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Timeliness is next to godliness: Depositing participant elective deferrals

By:

A Senior in the firm's Assurance Practice and a member of our
Employee Benefit Plan Audit Group, Rich provides assurance
services to a spectrum of plans throughout New England. He also
serves as a member of the firm's Financial Services Group, working
with community banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions.

Richard Marchi
05.17.21

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

This article is the fifth 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.

With increasing regulations surrounding employee benefit plans, plan sponsors are under more scrutiny than ever to ensure that they meet their fiduciary responsibilities. One of the most common mistakes made by plan sponsors is failing to timely deposit employee elective deferrals into the plan’s trust (the plan). 

Employee elective deferrals: What are the regulations?

Under the Department of Labor (DOL) guidelines, employee elective deferrals should be deposited into the plan as soon as they can be reasonably segregated from the employer’s general assets. However, in no event can the deposit be later than the 15th business day of the month following the month in which the employee deferrals are received by the employer. Failure to deposit employee deferrals into the plan by the 15th business day timeframe may constitute both an operational mistake (if the plan specifies a date by which the employer must deposit elective deferrals) and a prohibited transaction.

Important to note, the 15-business day rule does not provide a safe harbor against penalties for untimely deposits of employee deferrals to the Plan. In general, employee salary deferrals and participant loan payments should be deposited into the plan within one to three business days following the payroll pay date from which withheld. 

Correcting late deposits

The best strategy is to avoid late remittances. If, however, it does happen, there are steps that plan sponsors should take to correct the error. You should first deposit any delinquent contributions to the plan as soon as possible, including lost earnings on all late contributions. Plan sponsors who opt to correct under the DOL’s Voluntary Fiduciary Correction Program (VFCP) can calculate lost earnings using the DOL’s online calculator. Alternatively, plan sponsors who opt to self-correct generally use the greater of the plan’s actual rate of return or the rate set by the IRS for underpayment. You should also consider reviewing your procedures to determine the cause of the delay, and adjust as necessary to avoid untimely deposits going forward. 

Potential tax ramifications

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 5330, Return of Excise Taxes Related to Employee Benefit Plans may also be required to be completed by plan sponsors after correcting for late deposits and lost earnings. The amount of excise tax the IRS applies equals 15% of the lost earnings, and must be paid each year until the corrections are made. 

Plan sponsors who opt to self-correct should note that you forfeit the opportunity to have the IRS waive the excise tax requirement as potentially afforded under the VFCP.

Continued monitoring

Monitoring the timeliness of deferral remittances is an important step to ensure that plan sponsors are meeting their fiduciary responsibilities. If you have established procedures in place for this process, make sure to review the procedures periodically to ensure compliance.  If issues arise, take prompt corrective action under either the VFCP or self-correct options so that the errors are remediated as soon as possible.

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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.

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

So far in our value acceleration article series, we have talked about increasing the value of your business and building liquidity into your life starting with taking inventory of where you are at and aligning values, reducing risk, and increasing intangible value.

In this article, we are going to focus on planning and execution. How these action items are introduced and executed may be just as important as the action items themselves. We still need to protect value before we can help it grow. Let’s say you had a plan, a good plan, to sell your business and start a new one. Maybe a bed-and-breakfast on the coast? You’ve earmarked the 70% in cash proceeds to bolster your retirement accounts. The remaining 30% was designed to generate cash for the down payment on the bed-and-breakfast. And it is stuck in escrow or, worse yet, tied to an earn-out. Now, the waiting begins. When do you get to move on to the next phase? After all that hard work in the value acceleration process, you still didn’t get where you wanted to go. What went wrong?

Many business owners stumble at the end because they lack a master plan that incorporates their business action items and personal action items. Planning and execution in the value acceleration process was the focus of our conversation with a group of business owners and advisors on Thursday, April 11th.

Business valuation master plan steps to take

A master plan should include both business actions and personal actions. We uncovered a number of points that resonated with business owners in the room. Almost every business owner has some sort of action item related to employees, whether it’s hiring new employees, advancing employees into new roles, or helping employees succeed in their current roles. A review of financial practices may also benefit many businesses. For example, by revisiting variable vs. fixed costs, companies may improve their bidding process and enhance profitability. 

Master plan business improvement action items:

  • Customer diversification and contract implementation
  • Inventory management
  • Use of relevant metrics and dashboards
  • Financial history and projections
  • Systems and process refinement

A comprehensive master plan should also include personal action items. Personal goals and objectives play a huge role in the actions taken by a business. As with the hypothetical bed-and-breakfast example, personal goals may influence your exit options and the selected deal structure. 

Master plan personal action items:

  •  Family involvement in the business
  •  Needs vs. wants
  •  Development of an advisory team
  •  Life after planning

A master plan incorporates all of the previously identified action items into an implementation timeline. Each master plan is different and reflects the underlying realities of the specific business. However, a practical framework to use as guidance is presented below.

The value acceleration process requires critical thinking and hard work. Just as important as identifying action items is creating a process to execute them effectively. Through proper planning and execution, we help our clients not only become wealthier but to use their wealth to better their lives. 

If you are interested in learning more about value acceleration, please contact the business valuation services team. We would be happy to meet with you, answer any questions you may have, and provide you with information on upcoming value acceleration presentations. 

Article
Planning and execution: Value acceleration series part four (of five)

The US Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service on November 29 announced the release of guidance providing taxpayers information on how to satisfy the prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements to qualify for enhanced tax benefits under the Inflation Reduction Act’s clean energy provisions. 

The publication of Notice 2022-61 and further guidance in the Federal Register—published on November 30, 2022—begins the 60-day period for these key labor provisions to take effect. In other words, these requirements will apply to qualifying facilities, projects, property, or equipment for which construction begins on or after January 30, 2023. So, in order to receive increased incentives, taxpayers must meet the prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements for facilities where construction begins on or after January 30, 2023.

Prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements

The Inflation Reduction Act, which President Biden signed into law on August 16, 2022, introduced a new credit structure whereby many clean energy tax incentives are subject to a base rate and a “bonus multiplier” of 5X. To qualify for the bonus rate, projects must satisfy certain wage and apprenticeship requirements implemented to ensure both the payment of prevailing wages and that a certain percentage of total labor hours are performed by qualified apprentices. 

Projects under 1MW or that begin construction within sixty days of the date when the Treasury publishes guidance regarding the wage and apprenticeship requirements are automatically eligible for the bonus credit.

The newly released guidance addresses the Inflation Reduction Act's two labor requirements—providing prevailing wages and employing a certain amount of registered apprentices—that taxpayers must meet for clean energy developments to qualify for the bonus rate. Both the prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements apply to the following tax incentives:

  • Advanced energy project credit
  • Alternative fuel refueling property credit
  • Credit for carbon oxide sequestration
  • Clean fuel production credit
  • Credit for production of clean hydrogen
  • Energy-efficient commercial buildings deduction
  • Renewable energy production tax credit
  • Renewable energy property investment tax credit

The prevailing wages requirements also apply to the following tax incentives:

  • New zero-efficient home credit
  • Zero-emissions nuclear power production credit

New guidance

The new guidance describes the process for identifying the applicable wage determination for a specific geographic area and job classification on the Department of Labor’s sam.gov website. If no prevailing wage determination is posted for a specific geographic area and/or job classification, the notice provides that taxpayers should contact the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, which would then provide the taxpayer with the labor classifications and wage rates to use.

For purposes of the apprenticeship requirements, the guidance provides specific information regarding the apprenticeship labor hour, ratio, and participation requirements. The guidance also describes the good faith effort exception, whereby a taxpayer will be deemed to have satisfied the apprenticeship requirements with respect to a facility if the taxpayer has requested qualified apprentices from a registered apprenticeship program and the request has been denied or the program fails to respond the request within five business days.

The guidance also specifies the recordkeeping requirements taxpayers must comply with to substantiate that they paid workers a prevailing wage and satisfied the apprenticeship requirements.

Beginning of construction guidance

As mentioned above, taxpayers must meet the prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements with respect to a facility to receive the increased credit or deduction amounts if construction of the facility begins on or after the date sixty days after the Treasury publishes guidance. Notice 2022-61 confirms the use of long-standing methods for establishing the date of beginning of construction:

  • The physical work test (starting physical work of a significant nature)
  • The 5% safe harbor (incurring 5% or more of the total cost of the facility)

For purposes of both tests, taxpayers must demonstrate either continuous construction or continuous efforts—the continuity requirement—for beginning of construction to be satisfied.

Article
Treasury issues prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements guidance

What are the top three areas of improvement right now for your business? In this third article of our series, we will focus on how to increase business value by aligning values, decreasing risk, and improving what we call the “four C’s”: human capital, structural capital, social capital, and consumer capital.

To back up for a minute, value acceleration is the process of helping clients increase the value of their business and build liquidity into their lives. Previously, we looked at the Discover stage, in which business owners take inventory of their personal, financial, and business goals and assemble information into a prioritized action plan. Here, we are going to focus on the Prepare stage of the value acceleration process.

Aligning values may sound like an abstract concept, but it has a real world impact on business performance and profitability. For example, if a business has multiple owners with different future plans, the company can be pulled in two competing directions. Another example of poor alignment would be if a shareholder’s business plans (such as expanding the asset base to drive revenue) compete with personal plans (such as pulling money out of the business to fund retirement). Friction creates problems. The first step in the Prepare stage is therefore to reduce friction by aligning values.

Reducing risk

Personal risk creates business risk, and business risk creates personal risk. For example, if a business owner suddenly needs cash to fund unexpected medical bills, planned business expansion may be delayed to provide liquidity to the owner. If a key employee unexpectedly quits, the business owner may have to carve time away from their personal life to juggle new responsibilities. 

Business owners should therefore seek to reduce risk in their personal lives, (e.g., life insurance, use of wills, time management planning) and in their business, (e.g., employee contracts, customer contracts, supplier and customer diversification).

Intangible value and the four C's

Now more than ever, the value of a business is driven by intangible value rather than tangible asset value. One study found that intangible asset value made up 87% of S&P 500 market value in 2015 (up from 17% in 1975). Therefore, we look at how to increase business value by increasing intangible asset value and, specifically, the four C’s of intangible asset value: human capital, structural capital, social capital, and consumer capital. 

Here are two ways you can increase intangible asset value. First of all, do a cost-benefit analysis before implementing any strategies to boost intangible asset value. Second, to avoid employee burnout, break planned improvements into 90-day increments with specific targets.

At BerryDunn, we often diagram company performance on the underlying drivers of the 4 C’s (below). We use this tool to identify and assess the areas for greatest potential improvements:

By aligning values, decreasing risk, and improving the four C’s, business owners can achieve a spike in cash flow and business value, and obtain liquidity to fund their plans outside of their business.

If you are interested in learning more about value acceleration, please contact the business valuation services team. We would be happy to meet with you, answer any questions you may have, and provide you with information on upcoming value acceleration presentations.

Article
The four C's: Value acceleration series part three (of five)

Read this if your company is a benefit plan sponsor.

While plan sponsors have been able to amend their 401(k) plans to include a post-tax deferral contribution called Roth for more than a decade, only 86% of plan sponsors have made it available to participants, according to the Plan Sponsor Council of America. Meanwhile, despite the potential benefits of such plans, just a quarter of participants who have access to the Roth 401(k) option use it. Plan sponsors may want to consider adding a Roth 401(k) option to their lineup because of the potential tax benefits and other advantages for plan participants.

A well-designed Roth 401(k) may be an attractive option for many plan participants, and it is important for plan sponsors considering such a feature to design the plan with the needs of their workforce in mind. It is also critical to clearly communicate the differences from the pre-tax option, specific timing rules required, and the tax-free growth it offers. Additionally, plan sponsors should be mindful of potential administrative costs and other compliance requirements in connection with allowing the Roth option.

Roth 401(k)s: The basics

A Roth is a separate contribution source within a 401(k) or 403(b) plan that differs from traditional retirement accounts because it allows participants to contribute post-tax dollars. Since participants pay taxes on these contributions before they are invested in the account, plan participants may make qualified withdrawals of Roth monies on a tax-free basis, and their accounts grow tax-free as well.

Participants of any income level may participate in a Roth 401(k) and may contribute a maximum of $20,500 in 2022—the same limit as a pre-tax 401(k). Contributions and earnings in a Roth 401(k) may be withdrawn without paying taxes and penalties if participants are at least 59½ and it’s been at least five years since the first Roth contribution was made to the plan. Participants may make catch-up contributions after age 50, and they may split their contributions between Roth and pre-tax. Similar to pre-tax 401(k) accounts, Roth 401(k) assets are considered when determining minimum distributions required at age 72, or 70 ½ if they reached that age by Jan. 1, 2020.

Only employee elective deferrals may be contributed post-tax into Roth 401(k) accounts. Employer contributions made by the plan sponsor, such as matching and profit sharing, are always pre-tax contributions. If the plan allows, participants may convert pre-tax 401(k) assets into a Roth account, but it is critical to remember that doing so triggers taxable income and participants must be prepared to pay any required tax. In addition, plan sponsors must be careful to offer Roth 401(k)s equally to all participants rather than just a select group of employees.

Qualified distributions from a designated Roth account are excluded from gross income. A qualified distribution is one that occurs at least five years after the year of the employee’s first designated Roth contribution (counting the first year as part of the five) and is made on or after age 59½, on account of the employee’s disability, or on or after the employee’s death. Non-qualified distributions will be subject to tax on the earnings portion only, and the 10% penalty on early withdrawals may apply to the part of the distribution that is included in gross income. Participants may take out loans if permitted in the plan document. 

First steps for plan sponsors

A common misconception among plan sponsors is that a Roth offering requires a completely different investment vehicle. The feature is simply an added contribution option; therefore, no separate product is needed.

When considering the addition of a Roth 401(k) option, it is important for plan sponsors to check with service providers to determine whether payroll may be set up properly to add a separate deduction for the participant. Plan sponsors may also need to consider guidelines for conversions, withdrawals, loans, and other features associated with the Roth contribution source to ensure the plan document is prepared and followed accurately.

Education is an important component of any new plan feature or offering. Plan sponsors should check with service providers to see how they may help to explain the feature and optimize its rollout for the plan. One-on-one meetings with participants may be very helpful in educating them about a Roth account.

A word about conversions

If permitted by the plan document, participants may convert pre-tax 401(k) plan assets (deferrals and employer contributions) to the Roth source within their plan account. The plan document may allow for entire account conversions or just a stated portion. When assets are converted, participants must pay income taxes on the converted amount, and the additional 10% early withdrawal tax won’t apply to the rollover. Plan sponsors should educate participants on the benefits of converting to the Roth inside the company 401(k).

Collaborate with the right service providers to educate your participants

The right service providers may review your current plan design, set up accounts properly, actively engage and educate your participants, and offer financial planning based on individual circumstances to show how design features like a Roth account may benefit their situation. If you would like to start the conversation about adding a Roth option or enhancing your participant education program, contact our employee benefits team. We are here to help. 

Article
Plan sponsor alert: Roth 401(k) remains underutilized despite potential benefits

Read this if you are a Maine business or pay taxes in Maine.

Maine Revenue Services has created the new Maine Tax Portal, which makes paying, filing, and managing your state taxes faster, more efficient, convenient, and accessible. The portal replaces a number of outdated services and can be used for a number of tax filings, including:

  • Corporate income tax
  • Estate tax
  • Healthcare provider tax
  • Insurance premium tax
  • Withholding
  • Sales and use tax
  • Service provider tax
  • Pass-through entity withholding
  • BETR

The Maine Tax Portal is being rolled out in four phases, with two of the four phases already completed. Most tax filings for both businesses and individuals are now available. A complete listing can be found on maine.gov. Instructional videos and FAQs can also be found on this site.

In an effort to educate businesses and individuals on the use of the new portal, Maine Revenue Services has been hosting various training sessions. The upcoming schedule can be found on maine.gov

Article
New Maine Tax Portal: What you need to know

Read this if you are a financial institution with income tax credit investments.

Financial institutions and other businesses that participate in tax credit investments designed to incentivize projects that produce social, economic, or environmental benefits could benefit from proposed rules that simplify the accounting treatment of such investments and result in a clearer picture of how these investments impact their bottom lines.

FASB proposal

On August 22, 2022, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), issued a proposal that would broaden the application of the accounting method currently available to account for investments in low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) programs to other equity investments used to generate income tax credits. The proposal, titled “Investments – Equity Method and Joint Ventures (Topic 323): Accounting for Investments in Tax Credit Structures Using the Proportional Amortization Method”, would expand the eligibility of the proportional amortization method of accounting beyond LIHTC programs to other tax credit structures that meet certain eligibility criteria.  

FASB introduced the option to apply the proportional amortization method to account for investments made primarily for the purpose of receiving income tax credits and other income tax benefits in ASU 2014-01. However, the guidance limited the proportional amortization method to investments in LIHTC structures.

The proportional amortization method is a simplified approach for accounting for LIHTC investments in which the initial cost of the investment is amortized in proportion to the income tax credits and other benefits received (allocable share of depreciation deductions). The cost basis amortization and income tax credits received are presented net on the investor’s income statement as a component of income tax expense (benefit). Under existing guidance, investments in non-LIHTC projects are accounted for using either the equity method or cost method, depending on certain factors. 

The proposal aims to address the concerns that the equity and cost methods do not offer a fair representation of the economic characteristics for investments for which returns are primarily related to federal income tax credits. Supporters of the proposal argue that the accounting method applied should not be determined by the legislative program under which the tax credits are authorized, but instead by the economic intent under which the investment was made. The hope is the FASB proposal will create a heightened sense of uniformity in accounting for investments in income tax credit structures. 

Additional provisions

Other provisions within the proposal would require a reporting entity to “make an accounting policy election to apply the proportional amortization method on a tax-credit-program-by-tax-credit-program basis” and disclose the nature of its tax equity investments and the impact on its financial position and results of operations. 

The significance of this proposal is amplified by the uptick in tax credit programs in recent years, including the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC), Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit (HTC), and Renewable Energy Tax Credit (RETC). While the FASB has yet to declare an effective date for the implementation of the proposal, comment letters from stakeholders were due October 6, 2022. 

For more information

To discuss the impact this new accounting pronouncement may have on your financial institution, please contact the BerryDunn Financial Services team. We’re here to help.

Article
FASB proposes changes to accounting for income tax credits