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Prohibited transactions: Rules of the road for benefit plan fiduciaries

By:

An Audit Senior in our Employee Benefits Group, Ian has experience in ERISA compliance and working with clients on their financial reporting. His role extends from audit planning and risk assessment through to completion and review of audit procedures and preparation of financial statements. Ian assists with complex audit areas and provides guidance to audit staff across multiple engagements.

Ian Martell
02.25.21

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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ERISA’s definition of parties-in-interest

If you’re a plan fiduciary and you’re planning business with any of the following, it’s time to hit the brakes: 

  • Plan fiduciaries, counsel, and employees 
  • Vendors who serve the plan 
  • Employers and employee organizations with employees/members covered by the plan 
  • Half-or-more owners, direct or indirect, of those entities’ voting power or shares, partnership interest on capital/profits, or beneficial interest of a trust or unincorporated enterprise 
  • The corporations, partnerships, trusts, or estates to which those owners belong 
  • Relatives of any individual previously described 
  • Employees, officers, directors, or 10%-or-more shareholders, direct or indirect, of any individual listed above or of the plan 
  • A 10%-or-more partner or joint venturer of any individual listed above, including employees of vendors who serve the plan
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ERISA's definition of parties-in-interest

Read this if you are an employer looking for more information on the Employee Retention Credit (ERC).

The IRS on April 2, 2021, issued additional guidance for employers claiming the employee retention credit (ERC) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), as modified in December 2020 by the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020 (Relief Act). The ERC is designed to help eligible businesses retain employees by offering a credit against employment taxes when qualified wages and healthcare expenses are paid during the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
Notice 2021-23 provides additional guidance for taxpayers to use when preparing credit claims and explains the changes to the employee retention credit for the first two calendar quarters of 2021, including:

Increased credit amount 

  • Eligible employers may now claim a refundable tax credit against the employer share of Social Security tax equal to 70% of the qualified wages and qualified health plan expenses paid to employees after December 31, 2020 and before January 1, 2022.
  • The maximum employee retention credit available is $7,000 per employee per calendar quarter, for a total of $28,000 for all four calendar quarters of 2021.

Broadened eligibility requirements 

  • Employers who suffered a greater than 20% decline in quarterly gross receipts compared to the same calendar quarter in 2019 are now eligible.
  • A safe harbor is provided allowing employers to use prior quarter gross receipts compared to the same quarter in 2019 to determine eligibility. For example, for the first calendar quarter of 2021, an employer may elect to use its gross receipts for the fourth quarter of 2020 compared to those for the fourth calendar quarter of 2019 to determine if the decline in gross receipts test is met.
  • Employers not in existence in 2019 may compare 2021 quarterly gross receipts to 2020 quarters to determine eligibility.
  • The credit is available to some government instrumentalities, including colleges, universities, amd organizations providing medical or hospital care and certain organizations chartered by Congress.

Determination of qualified wages 

  • Employers with 500 or fewer full-time employees in 2019 may include all wages and health plan expenses as “qualified wages.”
  • The Relief Act strikes the limitation that qualified wages paid or incurred by an eligible employer with respect to an employee may not exceed the amount that employee would have been paid for working during the 30 days immediately preceding that period (which, for example, allows employers to take the ERC for bonuses paid to essential workers).

Items to consider

It is extremely important that employers refer to the various form instructions to ensure they are eligible for and claiming the correct amount of credits. The IRS issued the following common errors that employers should avoid in COVID Tax Tip 2021-64:

  • Ensure line 1 on Form 941-X is accurate (refer to Line 1 instructions).
  • Report advanced credits actually received, not the requested payment of credits on Form 941, Line 13f.
  • Use Form 7200 to request the advance payment of a credit only, not for reporting the credit.
    • Employers use this form to request the advance payment of employer credit. It is not used to claim the credit. An employer must claim the credit on the applicable employment tax return, typically Form 941.
    • If an employer has received the advance payment requested, they must reconcile it on Form 941 by reporting the advance payments received and claiming the credits for which they're eligible.
    • If an employer receives an advance payment of a credit but doesn't claim a corresponding credit on their employment tax return, they may receive a balance due notice.
    • If an employer filed an employment tax return and did not report a credit they were otherwise entitled to, they will need to file an amended return using Form 941-X to claim those eligible credits. 
  • Complete all lines associated with the credit being claimed on Form 941-X. For example, if an employer is amending a return to claim additional employee retention credits, they must complete the lines that relate to qualified wages for the credit and qualified health plan expenses allocable to those wages, if applicable.

Final thoughts

Employers have an opportunity to plan for how they will allocate qualified wages and health care expenses for the ERC from wages covered by PPP loan proceeds. Careful planning could result in additional monies available to the employer. IRS Notice 2021-20 includes guidance on the interplay between the PPP and ERC. Lastly, employers should consider whether to request a refund or reduce future deposits when filing Form 941 to claim the ERC. Reducing future deposits may provide a more immediate benefit to cash flow.

For more information

If you have more questions, or have a specific question about your particular situation, please call us. We’re here to help. 

Article
Employee Retention Credit: Additional guidance for employers claiming it under the CARES Act

Read this if you are working with an auditor.

The standard report an auditor issues on an entity’s financial statements was created in 1988, and has only had minor tweaking since. Amazing when we think about how the world has changed since 1988! Back then:

  • The World Wide Web hadn’t been invented
  • The Simpsons wasn’t yet on TV, and neither was Seinfeld
  • The Berlin Wall was still standing
  • The Single Audit Act celebrated its fourth birthday

The Auditing Standards Board (ASB), an independent board of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) that establishes auditing rules for not-for-profit organizations (as well as private company and federal, state, and local governmental entities) has decided it was high time to revisit the auditor’s report, and update it to provide additional information about the audit process that stakeholders have been requesting.

In addition to serving as BerryDunn’s quality assurance principal for the past 23 years, I’ve been serving on the ASB since January 2017, and as chair since May 2020. (And thanks to the pandemic our meetings during my tenure as chair have been conducted from my dining room table.)  We thought you might be interested in a high-level overview of the coming changes to the auditor’s report, which will be effective starting with calendar 2021 audits, from an insider’s perspective.

So what’s changing?

The most significant changes you’ll be seeing, based on feedback from various users of auditor’s reports, are:

  1. Opinion first
    The opinion in an audit report is the auditor’s conclusion as to whether the financial statements are in accordance with the applicable accounting standards, in all material respects. People told us this is the most important part of the report, so we’ve moved it to the first section of the report.
  2. Auditor’s ethical responsibilities
    We’ve pointed out that an auditor is required to be independent of the organization being audited, and to meet certain other ethical responsibilities in the conduct of the audit.
  3. “Going concern” responsibilities
    We describe management’s responsibility, under U.S. generally accepted accounting principles, and the auditor’s responsibility, under the auditing rules, for determining whether “substantial doubt” exists about the organization’s ability to continue in existence for at least one year following the date the financial statements are approved for issuance.
  4. Emphasis on professional judgment and professional skepticism
    We explain how an audit requires the auditor to exercise professional judgment (for example, regarding how much testing to perform), and to maintain professional skepticism, i.e., a questioning mind that is alert to the possibility the financial statements may be materially misstated, whether due to error or fraud.
  5. Communications with the board of directors
    We point out that the auditor is required to communicate certain matters to the board, such as difficulties encountered during the audit, material adjustments identified during the audit process, and which areas the auditor treated as “significant risks” in planning and performing the audit.
  6. Responsibility related to the “annual report”
    If the organization issues an “annual report” containing or referring to the audited financial statements, we explain the auditor is required to review it for consistency with the financial statements, and for any known misstatements of fact.
  7. Discussion of “key audit matters”
    While not required, your organization may request the auditor to discuss how certain “key audit matters” (those most significant to the audit) were addressed as part of the audit process. These are similar to the “critical audit matters” publicly traded company auditor’s reports are now required to include.

Yes, this means the auditor’s report will be longer; however, stakeholders told us inclusion of this information will make it more informative, and useful, for them.

Uniform Guidance standards also changing

Is your organization required to have a compliance audit under the federal Uniform Guidance standards? That report is also changing to reflect the items listed above to the extent they’re relevant.

What should you do?

Some actions to consider as you get ready for the first audit to which the new report applies (calendar 2021, or fiscal years ending in 2022) include:

  1. Ask your auditor what your organization’s auditor’s report will look like
    Your auditor can provide examples of auditor’s reports under the new rules, or even draft a pro forma auditor’s report for your organization (subject, of course, to the results of the audit).
  2. Outline and communicate your process for developing your annual report
    If your organization prepares an annual report, it will be important to coordinate its timing with that of the issuance of the auditor’s report, due to the auditor’s new reporting responsibility related to the annual report.
  3. Discuss with your board whether you would like the auditor to include a discussion of “key audit matters” in the auditor’s report
    While not required for not-for-profits, some organizations may decide to request the auditor include a discussion of such matters in the report, from the standpoint of transparency “best practices.”

If you have any questions about the new auditor’s report or your specific situation, please contact us. We’re here to help.
 

Article
A new auditor's report: Seven changes to know

Read this if your company does business in the EU.

Major changes are coming to the EU VAT laws on the online supply of goods and services. The rules, which apply as from July 1, 2021, will affect U.S.-based businesses selling or facilitating sales to private individuals in EU member states. With just over a month remaining before the rules become effective, such businesses should begin immediately to prepare for their new VAT registration and collection responsibilities.

What are the new EU VAT rules?

The EU VAT rules applicable to cross-border B2C e-commerce activities are undergoing a major “refresh”—or modernization—as from July 1, 2021 (postponed six months from the originally planned effective date of January 1, 2021). From July, updated VAT rules will apply to online sales (including online marketplaces) to EU private consumers and to the import of low value goods. (The European Commission published explanatory notes on the rules on September 20, 2020, which include clarifications, FAQs and examples.)

The objectives of the new EU VAT rules are to: (i) simplify compliance obligations for vendors that potentially have to comply with the VAT rules in the 27 EU member states; (ii) increase VAT revenue for the individual member states by bringing more transactions within the scope of the EU VAT net; and (iii) reduce VAT fraud.

Any business making or facilitating online sales or deliveries of goods to consumers in the EU will likely be impacted in some way by the changes.

The EU VAT law changes are as follows:

Intra-EU sales to consumers

All B2C sales of goods will be taxed in the country of destination, meaning that sellers will need to collect VAT in the EU member state to which the goods are shipped.

The existing thresholds for distance sales in the EU will be abolished and replaced by an EU-wide registration threshold of €10,000 (approximately $12,000). This is an important change and potentially could create considerable EU VAT registration and reporting obligations for U.S.-based businesses selling goods from warehouses located in the EU if not proactively addressed.

To reduce the administrative burden and simplify VAT reporting, a new reporting system, called the One-Stop Shop (OSS) will be expanded to include the distance sale of goods. U.S. businesses can register for the OSS scheme in the EU member state of dispatch and can report and remit the VAT due via a pan-EU VAT return instead of having to VAT register in each EU member state.

Sales via online marketplaces

In certain circumstances, businesses that operate an online marketplace, known as an “electronic interface” in the EU) or that facilitate the sale of third-party goods through an online marketplace will be considered the “deemed supplier” of the goods sold to EU customers and will be required to collect and pay VAT on such sales. As a result, businesses that sell via online marketplaces (e.g., Amazon, eBay, etc.) will not be required to account for VAT on such sales. 
Imports of low value goods

The VAT exemption for “low-value imports,” i.e., goods coming from outside the EU that do not exceed a value of €22 (approximately $26) will be abolished. Instead, the sale of low-value goods not exceeding €150 (approximately $180) to consumers in the EU through the business’ own website will be subject to VAT at the applicable rate in the destination country. The VAT due on low value goods can either be collected at the point of sale by the seller or collected from the consumer before the goods are released by the customer broker/delivery service. Where the seller opts to collect VAT at the point of sale, it can VAT register under the new Import One-Stop Shop (IOSS) system to account for and remit the VAT due.

VAT registration under the IOSS has several benefits, including:

  • Transparency to consumers: The customer will not be faced with any unexpected VAT costs since the total amount paid for the goods is VAT-inclusive;
  • Reduced compliance burden: Sellers can use a single IOSS registration to report and pay the VAT due on all sales covered by IOSS. Otherwise, if the seller acts as the importer (e.g., sells goods under delivered duty paid terms), it may need to register for VAT in multiple EU member states;
  • Quick customs clearance: IOSS is designed to enable goods to be cleared through customs quickly as no VAT is due at the time of importation, thus facilitating the speedy delivery of goods; and
  • Flexible logistics: IOSS simplifies logistics since goods can be imported into the EU in any EU member state. If IOSS is not used, goods can only be imported and cleared for customs in the destination EU member state, which may result in delays and additional costs.

How will the changes impact nonresident sellers?

As noted above, the EU rule changes will significantly affect U.S.-based businesses selling or facilitating the sale of goods and services online to consumers located in the EU. With just over a month left before the rules become effective, any U.S.-based business that may be impacted should take immediate steps to:

  • Understand the EU rules and how they will apply;
  • Assess the impact of the rules on supply chains;
  • Consider the impact on pricing due to different VAT rates applying in different jurisdictions;
  • Identify any adjustments that can be made (where possible) to mitigate the impact of the rules;
  • Be prepared to comply with new VAT obligations, including additional registrations, charging and collecting VAT, filing tax and/or information returns, etc.;
  • Update and adapt accounting and billing systems and master data records to identify when VAT should be applied and the appropriate rates in multiple jurisdictions; and
  • Cancel existing EU VAT registrations for distance sales that may be replaced by the OSS registration.

Failure to comply with the rules could result in the imposition of interest and penalties on the historic VAT liability. In addition to the EU VAT consequences, business selling goods that are imported into these jurisdictions must also take into account any customs implications because any compliance deficiencies could result in imported goods being delayed in customs, causing customers to be frustrated by shipping delays.

For questions about your specific situation, please contact the International Tax team. We’re here to help. 

Article
New VAT rules in the EU: What U.S. e-commerce businesses need to know 

Read this if your company does business in Canada. 

Major changes are coming to Canada’s Goods and Services Tax/Harmonized Services Tax (GST/HST) on the online supply of goods and services. The rules, which apply as from July 1, 2021, will affect U.S.-based businesses selling or facilitating sales to private individuals in Canada. With just over a month remaining before the rules become effective, such businesses should begin immediately to prepare for their new GST/HST registration and collection responsibilities.

What are the GST/HST changes in Canada?

Currently, only nonresidents that carry on business in Canada are generally required to register for and collect GST/HST (levied at the federal level in Canada) on taxable supplies of goods and services made in Canada. If the nonresident does not conduct business in Canada, it need not register for or collect GST/HST.

The impending rules aim to level the playing field between Canadian businesses (which must charge GST/HST on the supply of goods and services) and foreign suppliers by ensuring that GST/HST applies to all goods and services used in Canada, regardless of how they are supplied or whether the supplier is Canadian or nonresident. The rules will significantly impact nonresident vendors and online platform operators, in that foreign businesses will be required to register for GST/HST, collect GST/HST from customers, and report and remit tax to the Canadian tax authorities. Three types of supplies by foreign businesses will be affected:

  • Supplies of digital services
  • Supplies of accommodation made through an accommodation platform (AP)
  • Online supplies of goods through a fulfilment warehouse

Digital services

Foreign businesses and platforms that do not have a physical place of business in Canada but that supply goods and services online to Canadian consumers and/or non-GST/HST-registered businesses (i.e., B2C transactions) will be required to register for GST/HST, resulting in an obligation to collect, remit and report tax. The tax rate will be the rate applicable in the province where the consumer is resident.

Nonresident businesses will have to register for GST/HST purposes when their sales exceed CAD 30,000 (approximately USD 25,000) over a 12-month period or they may register voluntarily where the threshold is not exceeded. A simplified online registration will be available for these businesses, but it will not be possible for the nonresident business to reclaim GST/HST incurred on its own purchases. If nonresident businesses wish to recover GST/HST paid on business expenses, they may be able to register under the regular GST/HST regime.

Accommodation platforms

An AP is a digital platform that facilitates the supply of short-term rental accommodations (i.e., rentals for less than one month) to private customers for a price of at least of CAD 20 (approximately USD 16) per day (e.g., Airbnb, VRBO, etc.).

Nonresident APs will be required to register for GST/HST, and to collect, remit and report tax on the rental charges in cases where the owner of the property is not GST/HST-registered. Where the property owner is GST/HST registered, the AP will not be responsible for GST/HST; instead, the property owner will be required to collect/remit GST/HST on the rental charges. The GST/HST rate will be the rate applicable in the province where the property is located.

APs subject to these changes should register for GST/HST under the simplified online registration.

Fulfilment warehouses and websites

GST/HST registration will be required for the following types of transactions in cases where the nonresident business’ sales to consumers exceed, or are expected to exceed, CAD 30,000 over a 12-month period:

  • Direct sales of goods by a nonresident business directly (i.e., not via a distribution platform) through its website to Canadian consumers: In this case, the nonresident business will have to register, charge and account for GST/HST. 
  • Sales of goods by a nonresident business through a distribution platform to consumers in Canada: The distribution platform operator will be required to register for GST/HST and account for GST/HST in Canada. It should be noted that no GST/HST will be due on the service fee charged by the distribution platform operator to nonresident businesses.
  • Online sales of goods by a nonresident business (but not through a distribution platform) to customers, where the goods are located in a Canadian fulfilment warehouse: The nonresident business will be required to register for GST/HST and will need to keep records on its foreign vendors and submit these to the Canadian tax authorities. These information returns will give the tax authorities insight into which nonresident businesses need to be GST/HST-registered.

Nonresident businesses that carry out the above transactions will have to register under the standard GST/HST rules rather than under the new simplified regime and will generally be able to reclaim GST/HST incurred on their purchases.

Potential Provincial Sales Tax (PST) implications

In addition to having GST/HST registration and collection obligations, nonresident vendors also may be required to register for PST. Currently, British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec, and Saskatchewan impose a PST, and three of these provinces (i.e., British Colombia, Quebec, and Saskatchewan) have introduced rules requiring nonresident vendors selling to customers in these provinces to register for PST purposes. The rules vary by province and will need to be considered in addition to the new GST/HST rules.

How will the changes impact nonresident sellers?

As noted above, the Canadian rule changes will significantly affect U.S.-based businesses selling or facilitating the sale of goods and services online to consumers located in Canada. With just over a month left before the rules become effective, any U.S.-based business that may be impacted should take immediate steps to:

  • Understand the Canadian rules and how they will apply;
  • Assess the impact of the rules on supply chains;
  • Consider the impact on pricing due to the GST/HST and the varying PST rates applied in in the aforementioned provinces;
  • Identify any adjustments that can be made (where possible) to mitigate the impact of the rules;
  • Be prepared to comply with new GST/HST obligations, including additional registrations, charging and collecting GST/HST, filing tax and/or information returns, etc.; and
  • Update and adapt accounting and billing systems and master data records to identify when GST/HST should be applied and the appropriate rates in multiple jurisdictions.

Failure to comply with the rules could result in the imposition of interest and penalties on the historic GST/HST liability. In addition to the GST/HST implications in Canada, business selling goods that are imported into these jurisdictions must also take into account any customs implications because any compliance deficiencies could result in imported goods being delayed in customs, causing customers to be frustrated by shipping delays.

For questions about your specific situation, please contact the International Tax team. We’re here to help. 

Article
New GST/HST rules in Canada: What U.S. e-commerce businesses need to know  

Read this if you are a plan sponsor of employee benefit plans.

This article is the sixth 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.

Plan sponsors have a fiduciary responsibility to provide oversight over the operations of employee benefit plans. This oversight involves a multitude of varying responsibilities. Failure to provide sufficient oversight can lead to non-compliance with rules and regulations. However, even if plan sponsors are providing sufficient oversight, lack of documentation of the oversight is arguably equally as severe as no oversight at all. Here are some common fiduciary responsibilities and how you should document them. 

Review of the report on service organization’s controls

Most employee benefit plans have outsourced a significant portion of the plan’s processes, and the internal controls surrounding those processes, to a service organization. Regardless of how certain plan-related processes are performed—internally or outsourced—the plan sponsor has a fiduciary responsibility to monitor the internal controls in place surrounding significant processes and to determine if these controls are suitably designed and effective. The most commonly outsourced processes of an employee benefit plan are the administration, including recordkeeping of the plan, through a third-party administrator; payroll processing; and actuarial calculations, if applicable to the plan.

When plan processes are outsourced to service organizations, generally the most efficient way to obtain an understanding of the outsourced controls is to obtain a report on controls issued by the service organization’s auditor. You should request the service organization’s latest System and Organization Controls Report (SOC 1 report). The SOC 1 report should be based on the Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements No. 18, Reporting on the Controls at a Service Organization, frequently known as SSAE 18.

Plan sponsors should perform a documented review of the SOC 1 report for each of the plan’s service organizations. The documented review should most notably include discussion of any exceptions noted within the service auditor’s testing performed, identification of subservice organizations and consideration if subservice organization SOC 1 reports need to be obtained, and assessment of the complementary user entity controls outlined in the SOC 1 report. The complementary user entity controls are internal control activities that should be in place at the plan sponsor to provide reasonable assurance that the controls tested at the service organization provide the necessary level of internal control over the plan’s financial statements. Contact a BerryDunn professional to obtain our SOC report review template to assist in documenting your review.

Documentation of the plan within minutes

To provide general plan oversight, plan sponsors should have a group charged with the governance of the plan. This group should meet on a routine basis to review various aspects of the plan’s operations. Minutes of these meetings should contain evidence that certain matters that would be of interest to the Department of Labor (DOL) were discussed.

We recommend minutes of meetings document the following:

  • Investment performance—The plan sponsor has a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the investments offered by the plan are meeting certain performance expectations. Investment statements and the plan’s investment policy should be reviewed on a regular basis with documentation of this review retained in minutes of meetings. Any conclusions reached about the need to change investments or put an investment on a “watch-list” should also be documented in the minutes, including any additional steps that need to be taken.
  • SOC 1 report review—As noted above, the plan sponsor has a fiduciary duty to ensure all third-party service organizations utilized by the plan have suitably designed and effective internal controls. Plan sponsors should perform a documented review of the SOC 1 report for each of the plan’s service organizations. The results of these reviews should then be reported at plan oversight meetings with any subsequent actions or conclusions documented in the minutes to these meetings.
  • Reasonableness of fees—The DOL requires plan fiduciaries to determine if the fees charged under covered service provider agreements are reasonable in relation to the services provided. To determine the reasonableness of fees, the plan may (1) hire a consultant, (2) monitor industry trends regarding fees, (3) consult with peer companies, (4) use a benchmarking service, or (5) conduct a request for proposal. Failure to determine the reasonableness of the fees charged can result in a prohibited transaction. When doing such a review, the fiduciaries of the plan should document in the minutes the steps taken and conclusions reached.
  • Overall review of the plan—Plan sponsors have a fiduciary responsibility to review the activity of the plan as well as participant balances. We recommend plan sponsors implement and document monitoring procedures over the activities of the plan and participant balances. This review could be incorporated into documented self-testing procedures, by haphazardly selecting a sample of participants each quarter and reviewing their account activity and participant balances. The results of such self-testing should then be reported at plan oversight meetings with any subsequent actions or conclusions documented in the minutes to these meetings. Reach out to a BerryDunn professional to obtain our participant change review workbook to assist in performing this self-testing.

Retention of salary reduction agreements

During our audits of employee benefit plans, we often note that employee deferrals are not consistently supported by salary reduction agreements or other forms maintained in employees’ personnel files. Many third-party administrators allow participants to make changes to their elective deferral rates directly through the third-party administrators without the involvement of the plan sponsor.

We often recommend that you maintain all changes to employee elective deferral rates in employees’ personnel files using salary reduction agreements. We also recommend that employees’ elections to not participate in the plan be documented in their personnel file. If employees can elect to change their deferral rates directly with the third-party administrator, we typically recommend that management print support from the third-party administrator’s online portal as documentation to support the change in the employee’s deferral rate and retain this support in the employees’ personnel file. However, if the third-party administrator’s online portal provides adequate history of deferral election changes, the plan sponsor may be able to rely on this portal for documentation retention. In these instances, the plan auditor should request a deferral feedback report directly from the third-party administrator.  

Monitoring of inactive accounts

Inactive accounts should be monitored by the plan sponsor for unusual activity or excessive fees that may be posted to these accounts. To the extent that inactive accounts have not exceeded $5,000, consideration should be given to cashing out the accounts if allowed by the plan document. Plan sponsors should, on a periodic basis, review the accounts of inactive participants or those who have been separated from service to ascertain whether the changes and charges to those accounts appear reasonable.

Plan sponsors have many documentation responsibilities. This list is not meant to be all-inclusive. And, the facts and circumstances of each employee benefit plan will change the applicability of these items. However, this list should be used as a tool to help plan sponsors perform a deep dive of their current plan documentation processes. And, hopefully, a result of this deep dive will be a robust documentation process that deliberately documents all major decisions and review functions related to the plan.

Article
Plan documentation: Another key to successful oversight

Read this if you are a renewable energy developer, installer, or investor.

President Biden’s Fiscal Year 2022 Budget, released on May 28, 2021, includes four energy credit expansions: The Renewable Energy Investment Credit, the Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit, the Carbon Oxide Sequestration Tax Credit, and new tax credits for qualified advanced energy manufacturing. Additional information on President Biden’s plan to prioritize clean energy can be found in the US Department of Treasury’s Revenue Proposals here. Here are some highlights of the budget, and what the credits could mean for the renewable energy sector.

Opportunities for increased revenue

Expansion of the following energy credits will have the potential to increase revenue for companies that develop solar and wind energy facilities:

  • Renewable Energy Investment Credit – The proposal includes expanding the full tax credit, back to 30%, for construction after December 31, 2021 and before January 1, 2027. With the expansion of the full tax credit, the likelihood of an upsurge in construction of solar and wind energy projects is foreseeable.
  • The credit includes expanding the eligible property to include stand-alone energy storage technology. This may translate to an increase in sales for companies supplying energy storage equipment or facility development.
  • Renewable Electricity Production Credit – Under the current rules the production tax credit no longer applies for construction after 2021.  The proposal includes expanding the full production tax credit for construction after December 31, 2021 and before January 1, 2027. This proposal includes wind, biomass, geothermal and hydropower facilities, among others, which means any company associated with the supply chain could see an upsurge in future orders.
  • Additionally, the budget provides $2 billion to increase job opportunities for skilled laborers to build clean energy projects in the US. This could mean it’s time for clean energy companies to begin planning on hiring. In additional to creating jobs, the goal of Biden’s plan to prioritize clean energy is to be carbon-neutral by 2035.

If you have questions about your specific business, or want to learn more, please contact our Renewable Energy team. We're here to help.

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Energy credit expansion in the Made in America Tax Plan

Read this if your facility or organization has received Provider Relief Funds.

The rules over the use of the HHS Provider Relief Funds (PRF) have been in a constant state of flux and interpretation since the funds started to show up in your bank accounts back in April. Here is a summary of where we are as of June 14, 2021 on HHS’ reporting requirements. Key highlights:

These requirements apply to:

  • PRF General and Targeted Distributions
  • the Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNF) and Nursing Home Infection Control Distribution
  • and exclude:
    • the Rural Health Clinic COVID-19 Testing Program
    • claims reimbursements from HRSA COVID-19 Uninsured Program and the HRSA COVID-19 Coverage Assistance Fund (CAF)

This notice supersedes the January 15, 2021 reporting requirements.
Deadline for Use of Funds:

Payment Received Period

Deadline to Use Funds

Reporting Time Period

Period 1

4/10/20-6/30/20

6/30/21

7/1/21-9/30/21

Period 2

7/1/20-12/31/20

12/31/21

1/1/22-3/31/22

Period 3

1/1/21-6/30/21

6/30/22

7/1/22-9/30/22

Period 4

7/1/21-12/31/21

12/31/22

1/1/21-3/31/23

Recipients who received one or more payments exceeding $10,000 in the aggregate during each Payment Received Period above (rather than the previous $10,000 cumulative across all PRF payments) are subject to the above reporting requirements 

Responsibility for reporting:

  • The Reporting Entity is the entity that registers its Tax Identification Number (TIN) and reports payments received by that TIN and its subsidiary TINs.
  • For Targeted Distributions, the Reporting Entity is always the original recipient; a parent entity cannot report on the subsidiary’s behalf and regardless of transfer of payment.

Steps for reporting use of funds:

  1. Interest earned on PRF payments
  2. Other assistance received
  3. Use of SNF and Nursing Home Control Distribution Payments if applicable (any interest earned reported here instead), with expenses by CY quarter
  4. Use of General and Other Targeted Distribution Payments, with expenses by CY quarter
  5. Net unreimbursed expenses attributable to Coronavirus, net after other assistance and PRF payments by quarter
  6. Lost revenues reimbursement (not applicable to PRF recipients that received only SNF and Nursing Home Infection Control Distribution payments)

PORTAL WILL OPEN ON JULY 1, 2021!

Access the full update from HHS: Provider Post-Payment Notice of Reporting Requirements.

Article
Provider Relief Funds: HHS Post-Payment Notice of Reporting Requirements