. John Iekel discusses a webcast in which Toni E. Whaley, a financial planner with PlanMember Securities Corporation, addresses how business as usual in the financial services industry “came to a screeching halt” and business suddenly became technology-driven—including recruiting.

Late Deposits of Elective Contributions: Consequences and Answers

It is possible that sometimes an employee’s elective contribution may not timely deposited for a variety of reasons. John Iekel writes about a blog entry that points out that there are consequences to that, as well as ways to address such a situation.

Benchmarking Your Retirement Plan Committee(s)

It’s been said that a committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours, but the reality is that they are an essential element in assuring prudent retirement plan operation and administration—even when they are a committee of one. Nevin E. Adams, JD, Head of Research and Chief Content Officer for the American Retirement Association, and Hattie Greenan, Director of Research and Communications for the Plan Sponsor Council of America, write about a PSCA study concerning organizations’ experience with plan committees. 

Rehiring? Check the Plan Documents

Sometimes the door doesn’t close on retired employees and it turns out to be a revolving door. John Iekel writes about a recent blog entry that discusses what rehiring a former employee may spell for an employer and a plan, and steps an employer may want to take.  

Presenting the Future: 6 Retirement Policy Challenges

As the new year begins, here are the big retirement policy challenges we’re facing, in the view of Michael P. Barry. He writes that these are our long-run problems—as opposed to, say, clarifying the rules on ESG investments or for fiduciaries who provide advice.

Tempus Fugit! Timeliness Key for Plan Audits

Timeliness matters regarding a plan audit. But if you think that just means having everything ready on time, you may already be too late. John Iekel writes about a recent blog entry that argues that the time to be concerned about timeliness is well before the date of a plan audit. 

DOL and IRS Audits: Be Prepared!

The best defense, it is said, is a good offense. John Iekel writes about a March 31 ASPPA webinar that offers tips and suggestions regarding how to prepare for examinations of retirement plans by the IRS and Department of Labor (DOL).

Building a Successful Tech Ecosystem in Your Practice

Choosing the right technology and integrating it into your practice smartly can turbocharge your business. John Ortman writes about a workshop at which tech-savvy execs explained how.

Cybersecurity Risks: Where We Are and Steps to Take

Cyber criminals are as innovative as those who develop and refine the technology they manipulate—and now their targets include the retirement industry. John Iekel writes about experts in a recent panel, and also in a report, who weighed in on the tricks those criminals use and strategies that can help thwart them. 

Don’t Dismiss Documentation Duties

Exercising fiduciary duty entails a variety of functions—including maintaining and periodically reviewing documents and documentation. John Iekel writes about a recent blog entry that reminds that documentation means more than just keeping documents.

Financial Savvy and the Use of Digital Tools

A survey that found that after a year in which many consumers had to rely heavily on digital tools for their financial needs, self-reported “financial experts” use digital tools more often than others. Not only that, writes Ted Godbout, a significant proportion of Americans say that access to digital banking tools make them feel empowered to take control of their finances. 

Financial Savvy and the Use of Digital Tools

After a year in which many consumers had to rely heavily on digital tools for their financial needs, writes Ted Godbout, a survey finds that self-reported “financial experts” use digital tools more often than others. In addition, 4 in 10 Americans say that access to digital banking tools make them feel empowered to take control of their finances. 

Plan Documents: The ‘Lifeblood’ of Compliance

Plan documents are the “lifeblood” of compliance, asserted John P. Griffin, JD, LLM Principal at the ASC Institute in a webinar. John Iekel writes that Griffin noted that plan documents “drive communication, they drive compliance.” 

Plan Document Failures: A Reminder That All Is Not Lost

Compliance with the rules and regulations governing plan documents can be complicated and is always important, writes John Iekel in discussing the insights of an industry expert on the importance of taking action if there has been a plan document failure. 

Maintaining Records: Who Does What, and When?

Retaining and maintaining records is not a minor matter—ERISA and Department of Labor (DOL) regulations make that clear. John Iekel writes about a plan administrator who observes that regardless of their importance, policies concerning record retention and maintenance are not as common as one may expect. 

Are You ‘Anti’ Social?

You may have missed it, but there’s been a bit of a “hub-bub” brewing on social media…about the impact of, and perhaps even the utility of, social media, writes Nevin E. Adams. He offers some thoughts — and some tips. 

Creating and Sustaining Company Culture

The 2022 TPA Growth Summit offered a series of insights on team building, including a special session focusing on the importance of company culture, writes Nevin Adams.

The ‘Entity’ Difference Between 403(b) and 401(a) Plans

It sometimes helps to go back to the basics when assessing the impact of changes to the law, including some of the most seemingly obscure of them, writes Robert Toth. He continues that one of the most obscure of 403(b) rules lies in the structural difference between 403(b) and 401(a) plans. 

Advisor Value ‘Adds’

Most of the attempts to affix a value to having an advisor tend to focus on investment returns or cost savings, writes Nevin E. Adams. He continues that both are valid, objective measures that can have a real, substantive impact on retirement security — but, at least with the best advisors — there’s usually more.

Tips for Small Employers Considering a Retirement Plan

Why might a small employer not have a retirement plan in place? John Iekel writes about the insights a retirement services professional offers regarding what obstacles give small employers pause and how they may address those concerns.

Responding to a Cyberterrorist Attack 

It is a growing club that no one wants to join: the club of companies that became victims of cyberterrorism. Alison J. Cohen writes that it is often not a question of “if” a company will be attacked, but “when,” and that her firm is being asked what one should do about that.

Capitalizing on Digital Marketing Key to Growth for RIAs and IBDs

Ted Godbout discusses a new report that says that market volatility, increasing compliance pressures and a competitive landscape for wealth management professionals continue to challenge independent broker-dealers (IBDs) and registered investment advisors (RIAs), requiring them to find new solutions to generate business.

How to Close the Racial Retirement Savings Gap: Apryl Pope

John Sullivan writes about American Retirement Association (ARA) member Apryl Pope, co-founder of Cincinnati-based Retirement Plan Partners, who delivers stark statistics about the state of retirement saving for traditionally marginalized communities and offers solutions. 

Retirement Income Selection Remains a ‘Pain Point’ for Many DC Plans

Ted Godbout writes that the NEPC’s 17th annual Defined Contribution (DC) Plan Trends and Fee Survey says that while the dedicated retirement income solution market has proliferated over the past several years, many plan sponsors have struggled to evaluate their options strategically.

Competitive Benefits Top Priority Among Small Business Owners 

The impact of the pandemic over the last two years has prompted businesses of all sizes to reevaluate their benefit packages and small businesses are no exception, writes Ted Godbout. He discusses the results of a recent survey of small businesses on their strategies. 

Common Misperceptions Persist for Not Offering a Retirement Plan

While the SECURE Act and SECURE 2.0 seek to make it easier for small business to offer a retirement plan, many employers that do not offer coverage still appear to be clinging to the same reasons for not doing so, writes Ted Godbout. 

Virtual Education Hits New Heights

A report from Schwab Retirement Plan Services shows that worker attendance at educational sessions about 401(k) plans and other financial topics reached new heights in 2022, writes Ted Godbout. He continues that virtual live and on-demand sessions drove the most participation. 

Protecting Your Retirement Savings Online

Cybersecurity—and its importance to retirement plans and savings—are top of mind.  John Iekel covers Assistant Secretary of Labor Lisa M. Gomez’s suggestions on reducing the risk of fraud or loss to a retirement account.

Quit Using Financial Jargon, Once and for All

The damage an overreliance on financial jargon can do to participant confidence and, by extension, a retirement professional’s business is well-documented, writes John Sullivan. He continues that a new survey brings it into stark relief yet again. 

Why Digital Recordkeepers Are Poised to Disrupt Retirement Plan Market

Plan costs and an uncertain economic outlook are driving plan sponsors to look to digital recordkeepers, representing an opportunity to solve a need and unexpectedly disrupt the market, writes John Sullivan. He discusses a report that shows retirement plan sponsors face more cost pressures than ever and have a lower threshold for underperformance.

Prepare to Keep Vital Records Safe in a Disaster, IRS Reminds

Taking action in advance to protect vital documents can be helpful when a disaster strikes, a principle that applies to retirement plans and administration as well as other records and functions, writes John Iekel. 


Plan Design

Automatic Enrollment Is Getting a Lot of Attention, But Can it Be Done in Non-ERISA Plans?
ERISA plans are using auto enrollment more frequently to increase participation. ERISA supersedes state statutes, but what about when ERISA does not apply? Ellie Lowder discusses whether auto enrollment is for non-ERISA plans too.

Another Strategy for Increasing Participation in the 403(b) Plan: Add the Roth 403(b) Option!
Most 403(b) non-ERISA plans do not include employer matching contributions, which may decrease motivation for employees to enroll. But are there other ways to increase participation in such plans? Ellie Lowder has good news — there are, and she discusses them. 

Roth Feature in a 403(b) or Governmental 457(b) Plan – What Every Employer (and Financial Advisor) Needs to Know
Carol Gransee writes that adding an upfront-tax option to your clients’ retirement plans is easier than it may seem, and can be a better option for many younger workers.

Thinking of Adding a Designated Roth Option to Your Plan? Consider This
EGTRRA created the designated Roth contribution, an alternative to Roth IRA contributions for participants whose income exceeds the threshold limits. Barbara Webb writes that offering such a program is not without strings, and offers a list of elements to consider before implementing a designated Roth option under an employer plan.

Health Savings Accounts and How They Relate to 403(b)s
There is renewed interest in health savings accounts (HSAs). And current trends appear to be  paving the way for HSAs to become an important retirement savings tool. Nathan Glassey discusses what this means for 403(b) plans and how can they be integrated in to a 403(b) offering.

The Impact(s) of Automatic Enrollment

A study has found that automatic enrollment not only triples the participation rate of new hires, but that over time the vast majority increase their deferral rates. Nevin E. Adams, JD writes about the report, which found that among new hires, participation rates triple to 91% under automatic enrollment, compared with 28% under voluntary enrollment. 

Could Plan Design Features Increase Abandoned Accounts?

A research paper suggests that policies that promote retirement saving, such as auto-enrollment, may unintentionally lead to an increase in abandoned retirement savings accounts. Ted Godbout writes that in the SSRN paper, “Abandoned Retirement Savings,” the authors find that 2.7% of retirees own an abandoned individual retirement account, standing at about $790 million in 2017, with over 40% remaining abandoned even after a decade.

Is the Office as We Know it a Thing of the Past?

As many workplaces remain virtual ghost towns, new survey results shed some light on what’s discouraging staff from coming into the office. Ted Godbout writes that the discouragement measured in a survey of more than 1,200 U.S. workers is not necessarily COVID-related. 



IRA Rollover Misconceptions and the New IRS Publication 590
The new IRS position that the one-per-year limit on IRA rollovers applies to all IRAs a taxpayer owns continues to evoke questions. David R. Blask discusses the rule, as well as the changes the IRS made to its Publication 590 to help taxpayers comply and better understand its new stance.

IRA Rollovers; Getting Ready for Change
Effective on Jan. 1, 2015, change is coming to the “once each 12 months” rule for indirect IRA-to-IRA rollovers. Ellie Lowder explains exactly what this ruling means to both your practice and your clients.

The SIMPLE IRA Change under the Path Act made ‘Simple’…Maybe…
The PATH Act, enacted Dec. 18, 2015, affects the money that can be rolled over into a SIMPLE IRA. Susan Diehl writes that many financial institutions have been struggling with such rollovers, and provides a breakdown of how this change affects SIMPLE plans and what institutions need to know before accepting these rollover contributions.

Will Fiduciary Reg Reduce Rollovers?
There are reasons why a plan sponsor might want to keep ex-participants’ accounts in their plan. Nevin Adams discusses the findings in a recent study about that, and whether the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule will reduce rollovers.

What You Should Know About Rollovers from a 403(b) to a 457 and Vice Versa
The difference between 403(b) and governmental 457 plans does not seem significant at first glance, argues Diane Capone. She points out their similarities and differences, and offers insights into the rules and mechanics of rollovers between the two kinds of accounts. 

Best Practices for Non-ERISA 403(b)s Rollovers
When a participant in a non-ERISA 403(b) plan wishes to roll assets over from another non-ERISA 403(b) plan into this plan, what best practices can the receiving plan sponsor or vendor take to ensure compliance with IRS guidance and Treasury regulations? Sue Diehl and Ellie Lowder use questions and answers to tell us.

Did You Know? There Are New Fees for PLRs for Waiver of 60-Day Rollover!
How much does the IRS charge for a private letter ruling (PLR) requesting a waiver of the 60-day rollover period? Susan Diehl tells us, in light of recent increases in fees that the IRS put in place. 

IRS Says: Only One Coverdell ESA Account Rollover Per Year!
The IRS recently issued a technical advice memorandum on rollovers between Coverdell education savings accounts (ESAs). Susan Diehl notes that now a tax a taxpayer can only make one rollover from one Coverdell ESA to another ESA in a one-year period, regardless of the number of accounts they own.

IRS Establishes Waiver of 60-Day Rollover Requirement
In IRS Revenue Procedure 2016-47, which became effective on Aug. 24, 2016, the IRS simplifies the process for correcting late rollovers between IRA accounts in order to alleviate potential tax penalties. Kimberly Flett discusses what the guidance says and what it means for participants and administrators. 

Rollover 403(b): Inheriting a Qualified Plan
One of the advantages of qualified plans and IRAs is the portability with rollover contributions. But can a 403(b) be rolled into an inherited IRA? Kimberly Flett writes that understanding the portability rules — in particular regarding 403(b)s and IRAs — can prevent an unwelcome tax consequence.

Looking Before You ‘Leap’

As new rules about rollover disclosures kick in, a new report highlights an often unacknowledged risk of rollovers—high(er) fees, writes Nevin E. Adams, JD. He elaborates that a new report from Pew Trusts seems to have stirred up a new awareness of that issue—all this attention just as PTE 2020-02 brings the written requirement of why a rollover is in the best interests of participants into play.


State Issues

Are States Migrating from Traditional Pensions? A State-by-State Review of Alternative Models to the Traditional Defined Benefit Plan
We have been aware of the many changes taking place in a number of states which may substantially reduce the pension benefit for participants. This creates considerable opportunity in using voluntary plans to fill the gap. This article by Michael Webb examines those changes on a state by state basis, which NTSA members can use as a first step in understanding the state pension system in each specific state.

State Sponsored 403(b) Plans: A Closer Look
The news has been flooded with articles regarding the attempts of several states to sponsor 401(k) plans and obtain an exemption from ERISA for doing so. But did you know that some states currently sponsor 403(b) plans? Michael Webb takes a closer look at such often-overlooked plans and their impacts on the advisor community.

Inherited IRAs ARE protected under Idaho State law!

Susan Diehl writes that in a Jan. 10, 2019 ruling, a bankruptcy court held that inherited IRAs are protected under Idaho state law, and offers a look at why this is an interesting case.


Tax Issues/IRS

Orphan Accounts and How to Help Orphaned Clients
NTSA members will be dealing with orphan accounts and orphaned clients routinely.Ellie Lowder argues that advisors will want to have a clear grasp of the requirements as they assist clients with understanding those requirements and managing the 403(b) accounts held by de-selected providers.

IRS Advisory Council 403(b) Recommendations
The IRS’ Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities, professionals who provide recommendations on IRS programs and procedures which affect retirement plans, have substantial influence over the IRS’ policy positions decisions. Robert Toth discusses the council and its recommendations concerning 403(b)s.

What Plan Sponsors Should Know about the IRS EPCU
Since the IRS’ Employee Plans Compliance Unit (EPCU) was rolled out 10 years ago, plan sponsors have become increasingly familiar with the IRS Compliance Check questionnaire. In Market Beat, Linda Segal Blinn offers a closer look at what the EPCU is, what it does and and how it works.

Employee vs. Independent Contractor and Retirement Plan Impact
Plan sponsors should always keep a close eye on whether a worker is classified as an employee or an independent contractor since this has a significant effect on retirement plans. Michael Webb outlines differences under current law between and employees and independent contractors, and explains the impact of that determination on 403(b) and other types of retirement plans.

IRS Audits of 403(b) Plans — Insights and Best Practices
An IRS audit is not exactly a sought-after experience. But it is possible to take a look at a plan and see if it is at risk of one, and there are best practices one can take after an audit. The recent 2015 NTSA 403(b) Summit offered insights on both, as Diane Capone discusses.

Digging Deep: How Does the 15 Year of Service Increased Limit Really Work?
The IRS has said that excess deferrals generally are caused by “misuse” of the 15+ years of service increased limit outlined in Internal Revenue Code Section 402(g)(7). Ellie Lowder provides some clarity on how it works.

Next Up from the IRS: Introducing the Section 409A Compliance Initiative Project
When the IRS writes its essay about how it spent its summer vacation, it will report about how it rolled out a new compliance initiative project focusing on whether nonqualified deferred compensation arrangements are operating in accordance with Internal Revenue Code Section 409A, so says Linda Segal Blinn in Market Beat. She writes that an IRS official earlier had hinted that the project would focus on a limited number of large companies at the outset (approximately 50 corporate taxpayers), and would assess taxpayer compliance with Code requirements governing nonqualified arrangements.

Premiums on a Pre-tax Basis
Offering one employee benefit affects how another is offered, and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act is an example. Kevin Lurie discusses how that affects employers — something retirement plan administrators need to understand.

Understanding the IRS Audit Process for Your 403(b) Plan
With the right amount of planning and proper administration, plan sponsors can avoid audit pitfalls and provide for an employer-sponsored plan that effectively meets IRS guidance and regulations. Kimberly Flett explains the auditing process, and how sponsors can avoid possible trouble.

New Interest in IRS Audits: Is Meaningful Opportunity Being Provided?
The IRS is enforcing rules that mandate all school employees have access to their district’s 403(b) program, and Ellie Lowder explains how plan advisors play an integral role in ensuring equal and fair access. 

Using the Saver’s Tax Credit to Increase 403(b) Plan Participation
The saver's credit is one way to providing meaningful opportunity for employees to participate in a 403(b) plan. Ellie Lowder discusses how the saver’s tax credit works and provides a crib sheet of sorts from the IRS.

(b) Prepared for IRS Audit Activity to Continue
A statistic for 403(b) sponsors to ponder: An IRS official says that when the agency audits 403(b) plans, it discovers issues 80% of the time. And the IRS is hiring still more staff to audit 403(b) and 457(b) plans. Linda Segal Blinn discusses the five issues the IRS most often finds in such audits.

An IRS Audit Roadmap: Report of the College and University Compliance Project
Michael Webb analyzes the report from the IRS’ Exempt Organizations Division that surveyed over 400 colleges and universities and explained some of the major issues that occur during a higher-ed audit.

The New IRS Employer Match: Linking 403(b) Plans to Former 501(c)(3) Organizations
The IRS has rolled out its next 403(b) Compliance Check questionnaire, focusing on whether an employer whose 501(c)(3) nonprofit status was revoked still offers a 403(b) tax-deferred annuity plan to its employees. Linda Segal Blinn analyzes what that means for you and your clients.

A 403(b) Collective Trust? A Note of Caution....
Robert Toth argues that when a 403(b) plan purchases collective trust interests there can be trouble in the details, and identifies two issues that must be addressed. 

Nimbly Shifting Between 403(b) and 457(b) Plans
If you work with both 403(b) and 457(b) plans, it’s important to learn the key differences between 403(b) and 457(b) plans. Linda Segal Blinn offers a discussion of how they differ in several key respects. 

After-Tax 403(b) Contributions: Too Good to Be True?
Is it true that the use of after-tax contributions can allow participants to contribute substantially more than the 402(g) limit of $18,000, and that such contributions can be immediately rolled over to a Roth IRA or to a Roth 403(b)? David Blask tells us and provides the basics behind understanding — and handling — the matter. 

2015 ACA IRS Filing Requirements
The NTSA Communication Committee believes that understanding reporting requirements under the Affordable Care Act will be helpful in understanding other reporting obligations. Kimberly Flett provides a discussion of reporting under the ACA. 

Permitted Mid-Year Changes to Safe Harbor 401(k) and 403(b) Plans
The IRS recently released Notice 2016-16 which addresses what can and cannot be amended in a safe harbor 401(k) or 403(b) mid-year. Susan Diehl provides an overview of this notice, which includes guidance for traditional safe harbor plans and QACAs and eliminates much of the uncertainty which has overshadowed this popular plan design.

Correcting Roth Deferrals made as Pre-Tax Deferrals
Many employees of a school district client elected to make a Roth 403(b) salary deferral, but they were all set up as regular pre-tax deferrals and no one caught this for six months. Susan Diehl tells us if the employees can change their election to pre-tax as a way to correct the situation.

New (Lower) EPCRS Fees Now Apply
Each January, the IRS publishes the new fees for pre-approved plans to be submitted — mass submitters vs. word-for-word adopters, cost of PLRs and miscellaneous costs for other rulings. Susan Diehl provides a reminder about the fees in place in 2016. 

Taking it to the (Contribution) Limit
Public schools and 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations may offer their employees more than one type of defined contribution  plan — but not all of these plans follow the same Internal Revenue Code limits. Linda Segal Blinn helps readers to learn to separate fact from fiction to keep retirement plans operating within the limits.

IRS Compliance Unit Checking Tax-Exempt 457(b) Plans
The IRS Employee Plans Compliance Unit (EPCU) is sending letters to tax-exempt sponsors of 457(b) top hat plans when employee W-2s show that the basic 457(b) plan limit of $17,500 in 2011 has been exceeded. Ellie Lowder discusses what those letters contain and require of recipients.

The New 'Umbrella' Closing Agreement
Qualified plans must be restated every six years to maintain their reliance on the approved status of their plan, and the deadline for this most recent restatement is April 30, 2016. Susan Diehl discusses a new option that permits financial institutions and other service providers that offer a plan document to request a closing agreement on behalf of all clients that missed the deadline for adopting a pre-approved plan.

Counting Hours for Adjunct Professors for Eligibility and Vesting
As the first-time-ever Prototype/Volume Submitter 403(b) approvals approach, it may be necessary to include counting hours for adjunct professors in a plan’s operations manual, in order to protect the employer in the event of an audit. Susan Diehl provides a brief explanation of the verbal IRS guidance that has been presented.

Auditing Distributed 403(b) (and 401(a)) Contracts
The IRS specifically recognized the termination of a 403(b) plans as being a “distributable event” in its 2007 regulations. But that doesn’t mean that questions don’t arise. Robert Toth addresses issues that arise concerning 403(b) plan terminations and distributions. 

Did You Hear About the New ABLE Account for the Disabled?
Among the restrictions of the traditional Section 529 qualified tuition programs was their inability to fit into the requirements of long term services programs for specially-abled individuals. But the ABLE Act, enacted as 2014 came to a close, changed that. Sue Diehl discusses the changes that have taken place as a result. 

Errors Can Cause Auto Enrollment to Fail
By unintentionally overlooking little-known pitfalls, employers can inadvertently create a failure in their automatic enrollment programs. Barbara Webb identifies the most common errors related to elective deferrals that occur in 401(k) and 403(b) plans and discusses how they can be corrected. 

Exploring the Exceptions to IRS 10% Penalty
When an individual takes a distribution from an IRA or retirement plan before reaching age 59½, the general rule is that the distribution is subject to a federal 10% penalty in addition to any federal and, if applicable, state income taxes. Lynn Knight discusses the most common exceptions to the penalty and whether each applies to distributions made from an IRA and/or a retirement plan.

DeGrassi to NTSA 403(b) Masters: Tax Reform May Trump Fiduciary Rule
At the recent 2017 NTSA 403(b) Masters Summit, NTSA Executive Director Chris DeGrassi said that this year’s game-changer won’t be the fiduciary rule — it’s going to be tax reform. Ray Harmon discusses DeGrassi’s assessment and what that could portend. 

Reminder: Tax Filing Due Date Changes Effective for 2016 Tax Year
H.R. 3236 changed deadlines for filing business income tax returns for the 2016 tax year. Susan Diehl writes that this has created some confusion, and offers reminders to help dispel it.

The Up Side to Tax Reform Uncertainty: Reaching Out to Clients
Tax reform is a priority of the Trump Administration and many members of Congress The final form is not certain, but pre-tax deferrals to a 401(k), 403(b), or 457(b) plan could be in play. David Blask argues that now is the time to reach out to your clients in light of this debate. 

A Road Map to 403(b) Transactions
It is always good to review transactions, especially the definitions, since saying the wrong thing — or worse, filling out the wrong form — could prove disastrous for the plan participant. Sue Diehl reviews common transactions for 403(b) plans.

You’ve Heard of Fake News…Well, What About Fake 5305s?
In February 2017, the IRS posted to their website new Forms 5305 with a revision date of October 2016. Susan Diehl says that it became clear pretty quickly that many of their forms were incorrect and discusses the bigger picture. 

IRS Webinar on Minimum Present Value Requirements Coming
The IRS on Sept. 8, 2016 issued TD 9783, which contains final regulations that modify minimum present value requirements for partial annuity distribution options under defined benefit plans. The NTSA net staff discusses the guidance and what a May 2017 IRS webinar on the subject will address. 

Use of Forfeitures in Safe Harbor 401(k) and 403(b) Plans
The IRS has issued proposed regulations stating Qualified Non-Elective Contributions (QNECs) and Qualified Matching Contributions (QMACs) will be considered non-forfeitable at the time allocated to participant accounts. Kimberly Flett discusses what the regulations do and provide.

5 Ways to Fix the Saver’s Credit
At a recent policy forum sponsored by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, Catherine Collinson, President of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, outlined five ways to “fix” the current Saver’s Credit.

Revisiting Universal Availability under the IRS 403(b) Pre-Approved Plans Program
All employees of an eligible employer must have the opportunity to make pre-tax deferrals (or, if the plan permits, Roth 403(b) contributions) to such an employer’s 403(b) plan, with only a few limited exceptions. Linda Segal Blinn discusses the universal availability rules under the IRS 403(b) Pre-Approved Program. 

Employer Nonelective Contributions After a Former Employee’s Death
Plans established under Internal Revenue Code Section 403(b) have a unique plan design feature made possible by major pieces of legislation in the first years of the 21st century. Linda Segal Blinn discusses Section 403(b)(3) and its application. 

The New Rule for Correcting IRA Excesses in 2018
The “in which/for which” saga continues, writes Susan Diehl. She discusses the new rule for correcting IRA excesses, starting with a look at the operational procedure for such corrections under Internal Revenue Code Section 408(d)(4).

Beneficiary Transfers Between IRAs
For beneficiaries of an inherited IRA, caution is necessary in order to avoid expensive tax consequences. Kimberly Flett addresses some relevant matters that merit specific focus.

403(b) 15-Year Long Service Catch-Up

Code Section 402(g)(7) seems to have a gift for certain 403(b) plan sponsors: the annual elective deferral limit for participants in these plans with “15 years of service” with the qualified organization can be as much as $3,000 greater than the existing limit for everyone else, up to a lifetime maximum of $15,000. Robert Toth argues that one should consider the details of what it takes to be able to support providing this benefit.

403(b) Terminations: Important Considerations 

There are a variety of important considerations concerning terminations and freezes of a plan—and that includes 403(b) plans. John Iekel discusses a webcast in which Kelsey Mayo, American Retirement Association’s Director of Regulatory Policy and a partner with the Poyner Spruill LLP law firm, addressed priorities related to terminations of 403(b) plans. 


Top Hat/Executive Plans

Great Opportunity: Top Hat 457(b) Plans
You’re one of the decision makers at your organization, and the nondiscrimination rules that apply to employer contributions to retirement plans don’t apply to you and your peers. If that describes you, then you are covered by a top hat plan. Ellie Lowder tells us how such an arrangement works under Internal Revenue Code Section 457(b).

Fundamentals of 457(b) Top Hat Plans
Financial advisors may find themselves discussing the adoption and implementation of top hat plans with one of the people who would most benefit from such a plan, says Ellie Lowder. In this essay, she provides a discussion about the fundamentals of top hat plans and what interested financial advisors should do about and with them.


Annual Updates and Events

Form 5500 Reporting Requirements for One-Participant Plans
Form 5500-EZ, Annual Return of One-Participant (Owners and Their Spouses) Retirement Plan can be easily overlooked by sponsors of one-participant retirement plans. Kimberly Flett writes that common mistakes in filing the form can be avoided by understanding the basic rules and offers a discussion of them.

2017 Retirement Plan Changes
Every year, the IRS issues thresholds and contribution levels relevant to retirement benefits, as well as their administration and taxation. Susan Diehl provides 2017 levels that will be of special interest to those who serve, provide and rely on retirement plans. 



Documentation for Hardship Withdrawals and Home Loans
In two newsletters, the IRS surprised many in the retirement industry with the assertion that failure to properly document hardship withdrawals or home loans is a qualification failure. Ellie Lowder discusses the positions the IRS articulated in the articles and the responses to them.

Cerulli Report on Leakage from Retirement Savings
A recent study outlines what employers can do to help limit plan leakage by placing significant limitations on loans in their plan documents. Ellie Lowder suggests that 403(b), and perhaps governmental 457(b) plans as well, face the same problems and discusses what they can do.

Should Your Clients Hold Multiple IRAs?
Suppose a client holds two traditional IRAs. They will be aggregated; thus, income taxes will be calculated on a pro-rata basis as though he had withdrawn from each of the IRAs. Ellie Lowder tells us whether there is any action that the client could take to change that scenario. 

403(b) Policy Loan’s Continued Form 5500 Reporting Problem
ERISA 403(b) plan sponsors must deal with the “policy loans” issued by insurance carriers under the 403(b) annuity contracts held under the plans. Robert Toth argues that there is no good way to report these loans on the Form 5500, and the newly proposed Form 5500 changes do not address the problem.



Five Fast Facts Regarding Public Universities
The public university retirement plan market can test one’s knowledge and experience. Michael Webb discusses five basic features of public university plans for those who may be unfamiliar with this important segment of the nonprofit retirement plan marketplace.

The Top Three Reasons to Obtain Your TGPC Designation
Michael Webb discusses why a TGPC designation is so valuable and the top three reasons why you should obtain the designation.

The Yale Professor Letters: Tempest or Teapot?
Bruce Ashton explains what 403(b) advisors can glean from a survey conducted this past summer about failing 401(k) plans.

The Real Value of NTSA Educational Opportunities
NTSA has long been the most valuable source of information specific to non-ERISA 403(b) issues available anywhere; in Market Beat, Amy Simonson provides a look at what NTSA has to offer. 

“Presumably, if workers earned income in a retirement account, it is safe to assume that they had a retirement account…”. Nevin Adams writes that that somewhat self-evident statement is drawn from a recent Issue Brief by EBRI, and that it was necessary is a cautionary tale about the blind reliance on data, even from a credible source, that looks suspicious.