Articles Published by ERISA Benefits Consulting, Inc.
Recent Articles by ERISA Benefits Consulting, Inc.
U.S. corporate pension plan sponsors continue to pursue a strategy called “pension risk transfer”under the favorable economic conditions of 2018. A pension risk transfer generally refers to the process by which a pension plan sponsor purchases a group annuity from an insurance company to cover pension payments and administration for all or a portion of plan participants.
Stress testing for public sector retirement plans is gaining attention following the adoption of new standardized guidelines, as well as support from The Pew Charitable Trusts. The practice of stress testing started with banks and financial institutions following the 2008 economic crisis, pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.
The U.S. Treasury Department recently approved pension benefit reductions for two pension funds, the Western States Office and Professional Employees Pension Fund (“Western States”) of Portland, Ore., and the Ironworkers Local 16 Pension Fund (“Ironworkers”) of Towson, Md.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a July 24th opinion in the case Munro vs. University of Southern California, Case No: 17-55550 (9th Cir. 2018)* concerning the scope of arbitration clauses in employment contracts and . . .
The Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act (RESA) is a bi-partisan legislative proposal designed to encourage the growth of retirement savings plans among small businesses and the workers they employ.
More than 10 million workers who rely on pension programs from multiemployer plans may lose pension benefits in only seven years, according to a recent report from the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC).
ERISA litigation surged in 2016 and 2017, reports Bloomberg’s Bureau of National Affairs, with more than 50 litigation matters related to 401(k) plans filed with federal courts in each of those years.
Teachers in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Oklahoma have been vocal in their demands for improvements in teacher pensions, salary levels, and educational budgets in recent months. Arizona teachers stayed away from schools at the end of April, despite an offer by Governor Doug Ducey for a 20 percent salary increase by school year 2020 coupled with increased educational funding levels.
Rising healthcare costs, the increasing complexity of plan administration under state and federal rules, and differing interpretations regarding reimbursement rates are resulting in increased litigation. “Out of network” disputes are a prime example. These disputes are often between the institutional medical service provider, such as a hospital, and a health insurance company, a self-insured employer, or a third-party administrator.
Two recent court rulings addressed fiduciary requirements relating to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).
Additional consumer protections for private-sector workers making claims for benefits from their employer’s disability insurance plans will become effective on April 1, 2018.
Pension benefits can go uncollected when retirement plan beneficiaries move to a new employer or fail to register a new home address with their pension plan sponsor. The issue of “missing participants” is gaining national attention as plan sponsors strive to reconnect with those who may be owed payments.
The number of relatively healthy multiemployer pension plans does not correspond proportionately to the number of participants who are in a healthy plan.
Multiemployer pension plans in the aggregate have a funded ratio of 81 percent as of June 30, 2017, which represents an increase from a 77 percent funding ratio as of December 31, 2016. The improvement reduces the funding deficit by $21 billion.
The State of Texas tackled pension plan reform for many of the Lone Star state’s first responders and municipal workers when Governor Greg Abbott signed H.B. 3158 into law on May 31, 2017. The recently passed legislation provides long-term funding relief for separate municipal pension plans sponsored by both the cities of Dallas and Houston.
Lawsuits over 401(k) fees have increased since 2016, according to recent news reports. As a result of the claims alleged in these ERISA litigation matters,several retirement industry practices have come under scrutiny and criticism.
The financial burdens presented by police pension plans are drawing national attention. Municipal retirement funds for police and firefighters have set aside only a median 71 cents for every dollar needed to cover future liabilities, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article titled “Police Pensions Put Cities in Bind.” Nationwide, police pension plans are reportedly underfunded by more than $80 billion.
State legislators successfully passed a comprehensive pension reform in Pennsylvania in early June. The new law aims to shift risk away from the taxpayers when it comes to state-funded pensions.
Pension plan participants are gradually shifting savings into target date funds (“TDFs”) designed to match their age and investment needs with their ultimate retirement savings goals. Almost one fifth (18.4 percent) of defined contribution assets in the largest 1,000 retirement plans are now invested in target date funds, according to a recent survey published by Pensions & Investments.
The Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) new fiduciary rule was set to take effect on April 10, 2017. However, in a Memorandum to the Secretary of Labor on February 3, 2017, the President proposed delaying the applicability date by 60 days.
The U.S. Department of Labor has revised its procedures for disability benefit claims that fall under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The amended rules will apply to all claims for disability benefits filed on or after January 1, 2018.
ERISA class action lawsuits alleging high plan administration fees dominated industry news in late 2015 and continuing through 2016. Many recently filed cases question excessive fees, the use of stable value funds, non-traditional funds, and target date funds, among other issues.
The multiemployer pension plan program administered by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (“PBGC”) may run out of funds to pay benefits by 2025, according to the agency’s Fiscal Year 2016 Annual Report.
Lump sum payouts by U.S. corporate pension plans are gaining in popularity, resulting in a slight drop in the amount of total assets held by the world’s largest pension funds.
Low interest rates are one of several factors contributing to higher levels of unfunded pension liabilities at state and county pension plans across the country. The inability of state and municipal pension plans to properly fund current liabilities at the same time that rates of return are falling is causing significant underfunding.
Employers who sponsor pension and benefit plans governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act will soon be subject to an increase in penalty fees for certain reporting violations.
The MPRA of 2014 may be changed under a proposal by the PBGC to allow for plan mergers and transfers between multiemployer plans. The proposed changes fall under title IV of the ERISA of 1974.
According to recent industry reports, employer-based retirement health care insurance benefits continue to decline. It is becoming less common for retirees on Medicare to be able to rely on private employer-based retirement health care benefits for supplemental health coverage.
Under a new final rule issued by the PBGC, a greater number of benefit plan sponsors may have to perform Section 4010 reporting, which requires certain underfunded plans to report identifying, financial and actuarial information, because they no longer qualify for reporting waivers.
The IRS issued a proposed ruling titled, “Additional Limitation on Suspension of Benefits Applicable to Certain Pension Plans under the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014,” on February 11, 2016. The MPRA relates to multiemployer defined benefit pension plans.
Known as “unintended loopholes,” Social Security claims strategies, that gained popularity among married couples, are being eliminated under the recent Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 was signed into law on November 1, 2015. The primary intent of the law was to increase federal spending limits and raise the debt ceiling, but the BBA also included two other important pension provisions.
Two Fortune 500 companies recently announced that they would halt their defined benefit pension programs in favor of moving toward defined contribution plans to reduce corporate liability and cut down on costs.
The Department of Labor (DOL) in April 2015 released a revision to its fiduciary rules intended to close a perceived loophole that allows for potential conflicts of interest between a retirement investment adviser and plan participants.
In part of the effort of the Kline-Miller Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014 that was enacted last year, The U.S. Department of Treasury recently designated a Special Master to head an effort to review distressed multiemployer pension plans that are facing funding shortfalls.
The Kline-Miller Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (MPRA) was signed into law December 2014. A key component of this legislation allows multiemployer pension plans that are in “critical and declining status” to apply for a temporary or permanent reduction of benefits to prevent plan insolvency.
A recent mortality study conducted by the non-profit Society of Actuaries indicates that life expectancies for both women and men have increased by roughly two years since 2000. To be precise, the study showed that the average 65-year-old woman in the U.S. is expected to live 88.8 years, up from 86.4 in 2000. Life expectancy for the average U.S. man age 65 is now 86.6 years, up from 84.6 in 2000.
Americans’ retirement savings in both traditional defined benefit pension plans and individual account balance plans, such as 401(k) programs have been protected by the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) since 1974.
Defined-benefit pension plan sponsors struggled to fund their pension obligations in the wake of stock market declines after the Great Recession of 2008. Recently, a trend toward bond investments is emerging as major U.S. employers seek to reduce volatility and the associated vulnerability to market swings.
Pension de-risking through annuitization continues to be a desirable option for plan sponsors looking to reduce or eliminate their risk for current and future liabilities. Kimberly-Clark Corp., the latest in a string of companies taking this approach, plans to reduce its projected pension benefit obligation by transferring payment responsibility for retirement pension benefits to two U.S. insurers.
U.S. Supreme Court Directs Lower Court to Revisit M&G Polymers Case Terminating Free Retiree Health Benefits
In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court appears to have sided with a chemical company in a case where union retirees were fighting to keep their health benefits. By their ruling, the justices reversed an earlier appeals court decision which favored employees and said the benefits had vested for life.
The Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014 was enacted this past December as part of a larger omnibus budget and spending bill. Widespread changes are part of the new measure, which enables private sector multiemployer plans—concerned about financial solvency—to suspend benefit payments to retirees as well as accrued benefits for participants.
As Detroit moves forward in its exit from bankruptcy, thousands of pension holders will see a reduction in their pension benefits.
Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation Announces 2015 Premium Rate Increases on the Heels of Two Multiemployer Plan Bailouts
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) has published updated premium rates for 2015 on its website, and per person rates in single-employer and multiemployer plans are scheduled to go up for next year. These rate hikes come amid action recently taken by the PBGC to financially assist two multiemployer plans facing insolvency.
In an effort to reduce the volatility and risk associated with defined benefit pension plans, Motorola Solutions and Bristol-Myers Squibb have announced they will transfer significant pension assets and liabilities to The Prudential Insurance Company of America. Following an industry trend, the firms expect to better manage ongoing accounting cost variations associated with pension plan maintenance while ensuring long-term financial security to their retirees.
When an employer merges with another company, one of many repercussions in the transaction will be the impact on the design and management of qualified retirement plans.
Institutional investors, retirees, corporate stockholders, and regulators all have a need to closely monitor pension fund performance. There are two leading sources of publicly disclosed information for public company pensions, the Form 10-K and the Form 5500. This article reviews both data sources and compares the information found in each.
PBGC Issues Dire Forecast on Growing Deficit of Multi-Employer Plans and Suspects Its Own Solvency is at Risk
The state of the country’s multi-employer pension plans (MEP) is at a crucial tipping point, with the pension benefits of more than 10 percent of MEP participants in peril. That was the grim warning recently issued by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) as a result of findings in its annual FY 2013 Projections Report (formerly known as the “Exposure Report”).
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) recently announced amendments to existing regulations placed on multi-employer plans.
State and local governments could face several negative consequences—including tax increases, public service reductions and credit rating downgrades—unless a “trend gap” based on socioeconomic and other fundamental factors is closed, according to a recent paper published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston titled “Walking a Tightrope: Are U.S. State and Local Governments on a Fiscally Sustainable Path?”
Although multiple employer pension plans (MEPP) have been around for decades, many employers have left them largely untapped. Diverse viewpoints between the IRS and Department of Labor (DOL), both of which have regulatory control over these plans, have created a divide. Many—especially small and midsize businesses—are discouraged because of greater costs compared to larger companies, in addition to feeling a general lack of guidance and confusion in administering MEPPs.
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (“PBGC”) used its partitioning authority recently for only the third time in its history to protect 350 former Hostess Brands employees from their distressed multiemployer pension plan—the Bakery and Sales Drivers Local 33. As a result of Hostess suspending its contributions to the pension, the funding level had plunged to 50 percent. The agency’s action was designed to preserve future pension payments to the pension’s members.
“Individual Account Balance Plans” are retirement plans where every participant has their own account consisting of their contributions, if any, and any contributions made by the employer. The participant’s account at retirement or separation consists of these contributions, plus/minus the investment performance and minus any expenses paid by the plan.
Fifth Third Bank and its officers breached their fiduciary duties of prudence by offering the bank’s stock as an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) investment option, allege plaintiffs in a lawsuit that has been working its way through the courts. Fifth Third acted imprudently by doing so, according to the plaintiffs.
Now that the City of Detroit has been given the green light to proceed with restructuring under the protections of Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code that govern municipalities, potential large-scale cutbacks, including the pensions of city retirees and steep losses for unsecured creditors, are likely the order of the day.
Despite Trend Toward Pension Freezes, Fund Administrators Report Growing Confidence in Sustainability of Plans
Freezing traditional pension plans has been a popular strategy to reduce the unfunded liabilities and long-term debt associated with underfunded retirement benefit plans.
Public pension reform continues to be a daunting task for advocates taking up the cause. That’s because, unlike in the private sector, the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) does not apply to the pensions of government employees. Instead, state authorities, local laws, and the courts determine how public sector retirement programs are managed.
Employers are reconsidering their role as primary provider of healthcare benefits to employees and their dependents as costs continue to climb and compliance related expenses associated with the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”) add to the burden.
Financially stressed cities across the country are watching carefully as Detroit comes to grips with its unsustainable pension and benefit costs.
Josh Gotbaum, Director (CEO) of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), and Dallas Salisbury, President & CEO of the Employee Benefit Research Institute, provided their perspectives on the future of pensions at the Wall Street Journal CFO Network Annual Meeting in June. They were asked to address whether there is a pension crisis in the United States and how organizations can handle increasing pension obligations.
New accounting and financial reporting standards for U.S. state and local government pension and benefit funds start to take effect this month. Confusion is likely to ensue as taxpayers, plan participants, and even plan sponsors take a hard look at new numbers that more clearly identify funded or unfunded municipal pension liabilities.
Kraft Foods Group actively seeks to reduce pension plan funding volatility with a liability-driven investment (“LDI”) structure, according to a company release for the fourth quarter of 2012. Many other Fortune 500 pension plan sponsors, as well as some municipal plans, are following a similar risk management strategy.
Long awaited 401(k) management fee disclosure mandates imposed last year by the U.S. Department of Labor to help workers understand the costs of retirement plan investment options appear to have had little impact so far.
The Federal Reserve Board’s effort to keep interest rates low is forcing Fortune 500 companies to dip into cash reserves for pension funding.
Underfunding of multiemployer pension plans is now at unprecedented levels, according to recent reports submitted to Congress by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (“PBGC”). As of fiscal year (FY) 2012, the PBGC multiemployer program held assets of $1.8 billion against liabilities of $7.0 billion for a net financial deficit of $5.2 billion.
Teacher pension systems are unsustainable, according to a new report issued by the National Council on Teacher Quality (“NCTQ”) titled, “No One Benefits: How Teacher Pension Systems are Failing Both Teachers and Taxpayers.”
Pension funding stabilization for single-employer defined benefit pension plans is the goal of special rules issued by the IRS in Notice 2012-61 dated September 11, 2012. The IRS guidelines relate to amendments to the Internal Revenue Code (Code) and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) made by the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), Pub. L. No.112-141. MAP-21 was enacted July 6, 2012, and contains a number of pension provisions in Division D (Finance).
Pension funding guidelines travelled an unusual road this summer as part of the transportation bill “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” (also known as MAP-21), which was signed into law on July 6, 2012.
A multiemployer pension plan is defined under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) as a collectively bargained plan maintained by more than one employer, usually within the same or related industries, and a labor union. These plans are often referred to as "Taft-Hartley” plans.
The $1 trillion gap between pension benefits promised to public employees and the actual funding needed to finance these benefits will gain more attention with pending public pension accounting rule changes. The Governmental Accounting Standards Board (“GASB”), the industry organization responsible for establishing accounting standards for U.S. state and local governments, recently approved two new standards regulating the accounting and financial reporting of public entity employee pensions.
Auto company retirees have important investment decisions to make as they consider special pension buy-out programs being offered by both General Motors (“GM”) and Ford Motor Company (“Ford”). While the unprecedented lump-sum buy-out offers will assist the auto makers in what Ford describes as a “long-term strategy to de-risk its global funded pension plans,” the action will transfer the risk of managing pension funds from these Fortune 10 employers into the hands of the pensioners themselves.
The definition and responsibilities of an ERISA fiduciary compared to an ERISA settlor form the basis of a recent New York Court of Appeals ruling in Federal Insurance Co. v. IBM Corp., 2012 N.Y. LEXIS 311 (N.Y. Feb. 21, 2012). - Background on the Distinction between an ERISA Fiduciary and Settlor - The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) establishes legal and operational guidelines for private pension and employee benefit plans.
Cities and counties across the country are running headlong into the inevitable fact that previously promised pension and retiree health care benefits are insufficiently funded. The Pew Center on the States estimates that the gap between cumulative benefit levels and the funds set aside to pay for them is more than $1 trillion and growing.
Low interest rates mean trouble for savers, especially institutional savers like pension plans. Federal Reserve Board efforts to maintain a low interest rate environment, which are expected to persist through 2014, present a problem for pension plan sponsors who need to fund future health and retirement benefits.
Pension investors and bond fund managers have expressed some concern about the $26 billion mortgage settlement announced by the U.S. Government and state Attorneys Generals on Thursday, February 8, 2012. The settlement "is cheap for the loan servicers while costly for bond investors including pension funds," according to Pacific Investment Management Co.'s ("PIMCO") Scott Simon as first reported by Bloomberg Business Week.
Jefferson County, Alabama filed the biggest Chapter 9 bankruptcy in United States history on November 9, 2011. The $4 billion filing covering the city of Birmingham and 658,000 county residents far surpassed Orange County, California, the previous record holder, which filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy in 1994 with $1.7 in debt.
American Airlines employees could lose a billion dollars in pension benefits if American terminates their pension plans as a result of the company’s November 29, 2011 bankruptcy filing, based on estimates by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC).
More than half of state pension plans use a rate of return assumption of 8 percent, according to a 2011 PBS report. While the assumed rate of return may sound like an academic exercise, it influences billions of dollars in taxpayer expenses when applied to the future funding requirements of pensions and benefits for retired school teachers, fire fighters, police officers and other public employees.
An employer-sponsored retirement plan that offers the features of both a defined contribution plan and a defined benefit pension plan is known as a hybrid pension plan. This article evaluates the leading types of hybrid plans, the regulatory basis for pension plans, common concerns, and the future outlook for hybrid plans.
Pension plan administrators with responsibility for defined benefit plans are reducing their exposure to the equity markets by using more predictable investments, such as bonds, to fund future obligations. An increasingly popular investment technique to match plan assets with liabilities is known as “liability-driven investing” or LDI. This article provides an overview of liability-driven investing.
Individual account balance plans or defined contribution plans are types of retirement plans that provide an individual account for each plan participant. Benefits in these plans are based solely upon the amount contributed to the account, plus or minus any income, expenses, gain, and losses allocated to the account. The employee or the employer (or both) contribute to the account under the plan, sometimes at a set rate. This article explores different plan types.
Employee welfare benefit plans can be either fully insured, or self-funded. This article explains and compares the differences between the two types.
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) was created by Congress as part of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The purpose of the PBGC is to protect pension payments when private sector defined benefit pension plans fail. Currently the PBGC guarantees payment of basic pension benefits for 44 million Americans in more than 27,500 ongoing private sector plans.
School districts used to be the number one concern among families shopping for a new home or relocating. Homebuyers may now realize that public pension & retiree health obligations are an essential measure of a state, city, school district or county’s long term financial viability. Businesses deciding where to locate a new plant, open an office, or relocate their headquarters also are likely to add unfunded public pension & retiree health liabilities to their checklist of selection criteria.
Self-directed retirement programs, in the form of 401(k) and other individual account balance plans, now fund retirement income security for 72 million Americans, according to the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) within the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). An estimated 483,000 participant-directed individual account plans hold almost $3 trillion in assets. Most, but not all individual account balance plans are self-directed by the participants.
The bankruptcy of a corporation that sponsors an ERISA governed pension or health plan triggers a series of actions intended to protect the benefits of plan participants if at all possible. This article identifies the different types of bankruptcy filings, the role of the Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), and options available to participants and beneficiaries.
A voluntary employees’ beneficiary association is a type of trust fund formed to provide members and their beneficiaries with a specified set of employee benefits. Life, health, accident, and medical (including retiree medical) coverage are the most common benefits provided through a VEBA.
As baby boomers prepare for retirement, many are planning on future medical benefits from their employers. Unfortunately, many retirees will be disappointed to learn that these benefits can be changed or terminated. Studies indicate the number of companies with 200 or more workers offering retiree health insurance fell from 66% in 1988 to 33% in 2005. This article explores several key provisions of retiree medical benefits and associated ERISA guidelines.
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the federal law that governs private pension, group life, and health plans, requires that plan participants receive a document known as a summary plan description ("SPD"). Although the SPD must be drafted in accordance with two Department of Labor regulations, it does not have to be called "The Summary Plan Description." This article describes the general content and distribution requirements of the summary plan description.
COBRA is widely known to both employees and employers as a way to provide continued health insurance coverage when a period of employment ends. Many people do not realize that COBRA is actually an acronym for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, passed by Congress in 1986, and not an acronym related specifically to the language of employee benefits. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was amended with the passage of COBRA.
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA") was enacted by Congress to protect the retirement funds of hard working Americans. While the law does not require an employer to offer a pension plan, it does set minimum federal standards and reporting requirements for corporations, unions, and other entities that choose to provide employees with a retirement or benefit plan. Read the full story for details.
The term “other post employment benefits” refers to a type of deferred compensation. Certain specified non-pension benefits are promised after the employee retires or leaves a company, in exchange for their current service.
A “multiple employer pension plan” (or MEPP) is a qualified retirement plan, such as a 401(k) plan, that is sponsored by multiple unrelated employers. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) applies to MEPPs, which must meet the requirements of the Internal Revenue Code in order to receive employer contributions for employee retirement benefits.
In the benefits and compensation field “non-qualified” is generally used to describe arrangements which do not receive special tax favored treatment, while “qualified arrangements” do. For example a qualified 401(k) plan produces a current year tax deferral for contributions and a tax deduction for the employer’s portion. This article reviews the differences between non-qualified and qualified executive compensation plans.
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) is a federal law that establishes legal and operational guidelines for private pension and employee benefit plans. Not all decisions directly involving a plan, even when made by a fiduciary, are subject to ERISA’s fiduciary rules. These decisions are business judgment type decisions and are commonly called “settlor” functions.
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) is a federal law that establishes legal and operational guidelines for private pension and employee benefit plans. The law requires that plan sponsors must provide participants with specific information about plan features and funding. ERISA also establishes certain fiduciary responsibilities for those who manage the plan, which is what will be discussed in this article.
About ERISA Benefits Consulting, Inc.ERISA, Pensions, Fiduciary Liability, Group Life/Health Plans, & Labor Relations Expert Witness
ERISA Benefits Consulting headed by Mark Johnson, J.D., Ph.D., offers expertise in ERISA, pensions, health plans, 401(k) plans and labor union benefits. He managed $14 billion in pension assets for over 100,000 plan participants while serving as Managing Director, Benefits Compliance & Pensions for American Airlines, a Fortune 500 company.
Dr. Johnson has negotiated union contracts for group life, health, disability, pension and 401(k) plans. He’s an accomplished public speaker and an experienced expert and fact witness.
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