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Do you sponsor a 457(f) plan? If so, keep reading!

11.16.16

When it comes to offering non-qualified deferred compensation to executives of not-for-profit organizations, there aren’t many options. Your organization must follow the rules and related guidance outlined in Internal Revenue Code Sections 457 and 409A. There are two types of non-qualified deferred compensation plans: Eligible (457(b) plans) and ineligible (457(f) plans)

  • 457(b) plans operate very similarly to 403(b) or 401(k) plans and have an annual benefit limit.
  • 457(f) plans have no annual benefit limit but the participants must include the benefits in taxable income when the substantial risk of forfeiture lapses.

Changes are on the table
And that's largely a good thing.The proposed regulations provide guidance in several key areas used to determine whether a substantial risk of forfeiture exists or not. For the most part, the proposed guidance is welcome news and provides an employer with more flexibility than originally expected.

Earlier this year, the IRS issued proposed regulations which describe just what constitutes a substantial risk of forfeiture under an ineligible 457(f) plan and what types of benefits are not considered to be ineligible 457(f) plans. Because of the tax implications to the executive, this is important for your organization to understand and communicate.

What the proposed regulations cover:

  1. Non-compete agreements
  2. Rolling risks of forfeiture (e.g., rolling vesting schedules)
  3. Determining the present value of accrued benefits
  4. Plans that are not considered 457(f) plans, including bona fide severance pay plans

In each of these areas, the proposed regulations provide employers with specific rules to follow in order to design and operate a plan, whether it's an existing plan or one adopted before or after the rules are finalized. Current plans will not have grandfathered status. 

What you need to do
For existing deferred compensation arrangements or employment contracts that provide for severance pay for deferred compensation arrangements,you must:

  • Take inventory of the types of benefits you provide (e.g., severance pay, 457(b), 457(f) plans)
  • Review plan provisions and determine the changes you need to make in order for them to be in compliance with the guidelines. 
  • Make the appropriate changes to the plan or employment contract provisions before the final regulations are effective.
  • The final regulations generally will not be effective until 90 days after they've been published. You may rely on them in the interim.

If you have questions or concerns
We've helped many not-for-profit organizations design and develop executive compensation packages, including deferred compensation plans. Our Benefits Compensation experts are well versed in the rules that apply to deferred compensation and severance pay plans and can help guide you through the process to:

  1. Create a plan that meets the needs of your executive and your organization
  2. Determine if any changes must be made to the benefits you’re currently offering

Contact Bill Enck if you have questions or need help.

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Consulting

Are you spending enough time on your paid time off plan?
Many questions arise regarding paid time off (PTO) plans and the constructive receipt of income, which can cause payroll complications for employers and phantom income inclusion for employees. In order to avoid being subject to penalties for not withholding income and payroll taxes and having employees be subject to tax on cash they have not received, certain steps need be followed if an employer wants to properly allow employees to cash-out PTO.

What the IRS is looking for.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued a number of Private Letter Rulings (PLRs) that examine earned time cash-out programs. While such rulings don’t serve as precedent, it appears the IRS has come up with the following factors that it deems important in order to avoid constructive receipt in a PTO cash-out situation:

  1. Employees must make a written election before the end of December in the year prior to the year they will be earning and receiving the accrued earned time to be cashed-out.  This is an election to receive a cash payout of the earned time to be accrued in the following year.
  2. The election must be irrevocable.
  3. The payout can only happen once the employee has actually earned and accrued the earned time in the following year. Payouts are generally once or twice per year, but may happen more frequently.

The IRS appears to generally require that the earned time being paid out be substantially less than the accrued earned time owed to the employee. This is to ensure that the earned time program remains a bona fide sick or vacation pay plan and not a plan of deferred compensation. This particular requirement can get tricky and may be different in each employer’s case.

Why does it matter?
The danger of failing to follow IRS guidelines regarding earned time cash-outs is that the IRS could claim that the employees offered a choice to cash-out are in constructive receipt of their accrued earned time balances regardless of their choice. This would result in immediate taxation of all accrued amounts to the employees, even if they hadn’t received the cash. The employer would also be subject to penalties for not properly withholding federal and state taxes.

It is important to review your PTO plan to be sure there are no issues regarding constructive receipt and to make sure your payroll systems are correctly reporting income.

The IRS issued proposed regulations under Code Section 457 in June of 2016 regarding, in part, non-qualified deferred compensation plans of not-for-profit (NFP) organizations. Those regulations contain guidance regarding the cash-out of sick and vacation time and the possibility that certain cash-out provisions may create a plan of deferred compensation and not a bona fide sick leave or vacation leave plan. As noted above, such a determination would be disastrous as all amounts accrued would become immediately taxable. NFP organizations and their advisors should keep a close eye on the proposed Section 457 regulations to see how they develop in final form. Once the regulations are finalized, NFP organizations may need to make changes to their cash-out provisions.

Please note that the above information is general in nature and is not meant to provide guidance on any particular case. If you have any questions about your PTO plan, please contact Bill Enck.

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Paid time off plans: IRS guidelines and why they matter

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