How Small Businesses Benefit from the SECURE Act

 

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By Allison Brecher, General Counsel, Vestwell

Congress is close to passing legislation that will be a big win for small business owners thinking of offering retirement plans to their employees. The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act has a number of provisions centered around improving the nation’s retirement system, but small businesses in particular stand to benefit in many ways. Most notably, the Act would:

  • Increase the business tax credit for plan startup costs to make setting up retirement plans more affordable for small businesses. The tax credit would increase from the current cap of $500 to up to $5,000 in certain circumstances.
  • Encourage small-business owners to adopt automatic enrollment by providing an additional $500 tax credit for three years for plans that add auto enrollment of new employees.
  • Simplify rules and notice requirements related to qualified nonelective contributions in safe harbor 401(k) plans, a particularly common plan design amongst small businesses because the plan automatically passes certain compliance tests.
  • Offer a consolidated Form 5500 for certain defined contribution plans to reduce costs.

Additionally, the SECURE Act allows unrelated small businesses to get together in an “open” 401(k) multiple employer plan (MEP), which could also reduce costs and administrative responsibilities. Currently, only so-called “closed” MEPs are permissible, which require employers participating in it to have some kind of connection between them, such as membership in the same industry or an established trade association, and each business bears liability in the event any employer in the plan fails to comply with legal or regulatory requirements.  “Open” MEPs eliminate those rules.

The SECURE Act would also increase plan flexibility, which is a big benefit for small plan sponsors. First off, it would permit employers to add a safe harbor feature to their existing 401(k) plans even after the plan year has started as long as they make at least a 4% of pay contribution to employees, instead of the regular 3%. Second, it would extend the period of time for companies to adopt new plans beyond the end of the year to the due date for filing the company tax return.

There are other benefits that focus on helping employees save more for retirement. For example, it’s been proven that automatic enrollment and automatic escalation features encourage long-term savings, and the SECURE Act permits safe harbor 401(k) plans to increase the auto enrollment cap from 10% to 15% of an employee’s paycheck.  And since employees are working and living longer, the bill also benefits older workers by letting them continue to contribute to their plan until age 72, up from the current age of 70 ½. Lastly, it would provide penalty-free withdrawals from retirement plans of up to $5,000 within a year of the birth or adoption of a child to cover associated expenses.

The SECURE Act’s companion bill, the Retirement Enhancement Savings Act (RESA), is now moving forward through the Senate. RESA includes many of these same beneficial provisions and also has bi-partisan support. Many industry experts expect a compromise version of the two bills to become law before the end of 2019, making it the perfect time for small businesses to take action. If an employer wants to offer a safe harbor plan, plan documents need to be signed by late summer. This way, they’ll meet the October deadline for distributing legally required notices, be able to go January, and take advantage of the full tax benefits for the year.

“A” Solution, But Not Quite “The” Solution

solutionBy Allison Brecher, General Counsel, Vestwell

As speculation mounts over President Trump’s planned appearance in Charlotte tomorrow, the expectation is that the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act of 2018 (RESA) will soon be signed into law. While Vestwell believes strongly in the spirit of the bill and what it’s trying to accomplish – making good retirement plans affordable and accessible to companies of all sizes – the bill fails to solve many retirement plan challenges.

Small businesses haven’t historically embraced 401(k)’s out of concerns for fiduciary liability exposure, litigation, fees, and administrative burdens, amongst others. RESA turns to Multiple Employer Plans (MEPs) as a solution because MEPs allow small employers to pool together to share expenses. The belief is that small businesses will be more likely to offer retirement plans once they can offload some fiduciary responsibility and enjoy traditionally “large plan” costs.

Unfortunately, there are still some shortcomings in the bill that lead to missed opportunities and confusion. The main ones we’ve identified are around:

Fiduciary responsibility. While the bill states that fiduciary responsibility can be offloaded, some would argue that is already the case today with a 3(38) offering. It is unclear whether the new bill would offload liability of all responsibilities – such as the responsibility of the plan sponsor to select an un-conflicted provider – but doing so would require a re-write of ERISA laws rather than just a notation in a new provision. In addition, it is not clear who – if not the plan sponsor – is responsible for protecting the plan against conflicts of interest, prohibited transactions, and other such obligations.

Lead participant employer role. What exactly is the role of the lead participant employer? How do they get selected and evaluated? Are they compensated and, if so, how much and who decides? And how does insurance account for this unique role? Without a clear outline of the lead participant role, it is hard to envision the way companies decide to – and continue to – work together.

General retirement plan shortcomings. Unfortunately, a more “fair” cost doesn’t give plan sponsors a better understanding of what they’re getting with a retirement plan. In many cases, fees are buried, service offerings unclear, and administrative burdens cumbersome. The bill does not address any of these challenges.

The good news is, options exist to better support small plan sponsors even without RESA. The advent of tech-forward retirement platforms (like Vestwell) bring solutions to the issues of cost, fiduciary responsibility, administrative burden, and transparency. They also address many of the challenges of RESA. Because a modern-day retirement platform doesn’t require the pooling of resources, a plan sponsor can enjoy custom plan designs and pricing, tailored to its workforce, rather than having to compromise based off the collective needs of the MEP. And since technology automates many expensive processes, plan sponsors are afforded economies of scale comparable to (if not better than) what an MEP would bring. As a result, a company can benefit from the personalization, strong customer service, competitive pricing, fiduciary oversight, and transparency that all plan sponsors and participants deserve.

So, while it is our mission to support the healthy retirement of all Americans, we want to ensure they don’t just have access to a plan… but that they have access to the right one.