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April 18, 2014

We recently discussed 5 strategies to consider prior to terminating your Defined Benefit Plan. However, in certain cases, terminating your plan will ultimately remove long-term risk and improve your organization's financial profile. A well though out strategy is essential to terminating a Defined Benefit Plan. Plan sponsors need to take into consideration plan funding, employee payouts, time line, termination options, labor agreements and company goals.

The following timeline shows the Defined Benefit Plan Termination Process:

Having the right partner guide you through the process can reduce workload and risk, ensure confidence, and bring clarity to the process. If you have questions regarding Defined Benefit Plans or the termination process, contact Linda Lauer, Managing Director and Employee Benefit Plan Specialist, at llauer@cbiz.com or 901.685.5575.

April 1, 2014

A Defined Benefit Plan can pose a serious risk to an organization’s financial profile, especially in volatile markets with low interest rates. There are multiple de-risking strategies that can be employed to decrease risk and improve an organization’s overall financial profile. Taking de-risking steps now  can help make plan termination an option in the future for your organization.

Consider these 5 strategies before deciding to terminate your plan:

1.   A Plan soft freeze - Some soft freeze strategies can decrease future costs by limiting participation, freezing service or limiting future pay increases among other options

2.   A Plan hard freeze - Hard freeze strategies can also decrease costs by freezing or changing benefit accruals for active employees, or eliminating future increases to retirees

3.   Annuity buy-in - Purchasing annuities from insurance companies as plan assets may provide additional cash flow into the plan

4.   Annuity buy out- Purchasing annuities from insurance companies for all or some participants; the insurance company then assumes all future payments, risks and expenses

5.   Lump sum payouts- Utilize different payout strategies to improve plan health; lump sums can be offered to all or select participants to reduce overall financial risk.

Terminating your plan will remove long-term risk and improve your organization’s economic profile. However, developing and enacting a strategy to improve the health of your organization and retirement plan will be essential to reducing workload and risk prior to plan termination.

If you have questions regarding Defined Benefit Plans or de-risking strategies, feel free to contact Linda Lauer, Employee Benefit Plan Specialist, at llauer@cbiz.com or 901.685.5575.    

March 20, 2014

Last month, the IRS Transfer Pricing Operations (TPO) team issued a Transfer Pricing Audit Roadmap. The roadmap is intended to assist IRS examination teams with developing and auditing transfer pricing issues.

Audit cycles will depend upon the complexity involved with issues under examination, but the IRS has developed a 24-month timeline to guide the process from fact finding to resolution. Examiners will be utilizing Forms 5471, 5472, 8833, 8858, 8865, 926, UTPs and schedule M-3 to perform initial analysis, issue identification, and risk assessment.

With the pragmatic revenue raising goals involved with transfer pricing audits, the TPO is focused on developing high risk issues around intangibles, hybrid instruments, and other perceived income shifting transactions. Also, taxpayers' worldwide effective tax rates and risk based assessments based on industry profitability ratios will be used to identify and select transfer pricing audit targets.

Transfer pricing is an area of risk quickly escalating beyond just tax and finance departments as executives are increasingly recognizing the significant financial risks, controversy risks, and reputational risks that must be strategically assessed and mitigated. Quality transfer pricing documentation provides the taxpayer the opportunity to tell a “compelling story” to the IRS and may provide protection from penalties if prepared contemporaneously.

Even with transfer pricing documentation in hand, taxpayers should be prepared for examiners to request increasing amounts of background documentation and source information, including:

  • Intercompany agreements
  • Financial and accounting data
  • Employee details
  • Entity structure information

The transfer pricing audit roadmap is one more step in the increasing focus the IRS is placing on transfer pricing, coinciding with mounting foreign country focus on transfer pricing. Countries are increasingly prioritizing transfer pricing enforcement as a necessary tax base defense and probable revenue raiser. Media attention is bringing transfer pricing risk into the forefront for multinational executives, and global initiatives such as the OECD Base Erosion & Profit Shifting (BEPS) project reflect the global appetite for transparency and corporate responsibility.

If you have further questions about the Transfer Pricing Audit Roadmap, contact Josh Finfrock at jfinfrock@cbiz.com or 901.685.5575.    

March 4, 2014

Are you filing Form 5500 for your health and welfare benefit plans? 

If you have over 100 eligible participants, you should be filing an annual Form 5500 with the Department of Labor (DOL). ERISA requires welfare benefit plans to file this form with the DOL. It must be filed by the last day of the seventh month following the plan’s year end; however, a plan sponsor can request an extension of up to two and a half months. Small plans (defined as having less than 100 eligible participants on the first day of the plan year) do not have to file a Form 5500 if they are fully insured, unfunded, or a combination of fully insured and unfunded. 

Often times, plan sponsors, who have not previously filed a Form 5500, fail to start filing the form once the eligible participants reach 100 or more. The ultimate responsibility lies with the plan sponsor to determine when they reach the threshold and are required to begin filing the Form 5500.

The penalties for failure to file the Form 5500 can be up to $1,100 per day on the plan sponsor. Fortunately, the DOL provides plan administrators reduced penalties for voluntarily complying with the annual filing requirements through the DOL’s Delinquent Filer Voluntary Compliance Program. Late filings submitted through this program are subject to a flat penalty amount [which is substantially less than the penalties that could be imposed by the DOL (and the IRS) for the failure to file outside of this program]. This penalty is generally capped at $2,000 per plan per year, with a maximum $4,000 penalty per plan (so, regardless of how many years are filed for the same plan, the penalty will be capped at $4,000).

If you have questions regarding filing an annual Form 5500, please contact Linda Lauer at llauer@cbiz.com or (901) 685.5575.  

February 27, 2014

Are you prepared for a DOL audit? Are your records in good order?  If you are an employer, you need to make sure you are prepared for a review before heading into one.

Do you have good record retention? Ensuring you are adequately organized for what may be an inevitable audit is imperative.

Here are 4 items you may want to consider before you step into your 401(k) annual review:

1. Make sure you never throw away plan documents including the adoption agreement, amendments and summary of plan descriptions.

2. Keep a hold on annual filing reports for at least six years, even electronically filed 5500's. You will also want to keep any supporting materials for contributions, testing results, plan audits, summary annual reports, and distribution records.

3. Maintain participant records during employment and up to six years after their termination.

4. Do not throw away loan records even if you've paid it off. Six years is the minimum length of time you should hold on to them. Filing away all of the above hardcopy items can seem overwhelming in an age where computer files make everything easier to separate into online folders. For your paper documents, make sure you keep one file with multiple sections, and store this file in a place that is readily available to you. Use tabs to organize your materials and label them. For example, a documents tab can hold your tax filings, amendments and/or plan documents. An administrative section can take care of all your past audit results, minutes from past plan reviews, fee benchmarking, etc.

Do not let the U.S. Department of Labor catch you unprepared. Recognize where you may be lacking in your organizational skills, and take steps to improve them this year.

If you have further questions about Employee Benefit Plan Audits, contact Linda Lauer, llauer@cbiz.com or 901.685.5575.      

January 16, 2014

Before meeting with your adviser, plan sponsors should know what to anticipate in an annual review and take steps to complete the following list of responsibilities in order to ensure a successful plan year. Take a look at our fast five on what to achieve in your 401(k) Annual Review:

1. Review what did and did not work in your plan during the prior year. The annual review is not just an advisory meeting. You should expect a more comprehensive review of your investment performance and be ready to make necessary adjustments if needed.

2. Anticipate changing financial environments and mirror these in your plan. While you will want to look at the past year to review plan design and performance, you may also want to think ahead to the coming year. Keep in mind changes in the marketplace or your company dynamics that could affect financial investment plan options for the future, then make changes accordingly.

3. Communicate plan changes to employees. While implementing these changes in your new plan is important, informing your employees of changes and any effective dates is perhaps just as pressing of a matter.

4. Discuss fee arrangements. Though reviewing and negotiating fees is never an easy topic to include in your annual review, it is a necessary one. If your 401(k) investment adviser is not initiating the conversation surrounding your provider fees, you should do so.

5. Confirm that your plan is in compliance with the Investment Policy Statement (IPS). Though your plan should already be in compliance, yearly review of these standards should be commonplace to ensure that any changes in the plan and related investment holdings are in accordance with the IPS.

If you have any questions regarding your 401(k) Annual Review, feel free to contact our Certified Employee Benefit Specialist, Linda Lauer at llauer@cbiz.com or 901.685.5595.

March 28, 2013

Today's post comes from our Employee Benefit Plan Specialist, Linda Lauer. The following excerpt is taken from her article, "Why Selecting the Right Auditor is Critical," in the December issue of HR Professionals Magazine.

Department of Labor (DOL) statistics indicate there are approximately 75,000 ERISA audits performed annually by over 10,000 CPA firms. Only a small percentage of these CPA firms audit more than 100 employee benefit plans on an annual basis. Surprisingly, there are approximately 8,000 CPA firms performing five or less employee benefit plan audits and 5,000 CPA firms performing only one employee benefit plan audit. As result of so many plan audits being performed by CPA firms with little experience in these types of audits, the DOL continues to find a significant number of employee benefit plan audits do not meet DOL requirements.

The DOL performs routine inspections of auditors performing employee benefit plan audits. Some of the deficiencies found in these inspections include the following:

  • Failure of the auditor to adequately plan the audit
  • Using inadequate audit programs
  • No evidence of any audit work performed in regards to investments, contributions, benefit payments, participant data or prohibited transactions
  • Failure to test year-end values on investments and failure to test investment transactions (for full-scope audits)
  • Failure to test payroll and deferrals for employee contributions
  • Failure to test eligibility to receive distributions
  • Failure to test eligibility to participate, forfeitures and allocations to participant accounts

Best practices for auditors performing employee benefit plan audits include a commitment to quality from the top down within the accounting firm. The firm should make “employee benefit plan audits” a specialized or niche practice within their firm and devote specific resources to this area of practice with expertise in the employee benefit plan industry. The audit firm should also conduct internal reviews or inspections of their audits, as well as conduct annual training to their staff specifically tailored to the unique characteristics of employee benefit plans.

A quality audit will not only help protect the financial integrity of your employee benefit plan, but will also help ensure the funds will be available to pay benefits. An incomplete, inadequate or untimely audit report may result in penalties being assessed against the plan sponsor. As the plan’s administrator, it is imperative for the plan sponsor to hire an auditor with specific experience in employee benefit plans in order to minimize your risk for any such penalties.


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