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GASB releases guidance for organizations receiving relief from the CARES Act

07.21.20

Read this if you are a CFO or controller.

The Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) recently provided much needed guidance for governmental organizations struggling to account for relief provided in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). In their Technical Bulletin No. 2020-1, Accounting and Financial Reporting Issues Related to the CARES Act and Coronavirus Diseases, GASB addressed a number of pressing recognition and presentation questions that you should be aware of when preparing financial statements. The following is a summary of the guidance:

  • Resources received under the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) subject to restrictions should be recognized as voluntary nonexchange transactions, subject to eligibility rather than purpose restrictions. As such, the entity should recognize resources received from the CRF as liabilities until the applicable eligibility requirements are met, including the incurrence of eligible expenditures. When the eligibility requirements have been met, revenue should be recognized for CRF resources received.
  • Provisions of the CARES Act that address the entity’s loss of revenue should be considered an eligibility requirement for purposes of revenue recognition. 
  • Any possible amendments to the CARES Act issued subsequent to the statement of net position date but before the issuance of financial statements, even when enacted with retroactive provisions, do not represent conditions that existed as of the period-end being reported and should only be reported as a nonrecognized subsequent event.
  • With the exception of CARES Act funds provided through the Provider Relief Fund's Uninsured Program (operating revenues), funds received under the CARES Act are subsidies and should be reported as nonoperating revenues and presented as noncapital finance activities in the statement of cash flows.
  • Outflows of resources incurred in response to the coronavirus disease due to actions taken to slow the spread of the virus or the implementation of "stay-at-home" orders should not be reported as extraordinary items or special items.
  • In addition to the guidance provided with the Technical Bulletin, the GASB also provides a number of additional stakeholder resources that may be useful during this period on its website, including an Emergency Toolbox that provides guidance on donated assets, management’s discussion and analysis (MD&A), asset impairment, and many more. 

Please contact Robert Smalley if you have questions on the latest GASB updates.
 

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Principals

Recently the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) finished its Governmental Accounting Research System (GARS), a full codification of governmental accounting standards. The completion of the project allows preparers easy access to accounting guidance from GASB. The overall project, starting from the codification of older pre-1989 Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) pronouncements in 2010, was focused on pulling together all authoritative guidance, similar to what FASB had done in 2009.

Here’s what we found interesting.

Poking around the GARS (Basic View is free) I was struck by a paragraph surrounded by a thick-lined box that read “The provisions of this Codification need not be applied to immaterial items.” If you have ever read a GASB or FASB pronouncement, you have seen a similar box. But probably, like me, you didn’t fully consider its potential benefits. Understanding this, GASB published an article on its website aimed at (in my opinion) prompting financial statement preparers to consider reducing disclosure for the many clearly insignificant items often included within governmental financial statements.

After issuing more than 80 pronouncements since its inception in 1984, including 19 in the last five years, GASB accounting requirements continue to grow. Many expect the pace to continue, with issues like leases accounting, potential revision of the financial reporting model, and comprehensive review of revenue and expense recognition accounting currently in process. With these additional accounting standards come more disclosure requirements.

With many still reeling from implementation of the disclosure heavy pension guidance, GASB is already under pressure from stakeholders with respect to information overload. Users of financial statements can be easily overwhelmed by the amount of detailed disclosure, often finding it difficult to identify and focus on the most significant issues for the entity. Balancing the perceived need to meet disclosure requirements with the need to highlight significant information can be a difficult task for preparers. Often preparers lean towards providing too much information in an effort to “make sure everything is in there that should be”. So, what can you do to ease the pain?

While the concept of materiality is not addressed specifically in the GASB standards, by working with your auditors there are a number of ways to reduce the overall length and complexity of the statements. We recommend reviewing your financial statements periodically with your auditor, focusing on the following types of questions:

  • On the face of the financial statements, are we breaking out items that are clearly inconsequential in nature and the amount?
  • Are there opportunities to combine items where appropriate?
  • In the notes to the financial statements are we providing excessive details about insignificant items?
  • Do we have an excess amount of historical disclosure from years past?
  • In the management’s discussion & analysis, is the analysis completed to an appropriate level? Is there discussion on items that are insignificant?

The spirit behind the box is that GASB was specifically thinking about material amounts and disclosures. It was not their intention to clutter the financials with what their article referred to as “nickel and dime” items. With more disclosure requirements on the way, now might be the time to think INSIDE the box.  

For more guidance on this and other GASB information, please contact Rob Smalley.

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Extra information for GASB organizations: How to lessen information overload

Recently, federal banking regulators released an interagency financial institution letter on CECL, in the form of a Q&A. Read it here. While there weren’t a lot of new insights into expectations examiners may have upon adoption, here is what we gleaned, and what you need to know, from the letter.

ALLL Documentation: More is better

Your management will be required to develop reasonable and supportable forecasts to determine an appropriate estimate for their allowance for loan and lease losses (ALLL). Institutions have always worked under the rule that accounting estimates need to be supported by evidence. Everyone knows both examiners and auditors LOVE documentation, but how much is necessary to prove whether the new CECL estimate is reasonable and supportable? The best answer I can give you is “more”.

And regardless of the exact model institutions develop, there will be significantly more decision points required with CECL than with the incurred loss model. At each point, both your management and your auditors will need to ask, “Why this path vs. another?” Defining those decision points and developing a process for documenting the path taken while also exploring alternatives is essential to build a model that estimates losses under both the letter and the spirit of the new rules. This is especially true when developing forecasts. We know you are not fortune tellers. Neither are we.

The challenge will be to document the sources used for forecasts, making the connections between that information and its effect on your loss data as clear as possible, so the model bases the loss estimate on your institution’s historical experience under conditions similar to those you’re forecasting, to the extent possible.

Software may make this easier… or harder.               

The leading allowance software applications allow for virtually instantaneous switching between different models, permitting users to test various assumptions in a painless environment. These applications feature collection points that enable users to document the basis for their decisions that become part of the final ALLL package. Take care to try and ensure that the support collected matches the decisions made and assumptions used.

Whether you use software or not there is a common set of essential controls to help ensure your ALLL calculation is supported. They are:

  • Documented review and recalculation of the ALLL estimate by a qualified individual(s) independent of the preparation of the calculation
  • Control over reports and spreadsheets that include data that feed into the overall calculation
  • Documentation supporting qualitative factors, including reasonableness of the resulting reserve amounts
  • Controls over loan ratings if they are a factor in your model
  • Controls over the timeliness of charge-offs

In the process of implementing the new CECL guidance it can be easy to focus all of your effort on the details of creating models, collecting data and getting to a reasonable number. Based on the regulators’ new Q&A document, you’ll also want to spend some time making sure the ALLL number is supportable.  

Next time, we’ll look at a lesser known section of the CECL guidance that could have a significantly negative impact on the size of the ALLL and capital as a result: off-balance-sheet credit exposures.

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CECL: Reasonable and supportable? Be ready to be ALLL in

By now you have heard that the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s (FASB) answer to the criticism the incurred-loss model for accounting for the allowance for loan and lease losses faced during the financial crisis has been released in its final form. The Current Expected Credit Loss model (CECL), which was developed through an arduous (and sometimes contentious) process following the crisis, will bring substantial changes to the way community banks account for expected losses in their loan portfolios. 

Working closely with community banks in the years building up to final issuance, we recognized an uncomfortable level of uncertainty created by the ever-changing proposals and lack of concrete examples. Now that the guidance is final, we feel a strong sense of responsibility to provide our interpretations, thoughts and insights where we can. As the FASB has shown recently with its new revenue pronouncement, there is a good chance that updates to the guidance will occur as we move closer to the implementation dates. The banking regulators who have thus far been mostly silent on the guidance will also have their interpretations.

We find that with substantial new guidance breaking it down into bite size pieces can be the best approach to understanding and implementation. With that said, this is the first of a number of planned articles from BerryDunn to do just that.

Building your team

One of the first things your institution should do is create an implementation team. Building it now with staff from diverse backgrounds and experience including finance, lending and collections will bring significant rewards in the long run. This is also a good time to consider opportunities to include your auditor in the process. Ultimately, you will need them to perform audit procedures on your CECL allowance as part of your financial statement audit. That also means your model and the resulting estimate must be auditable. Including auditors in the early stages should also help your team think about implications the audit requirements may have for expectations related to retaining documentation and supporting assumptions. In addition, your auditor may be able to share observations based on how other institutions are implementing CECL that may be helpful for your team.  Auditors can do all this while maintaining independence if their services are structured properly.

When your team is assembled and is up-to-speed on the basics of what CECL is and isn’t, defining the team’s goals and creating a roadmap to get there will be your keys to success. And asking the right questions while creating the roadmap is a great place to start. 

Questions to consider:


What available method (under CECL) is the best fit for the institution?
We expect that largely most community institutions will start with a top-down approach using an adaption from their current loss-rate approach to reflect the change from the old incurred loss method to the “life of the loan” current expected credit loss method. We believe the following step-by-step model will be one practical approach that should fit most community banks and credit unions:

  1. Determine which loans for specific reserves are appropriate, much in the same manner as you’re likely doing now. The notion of “impaired” loans goes away with CECL; a loan should be evaluated specifically if the institution becomes aware of loan-specific information indicating it has an exposure to loss that differs from other loans it’s been pooled with. In practice, we think that’ll be largely the same loans that are currently being identified as impaired.
  2. Secondly, for the rest of the portfolio:
    1. Group loans by common characteristics – same as you are likely doing now. These groups can match your portfolio or class groupings used now in financial reporting, but can also be broken down further.
    2. For each group, create subgroups for each origination year. One of the disclosure requirements in the guidance suggests the current year and previous four years are the critical ones to focus on; anything older than five years could be combined together.
    3. For each subgroup:
      1. Establish economic and other relevant conditions for the average remaining term of loans in the subgroup. This will be a combination of forecasted conditions for the near future, probably based on the Fed’s three-year forecast, and long-term historical conditions for the remaining average loan term.
      2. Select an historical loss period that best approximates the conditions established in 2c(i).
      3. Determine average remaining lifetime losses for the historical loss period established in 2c(ii) for that loan type.
      4. Adjust the average determined in 2c(iii) for any current or expected conditions that you believe are different from this historical data. The regulators have indicated their expectation that these will likely be the types of items for which qualitative factors have been developed under the incurred loss model, or a subset thereof.

These adjustments should themselves be based on historical data, or peer historical data if institution-specific data isn’t available (for example, a new loan product); for example, a 25 basis point upward adjustment for actual and expected declines in real estate values beyond the average in the historical period in 2c(ii) should be supported by data that shows a 25 basis point increase in losses for this type of loan in previous periods in which real estate values had shown a similar decline.

What data do we need to start collecting?
The clock has started! The CECL model requires analysis of loss rates and environmental factors. Detailed loss-rate calculations for as far back as you can get is your goal. The next step after collecting the historical data on your losses is to document other factors that were in play during each period. You will also need to consider the factors that affected charge-off rates for different periods. Changes in overall economic conditions, underwriting (both risk and quality), the legal environment and other factors need to be documented and correlated to trends in charge-offs. Remember one of the first steps in preparing a CECL model is to decide which time period of losses best matches the current environment. Without considering the full picture, including the external forces in play, it will be impossible to select an appropriate time period.

How do we retain and access that data?
Many core providers restrict access to older loan level data, and in some cases historical information is readily available only for very short time periods. Knowing the restrictions on your older data will be key in planning for CECL. The model suggests that a starting point for considering historical data needs is to consider what time periods matter. This may vary for different types of loans.

Some core providers have started reaching out to their institutions to discuss CECL and options for collection of data through webinars and one-on-one meetings. Consider reaching out directly to your provider to see what options in terms of data collection, retention and reporting will be available to your team.

What is the next step?
Build a simple model so that your team can better grasp and discuss the fundamentals of CECL. This can serve to solidify the concept of “life of loan losses” vs. the incurred loss method, as well as get your task force focused on what is important in collecting data.

Now that you’ve got your team assembled and have begun to tackle these questions, it’s time to look at other factors to consider. In our next installment, we’ll take you through how to implement CECL for loans obtained in a merger or acquisition. In the meantime, please call us if you have any questions.

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CECL: Where to start

Read this if you are a not-for-profit organization. 

Due to the impacts of COVID-19, on June 3, 2020, FASB issued an Accounting Standards Update (ASU) that granted a one-year effective date delay for NFPs to adopt the new revenue recognition standards (Topic 606). The ASU permitted NFPs that had not yet applied the revenue recognition standard to do so for annual reporting periods beginning after December 15, 2019. Many NFP’s choose to take advantage of this delay. 

However, the clock is ticking on FASB’s revenue recognition changes, as most NFP’s will have to adopt the revenue recognition changes shortly. With that in mind – let’s revisit Topic 606 and what it could mean for your organization. 

The overarching goal of the changes to revenue recognition is to converge disparate standards across industries, all while making the information more useful to users. The core principle of the standard is that “the organization should recognize revenue to depict the transfer of goods or service in an amount that reflects the payment for which the organization expects to be entitled for those goods and services.” 

A five-step process and a simplified approach 

To achieve that core principle, your organization will need to apply a five-step model to some of your revenues streams:

  1. Identify the contract(s) with a customer
  2. Identify the separate performance obligations
  3. Determine the transaction price
  4. Allocate the transaction price to the separate performance obligations
  5. Recognize revenue when or as a performance obligation is satisfied

While the process can be broken down into five simple steps, the task of reviewing revenue streams and specific contracts can be quite daunting in implementation.

Additional disclosures needed

Whether your organization is currently implementing, or soon will, you will want to make sure you understand the extensive disclosures required under the standards. Annual disclosures include the following:

  • Qualitative information about how economic factors affect the nature, amount, timing, and uncertainty of revenue and cash flow
  • Opening and closing balances of contract assets, contract liabilities, and receivables from contracts with customers
  • Descriptions of performance obligations

We are here to help

We recognize the difficult task ahead for our clients in analyzing their multiple contract vehicles and revenue streams in implementing the new standards. To help our clients through the process, we are offering revenue standard workshops. This workshop can be tailored to your needs, with an in-depth meeting to review the standard, consider your significant revenue streams, and a walkthrough the five-step process. We will leave you with an easy to use template for analyzing future revenue streams along with recommendations for your current revenue recognition system and process. 

Don’t wait until the financial year has come to a close to review your processes and systems in place, we are available now to work with you to prepare for the new standard. Contact Chris Mouradian or Sarah Belliveau to find out how you can join the list of organizations getting ahead of the new standard.

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Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) revenue recognition changes: What it means for NFPs

Read this if you are an employer with a defined contribution plan.

This article is the fourth in a series to help employee benefit plan fiduciaries better understand their responsibilities and manage the risks of non-compliance with Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) requirements. You can read the previous articles here.

One of the most common errors we identify during an audit of defined contribution plans is the definition of compensation outlined in the adoption agreement or plan document is not consistently or accurately applied by the plan sponsor. This can be a serious problem, as operational failures will require correction and those errors can become costly for plan sponsors. 

Calculation challenges and other common errors

It is important plan sponsors understand the options selected for the calculation of employee elective deferrals and employer non-elective and matching contributions into the plan. While calculating compensation sounds straightforward, it is often complicated by the fact that your adoption agreement or plan document may use different definitions of compensation for different purposes.

For example, the definition of compensation used to calculate deferrals could differ from the definition used for nondiscrimination testing and allocation purposes. Therefore, determining the correct amount of compensation requires a strong understanding of both your entity’s payroll structure and adoption agreement or plan document. Plan sponsors should work with both in-house personnel and plan administrators to ensure definitions of compensation are appropriately applied, and that any changes are quickly communicated to all involved.  

During an audit, we commonly identify pay types excluded from the definition of compensation in the adoption agreement or plan document that are incorrectly included in the compensation used in the calculation of employee deferrals and employer contributions. Taxable group term life insurance is a common example of compensation that is improperly included in the definition of compensation. Alternatively, we also identify codes for certain types of pay excluded from the calculation of employee deferrals and employer contributions that should be included based on the applicable definition of compensation. For example, retro pay, bonus payments, and manual checks are often incorrectly excluded in the definition of compensation.

Corrective actions

If errors are identified, we recommend that corrective actions including contributions, reallocation, or distributions are made in accordance with the Department of Labor regulations in a timely fashion.

If appropriate, the plan sponsor should consider amending the plan to align with the definition of plan compensation currently used in practice. We also recommend plan sponsors perform annual reviews of plan operations to ensure compliance and avoid the costs that can accompany non-compliance.

If you have questions about your specific situation, please contact our Employee Benefits consulting team. We’re here to help.

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Plan compensation and contributions: Common errors and solutions to fix them

Read this if you are an employer with basic knowledge of benefit plans and want to learn more. 

This article is the third in a series to help employee benefit plan fiduciaries better understand their responsibilities and manage the risks of non-compliance with Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) requirements. Our first article covers the background of ERISA, while our second article covers the definitions and rules of parties-in-interest and prohibited transactions.

Form 5500 is an informational return filed annually with the US Department of Labor (DOL). The purpose of Form 5500 is to report information concerning the operation, funding, assets, and investments of pension and other employee benefit plans to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and DOL. All pension benefit plans covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), and, generally, health and welfare plans covering 100 or more participants are subject to filing Form 5500. Any retirement plan covering less than 100 participants at the beginning of the plan year may be able to file Form 5500-SF, Short Form Annual Return/Report of Small Employee Benefit Plan. Read on for important filing requirements, as noncompliance can result in substantial penalties assessed by both the DOL and IRS. 

Who has to file, and which Form 5500 is required?

Pension plans

The most common types of pension benefit plan filers include:

  • Retirement plans qualified under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) § 401(a)
  • Tax sheltered annuity plans under IRC § 403(b)(1) and 403(b)(7)
  • SIMPLE 401(k) Plan under IRC § 401(k)(11)
  • Direct Filing Entity (DFE)

Which Form 5500 you should file depends on the type of plan. Small plans covering less than 100 participants as of the beginning of the plan year will normally file a Form 5500-SF. Conversely, large plans, mainly those plans covering 100 or more participants as of the beginning of the plan year, will file Form 5500 as a general rule. 

Participants include all current employees eligible for the plan, former employees still covered, and deceased employees who have one or more beneficiaries eligible for or receiving benefits under the plan.

Welfare plans

Generally, all welfare benefit plans covered by ERISA are required to file a Form 5500. Common types of welfare benefit plans include but are not limited to medical, dental, life insurance, severance pay, disability, and scholarship funds.

Similar to pension plans, the required Form 5500 to be filed typically depends on whether the plan is a small plan with less than 100 participants at the beginning of the year, or a large plan with 100 or more participants at the beginning of the plan year. However, certain welfare benefit plans are not required to file an annual Form 5500, including, but not limited to:

  • Plans with fewer than 100 participants at the beginning of the plan year and that are unfunded, fully insured, or a combination of the two
  • Governmental plans 
  • Employee benefit plans maintained only to comply with workers’ compensation, unemployment compensation, or disability insurance laws

Participants for welfare benefit plans include current employees covered by the plan, former employees still covered, and deceased employees who have one or more beneficiaries receiving or entitled to receive benefits under the plan (e.g., COBRA). 

Required financial schedules for Form 5500

Small plans that do not file Form 5500-SF require the following schedules to be filed along with the Form 5500:

  • Schedule A—Insurance information
  • Schedule D—DFE/Participating plan information
  • Schedule I—Financial information for a small plan

Large plans require the following schedules in addition to small plan schedules:

  • Plan Audit (Accountant’s Opinion)
  • Schedule C—Service provider information
  • Schedule G—Financial transaction schedules
  • Schedule H—Financial information (instead of Schedule I)

Welfare plans with 100 or more participants that are unfunded, fully insured or a combination of the two are not required to attach Schedule H or an Accountant’s Opinion. Also, pension plans will attach Schedule SB or MB reporting actuarial information, if required, along with Schedule R reporting retirement plan information.

When to File

Form 5500 must be filed electronically by the last day of the seventh calendar month after the end of the plan year. However, a two and one-half months’ extension of time to file can be requested. Penalties may be assessed by both the IRS and the DOL for failure to file an annual Form 5500-series return. For 2020, the IRS penalty for late filing is $250 per day, up to a maximum of $150,000 (applies only to retirement plans), and the DOL penalty can run up to $2,233 per day, with no maximum. Therefore, it is very important to track participant counts and ensure compliance with filing deadlines.

If you have questions about your specific situation, please contact our employee benefit consulting team. We’re here to help.

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Form 5500: An overview

Read this if your organization has received assistance from the Provider Relief Fund.

On January 15, 2021 the US Department of Health & Human Services released updated guidance on the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) reporting requirements. Below, we outline what has changed and supersedes their last communication on November 2, 2020.

This amended guidance is in response to the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (Act). The act was passed in December 2020 and added an additional $3 billion to the PRF along with new language regarding reporting requirements. 

Highlights

Please note this is a summary of information and additional detail and guidance that can be found on the Reporting Requirements and Auditing page at HHS.gov. See our helpful infographic for a summary of key deadlines and reporting requirements. 

  • On January 15, 2021 The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a delay in reporting of the PRF. Further details on the deadline for this reporting have not yet been communicated by HHS. Recipients of PRF payments greater than $10,000 may register to report on use of funds as of December 31, 2020 starting January 15, 2021. Providers should go into the portal and register and establish an account now so when the portal is open for reporting they are prepared to fulfil their reporting requirements.
  • Recipients who have not used all of the funds after December 31, 2020, have six more months from January 1 – June 30, 2021 to use remaining funds. Provider organizations will have to submit a second report before July 31, 2021 on how funds were utilized for that six-month period. 
  • The new guidelines further define the reporting entity and how to report if there is a parent company with subsidiaries for both general and targeted distributions:
     
    • Parent organizations with multiple TINs that either received general distributions or received them from parent organizations can report the usage of these funds even if the parent was not the entity that completed the attestation.
    • While a targeted distribution may now be transferred from the receiving subsidiary to another subsidiary by the parent organization, the original subsidiary must report any of the targeted distribution it received that was transferred.
       
  • The calculation of lost revenue has been modified by HHS through this new guidance. Lost revenue is calculated for the full year and can be calculated as follows:
     
    1. Difference between 2019 and 2020 actual client/resident/patient care revenue. The revenue must be submitted by client/resident/patient care mix and by quarter for the 2019 year.
    2. Difference between 2020 budgeted and 2020 actual. The budget must have been established and approved prior to March 27, 2020 and this budget, as well as an attestation from the CEO or CFO that this budget was submitted and approved prior to March 27, 2020, will have to be submitted.
    3. Reasonable method of estimating revenue. An explanation of the methodology, why it is reasonable and how the lost revenue was caused by coronavirus and not another source will need to be submitted. This method will likely fall under increased scrutiny through an audit by the Health Resources & Services Administration.
       
  • Recipients with unexpended PRF funds in full after the end of calendar year 2020, have an additional six months to utilize remaining funds for expenses or lost revenue attributable to coronavirus in an amount not to exceed the difference between:
     
    • 2019 Quarter 1 to Quarter 2 and 2021 Quarter 1 to Quarter 2 actual revenue,
    • 2020 Quarter 1 to Quarter 2 budgeted revenue and 2021 Quarter 1 to Quarter 2 actual revenue.

Next steps

In the wake of this new guidance, providers should undertake the following steps:

  • Register in the HHS portal and establish an account as soon as possible.
  • Revisit lost revenue calculations to determine if current methodology is appropriate or if an updated methodology would be more appropriate under the new guidance.
  • Understand the ability to transfer general and targeted distributions and the impact on reporting of these funds.
  • Develop reporting procedures for lost revenue and increased expense for reporting in the HHS portal.

If you have questions about accounting for, or reporting on, funds that you have received as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, please contact a member of our team. We’re here to help.

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Coronavirus Response and Relief Act impacts on the HHS Provider Relief Fund

Read this if you are an employee benefit plan fiduciary.

This article is the second in a series to help employee benefit plan fiduciaries better understand their responsibilities and manage the risks of non-compliance with Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) requirements. In our last article, we looked into the background of ERISA, which established important standards for the sound operation of employee benefit plans, as well as who is and isn’t a plan fiduciary, and what their responsibilities are. 

One important ERISA provision, found in Section 406(a), covers the types of transactions a plan fiduciary can and can’t engage in. ERISA terms the latter prohibited transactions, and they’re a lot like traffic lights—when it comes to avoiding conflicts of interest in business dealings, they’re your guide for when to stop and when to go. By knowing and abiding by these rules of the road, plan fiduciaries can steer clear of tickets, fines, and other damaging mishaps. 

Parties-in-interest—keep them out of the passenger seat 

Much like driver’s ed., fiduciary responsibility boils down to knowing the rules—plan fiduciaries need to have a strong working knowledge of what constitutes a prohibited transaction in order to ensure their compliance with ERISA. The full criteria are too detailed for this article, but one sure sign is the presence of a party-in-interest.

ERISA’s definition of a party-in-interest

The definition includes any plan fiduciary, the plan sponsor, its affiliates, employees, and paid and unpaid plan service providers, and 50%-or-more owners of stock in the plan sponsor. If you’d like to take a deeper dive into ERISA’s definition of parties-in-interest, see “ERISA's definition of parties-in-interest" at right.

Prohibited transactions—red lights on fiduciary road 

Now that we know who fiduciaries shouldn’t transact with, let’s look at what they shouldn’t transact on. ERISA’s definition of a prohibited transaction includes: 

  • Sale, exchange, and lease of property 
  • Lending money and extending credit 
  • Furnishing goods, services, and facilities 
  • Transferring plan assets 
  • Acquiring certain securities and real property using plan assets to benefit the plan fiduciary 
  • Transacting on behalf of any party whose interests are adverse to the plan’s or its participants’ 

Transacting in any of the above is akin to running a red light—serious penalties are unlikely, but there are other consequences you want to avoid. Offenders are subject to a 15% IRS-imposed excise tax that applies for as long as the prohibited transaction remains uncorrected. That tax applies regardless of the transaction’s intent and even if found to have benefited the plan. 

The IRS provides a 14-day period for plan fiduciaries to correct prohibited transactions and avoid associated penalties. 

Much like owning a car, regular preventative maintenance can help you avoid the need for costly repairs. Plan fiduciaries should periodically refresh their understanding of ERISA requirements and re-evaluate their current and future business activities on an ongoing basis. Need help navigating the fiduciary road? Reach out to the BerryDunn employee benefit consulting team today. 
 

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Prohibited transactions: Rules of the road for benefit plan fiduciaries