Monday, May 4, 2015

Supreme Court Strikes Down Yard-Man Inference for Collectively Bargained Retiree Health Benefits to Continue for Life - M & G Polymers v. Tackett - 5/4/2015

M & G Polymers v. Tackett (Supreme Court Jan. 2015) Strikes Down
Yard-Man Inference for Collectively Bargained Retiree Health Benefits
to Continue for Life; Court Holds Ordinary Contract Provisions Apply

·         Since the early 1990s there has been a push by employers to cut back or terminate retiree health plans.

·         In contrast to pension (qualified plan) benefits, welfare benefits do not vest by operation of law, but an employer can contractually obligate to vest benefits.

·         There may be statements or communication implying lifetime benefits, but the plan documents and communication often reserve the right to modify or discontinue the benefits (so that there be no issue of a contractual lifetime obligation).

·         Where retiree health benefits were the subject of collectively bargained negotiations, the Sixth Court in International Union, United Auto, Aerospace and Agr. Implement Workers of Am. (UAW) v. Yard-Man, Inc., 716 F.2d 1476 (6th Cir. 1983), held that there is an inference that the intent was for these bargained-for benefits to continue throughout retirement even after the expiration of the term of the collective bargaining agreement.
·         The First and Eleventh Circuits have followed this Sixth Circuit view of the Yard-Man inference.  The Third, Fifth and Eighth Circuits have rejected it.  (The Seventh Circuit first adopted the Yard-Man view, but then rejected it.)

·         The Sixth Circuit itself also cut back on the Yard-Man inference, limiting it to retiree health, to actual retirees, to cases where union contract evidences an intent to vest benefit and to where retiree health was specifically bargained for.

·         In a January 2015 decision, M & G Polymers USA, LLC v. Tackett, 135 S.Ct. 926 (January 26, 2015), the Supreme Court reversed a Sixth Circuit 2013 decision which had ruled in favor of retirees with respect to lifetime retiree health benefits that were bargained for based on the Yard-Man inference that bargained-for benefits are presumed to continue through retirement.  The Supreme Court struck down the Yard-Man inference and held that collective bargaining agreements are subject to ordinary principles of contract law.  The collective bargaining agreement in M & G Polymers did not promise the retiree benefits for life, and in fact the agreement stated that the benefits would be provided for the duration of the agreement and would be subject to renegotiation in three years.  The Court stated that traditional contract rules would dictate that ambiguous writings in collective bargaining agreements do not created lifetime promises, and contractual obligations will cease in the ordinary course on termination of the bargaining agreement.  Therefore the Supreme Court vacated the Sixth Circuit ruling in this case, and this case was remanded to the lower court to make a finding without the Yard-Man inference.


·         Details of the Case: M & G Polymers USA, LLC v. Tackett, 135 S.Ct. 926 (Jan. 26, 2015) (predecessor employer, Point Pleasant Polyester Plant, had provided to union employees (who were eligible for a pension benefit) employer-paid retiree health benefits, and this was negotiated in the pension & insurance agreement attached to the collective-bargaining agreement; the agreement provided for the benefits to be provided for the duration of the labor agreement (three-year term until next negotiation); these provisions were also included in the collective bargaining agreement negotiated by M & G Polymer USA, LLC, which purchased the plant in 2000; in 2006 M & G Polymers announced that it would begin requiring retirees to contribute to the cost of the retiree health benefits; retirees sued arguing that they were promised lifetime employer-paid benefits; the Sixth Circuit in 2009, 561 F.3d 478, held that, based on the Yard-Man Sixth Circuit 1983 decision, there was an inference that bargained-for retiree benefits would vest for life, and the district court then found for the retirees; the Sixth Circuit affirmed this decision in 2013, 733 F.3d 586; the Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed the decision; the Court noted that welfare benefits do not vest under ERISA but can be vested by contract, and that collective bargaining agreements are to be analyzed according to ordinary principals of contract law, in contrast to the Yard-Man decision; the Court disagreed with the Yard-Man inference, as collective bargaining agreements should be governed by ordinary contract law, and any inferences as to intent should be drawn from the specific facts; without specific evidence there should be no presumption that the parties intended to continue the benefits throughout retirement; durational clauses in collective bargaining agreements should govern and contractual obligations should generally cease on termination of the collective bargaining agreement; ambiguous writings should not be construed to create lifetime promises; the Court therefore rejected the Yard-Man inference, and this case was remanded for the lower court to apply ordinary principals of contract law to the facts; the decision, which was unanimous, was written by Justice Thomas, but there was a concurrence by Justice Ginsburg noting that in determining whether the parties intended to vest retiree health benefits implied terms of the agreement, e.g., whether the retiree health benefits were equated to pension benefits, should be examined, as should extrinsic evidence).

Thursday, October 23, 2014

COST-OF-LIVING ADJUSTMENTS 2015

COST-OF-LIVING ADJUSTMENTS - 2015

Pension Plan and Related Limits
2014
2015
Pre-tax elective deferral maximum under IRC § 401(k), 403(b), and 457(b) plans
$17,500
$18,000
Age 50 and older “catch-up” adjustment for 401(k), 403(b), and governmental 457(b) plans and SEPs
$5,500
$6,000
Annual compensation limit under IRC §§ 401(a)(17), 404(l) and 408(k)
$260,000
$265,000
Annual benefit limit for defined benefit plans under IRC § 415(b)
$210,000
$210,000
Annual contribution limit for defined contribution plans under IRC § 415(c)
$52,000
$53,000
Highly compensated employee threshold for purposes of testing in the following year under IRC § 414(q)(1)(B)
$115,000
$120,000
Key employee threshold for top heavy plan under IRC § 416(i)
$170,000
$170,000
IRC § 430(c)(7)(D)(i)(II) amount for determining excess employee compensation for single-employer defined benefit plans where election has been made
$1,084,000
$1,101,000
ESOP account balance for five-year and one-year distribution rule under IRC § 409(o)(1)(C)(ii)
$1,050,000
and
$210,000
$1,070,000
and
$210,000
SEP pension compensation threshold under IRC § 408(k)
$550
$600
SIMPLE plan elective deferral limit under IRC § 408(p)(2)(E)
$12,000
$12,500
SIMPLE plan age 50 catch-up
$2,500
$3,000
Basic IRA/Roth IRA contribution limitation under IRC § 219(b)/§ 408A (age 50 $1,000 catch-up for IRAs does not have cost-of-living adjustment)
$5,500
$5,500
Phase-out for deductions for IRA for married couples filing jointly, in which the spouse who makes the IRA contribution is an active participant in an employer-sponsored retirement plan
$96,000 to $116,000
$98,000 to $118,000
Adjusted gross income (AGI) phase-out range for married joint filers taxpayers making contributions to a Roth IRA
$181,000 to $191,000
$183,000 to $193,000
AGI limit for retirement savings contributions (saver's) credit for married couples filing jointly
$60,000
$61,000
Health Savings Account contribution limits (single and family)
$3,300 and $6,550
$3,350 and $6,650
Maximum monthly benefit guarantee by PBGC
$4943.18
$5,011.33
PBGC flat-rate premium for a single-employer plans (as amended by MAP-21 2012 legislation)
$49
$57
Taxable wage base subject to FICA tax
$117,000
$118,500


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Rollover Safe Harbors

Regulations provide that where a plan accepts a rollover contribution it will be treated for purposes of the qualification rules as a valid rollover contribution as long as the following two conditions are satisfied.  First, the plan administrator reasonably concludes that the contribution is a valid rollover contribution. Second, if the plan administrator of the receiving plan later determines that the contribution was an invalid rollover contribution, the amount of invalid contribution plus earnings must be distributed to the employee. Treas. Reg. § 1.401(a)(31)-1, Q & A 14(a).
For purposes of the first condition that the plan administrator must reasonably conclude that the contribution is a valid rollover contribution, the regulations note that while evidence of a favorable IRS determination letter is useful in concluding that the contribution is a valid rollover contribution, a determination letter is not necessary to conclude that the contribution is a valid rollover contribution.  Treas. Reg. § 1.401(a)(31)-1, Q & A 14(a).
The regulations give various examples where the plan administrator of the receiving plan may conclude that the contribution as a valid rollover contribution.  For example, a letter from plan administrator of distributing plan that it has a favorable IRS determination letter can be relied upon to conclude there is a valid rollover contribution.  Treas. Reg. § 1.401(a)(31)-1, Q & A 14(c), Ex. 1.  Alternatively, a letter from the plan administrator of the distributing plan representing that the plan is qualified and that the plan administrator is not aware of anything that would result in disqualification could also be relied upon.  Treas. Reg. § 1.401(a)(31)-1, Q & A 14(c), Ex. 2.  
According to a 2014 revenue ruling, a plan administrator of the receiving plan may rely on the fact that Line 8a of Form 5500 for distributing plan, available on www.efast.dol.gov, (or Line 9 of Form 5500-SF) does not include Code 3c for a nonqualified plan for reliance that the contribution is a valid rollover contribution.  Rev. Rul. 2014-9, Situation 1.

Similarly with regard to a rollover from a traditional IRA a check from the trustee payable to the receiving plan that indicates on the pay stub that it is an IRA of the employee (and the employee certifies that there are no after-tax amounts and the employee is not age 70-1/2), the plan administrator may conclude that the contribution from the IRA is a valid rollover contribution.  Rev. Rul. 2014-9, Situation 2.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Whether Private Equity Funds are a Trade or Business

Only “trades or business” under common control are treated as part of an ERISA controlled group.  Neither ERISA nor the Treasury regulations define “trade or business.”  Courts have generally adopted the standard articulated in Commissioner v. Groetzinger, where the Supreme Court held that in the context of IRC § 162: “to be engaged in a trade or business, the taxpayer must be involved in the activity with continuity and regularity and that the taxpayer’s primary purpose for engaging in the activity must be for income or profit.  Sporadic activity, a hobby, or an amusement diversion does not qualify.”  480 U.S. 23, 35, 107 S.Ct. 980, 987, 94 L.Ed.2d 25 (1987). 
With regard to private equity funds many practitioners have taken the view that since they are passive investment vehicles with no employees and no involvement in day-to-day operations, they are not trades or businesses, and the portfolio companies owned by a private equity fund would not be in the same ERISA controlled group.  However, a 2007 PBGC Appeals Board ruling held that a private equity fund was a trade or business, because it was engaged in an activity with the primary purpose of income or profit and conducted business through an agent (the general partner) who managed fund investments on a regular basis.  PBGC Appeals Board Opinion dated Sept. 26, 2007, http://www.pbgc.gov/prac/appeals-board/appeals-decisions.html (a private equity fund is a “trade or business” under the standard set forth in Comm’r v. Goetzinger, 480 U.S. 23 (1987) that “trade or business” depends on (i) whether the taxpayer is engaged in an activity with the primary purpose of income or profit, and (ii) whether the act is conducted with continuity and regularity; in the fact of the letter that the private equity fund engaged in an activity with the primary purpose of income or profit and it conducted its business through an agent who managed the fund’s investments on a regular basis; the private equity fund was therefore in the same controlled group as its bankrupt portfolio company that sponsored a pension plan).  According to this ruling, 80%-owned portfolio companies of a private equity fund may be in the same ERISA controlled group.  In the rare case that the facts and circumstances indicate that the private equity fund does not meet the Groetzinger standard, it would not be part of the controlled group.  (See ABA JCEB Q & As for PBGC (May 2008), Q & A 11, that in unusual circumstances that the fund is not a trade or business, it would not be in the controlled group.) 
A 2010 district court in the Sixth Circuit found the 2007 PBGC Appeals Board Opinion to be persuasive.  Board of Trustees, Sheet Metal Workers National Pension Fund v. Palladium Equity Partners, LLC, 722 F. Supp. 2d 854 (E.D. Mich. 2010) (genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether three Palladium limited partnerships and Palladium Equity Partners, LLC which served as advisor (the Palladium funds) were an ERISA controlled group parent liable for ERISA multiemployer withdrawal liability of the Haden group of companies: court found 2007 PBGC Appeals Board Opinion to be persuasive that although investment alone is not a trade or business, "investment plus" where there is investment advisory and management services by the fund for the benefit of its partners and there is compensation for the investment advisory and management services would constitute a trade or business; court found there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the Palladium funds had a business purpose other than merely investment; the Palladium funds joined their investments to exert power over financial and managerial activities of the portfolio companies, selected five of the seven board members and set up several committees to control the internal operations of the portfolio companies; there was also general issue of material fact regarding alter-ego liability). 
Likewise, a 2012 First Circuit case overturned the district court and found the PBGC Appeals Board Opinion to be persuasive.  Sun Capital Partners III, L.P. v. New England Teamsters and Trucking Industry Pension Fund, __ F.3d. __, 2013 WL 3814984 (1st. Cir. July 24, 2013) (two private equity funds managed by Sun Capital owned 70% and 30% of Scott Brass, Inc. which withdrew from a multiemployer pension plan prior to filing for bankruptcy; the district court at 903 F.Supp.2d 107 (D. Mass. 2012), had granted the Sun Capital Partners equity funds motion to dismiss since the private equity funds were passive investors and not a trade or business  and the 2007 PBGC Appeals Board Opinion was found by the district court to be unpersuasive because activity of the general partner should not have been attributed to the investment fund and continuity and regularity of an activity should not be found merely based on the size of the investment and profitability; however, the First Circuit overturned the district court ruling regarding the funds being a “trade or business” and held that at least the larger of the two Sun funds was engaged in a trade or business since there was more than mere passive investment, noting that the funds sought out potential portfolio companies that were in need of extensive management intervention, indirect management and consulting fees were provided, the funds had the power to appoint a majority of board members, and the general partners had authority regarding hiring, firing and compensation which could be attributed at least to the larger of the two funds through limited partnership agreements;  both the district court and the circuit court found in regard to Sun Capital funds that the purchase of Scott Brass, Inc. in a 70%-30% split was not done with a principal purpose to evade or avoid liability under ERISA § 4212(c), according to the district court because there were  legitimate business reasons for the investment ownership in order to decrease investment risk for each fund  and according to the First Circuit because disregarding a 70%-30% split would leave zero ownership; the First Circuit remanded the case to the district court to determine if there was common control by the 70%-30% ownership (for example if the joint venture is seen as common ownership)).
 Nevertheless, to avoid any doubt it may be advisable to specify in agreements with representations about controlled group members that representations are (or are not) made with regard to private equity investors and other portfolio companies.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

RULES RELATING TO 401(K) FEE DISCLOSURE OR INVESTMENT ADVICE GUIDANCE

December 19, 2010
(revised 6/25/12)

RULES RELATING TO 401(K) FEE DISCLOSURE OR INVESTMENT ADVICE GUIDANCE
            Recent guidance – some proposed some final, and some with effective dates that have been extended – relate to 401(k) plan fee disclosure and investment advice, as described further below:
  • Fee disclosure by plan administrators to participants for participant-directed 401(k) plans regarding investment options with a comparative chart of investment options and with the administrative expenses of each option is required under DOL regulations proposed in July 2008 and finalized in Oct. 2010. The effective date was delayed to 60 days after the beginning of the plan year beginning on or after November 1, 2011, or 60 days after July 1, 2012 (i.e., August 30, 2012).
  • Fee disclosure by service providers to responsible plan fiduciaries to show reasonableness of contract (required by service-provider exemption of ERISA § 408(b)(2)) as specified in final DOL regulations published February 3, 2012, with a delayed effective date of July 1, 2012.
  • Regulations regarding investment advice arrangements that are permitted by the Pension Protection Act where there is level-fee or computer model arrangements were issued in January 2009 but were later withdrawn.  Revised regulations similar to the original regulations but with certain changes as described below, were issued in October 2011.
  • Service provider disclosure on Form 5500 Schedule C is now required for both direct and indirect compensation.  This became effective with the 5500s for the 2009 plan years.
1.    Fee Disclosure to Participants (by Plan Administrators) Concerning Plan Investment Options – Final Regulations - Effective Date Extended
            Generally.  The Department of Labor has issued regulations, DOL Reg. §§ 2550.404a-5 and 2550.404c-1, proposed in 2008, 73 Fed. Reg. 43014 (July 23, 2008) and finalized in 2010, 75 Fed. Reg. 64910 (Oct. 20, 2010), requiring fiduciaries of individual account plans to provide specific disclosures to participants concerning plan investment options including fee and expense information.  The underlying concern is that participants in individual account plans be given sufficient information on investment choices including fees and expenses, as stated in the Preamble to the final regulations.
The regulations provide that when a plan allocates investment responsibilities to participants under a participant directed individual account plan, ERISA's duty of prudence requires the plan administrator to make sure that participants are made aware of their rights and responsibilities with respect to the investment of assets, and that sufficient information is provided regarding the plan and the plan's investment options including fee and expense information to make informed decisions how to invest their accounts.  DOL Reg. § 2550.404a-5(a).
This applies to "covered individual account plans," which are participant-directed individual account plans (regardless of whether or not such plans comply with ERISA § 404(c)), but excludes IRAs, SEPs, SIMPLE accounts and other plans exempt from ERISA.
The plan administrator must provide participants certain plan-related information and certain investment-related information, as described below.
Annual Plan-Related Information.   The plan-related information that must be disclosed includes:
·        general plan information about structure and mechanics of plan, such as how to give investment instructions, list of plan's current investment options, description of any "brokerage windows" or similar arrangement that enables the selection of investments beyond those designated by the plan, etc.;
·        administrative expenses information about fees and expenses for general plan administrative services that may be charged to individual accounts, such as fees and expenses for legal, accounting, and recordkeeping services; and
·        individual expense information including fees and expenses that may be charged to individual account of participant, such as fees for plan loans and for processing QDROs.   DOL Reg. § 2550.404a-5(c)(1)(i), (c)(2)(i)(A) and (c)(3)(i)(A).
This information must be given to participants on or before the date they can direct their investments, and then annually thereafter.  DOL Reg. § 2550.404a-5(c)(1)(i), (c)(2)(i)(A) and (c)(3)(i)(A).
Change in Plan Related Information.  If there is a change in any of the above plan-related information, the participant must be furnished with a description of the change within 30 to 90 days prior to the change, or in unforeseeable circumstances beyond the control of the plan administrator as soon as reasonably practicable.  DOL Reg. § 2550.404a-5(c)(1)(ii), (c)(2)(i)(B) and (c)(3)(i)(B).
Quarterly Plan Expense and Fee Information.  Statements must be furnished to participants at least quarterly showing the dollar amount of the plan-related administrative and individual fees and expenses actually charged to the individual accounts, as well as a description of the services.  These disclosures may be included in quarterly benefit statements required under ERISA § 105.  DOL Reg. § 2550.404a-5(c)(3)(ii).
Annual Investment-Related Information.  In addition to plan-related information, investment-related information must also be disclosed under the regulations on the date the participant can first direct the investment and annually thereafter.  This includes:
·        identifying information and investment category of each designated investment alternative;
·        performance data, with historical investment performance; one, five and ten-year returns must be provided for investment options that do not have fixed rates of return (such as mutual funds), and for investment options that have a fixed rate of return the annual rate of return must be provided;
·        benchmark information for investment options that do not have a fixed rate of return, with the returns of an appropriate broad-based securities market index over one-, five-, and ten-year periods (investment options with fixed rates of return are not subject to this requirement);
·        fee and expense information, which for investment options that do not a have a fixed rate of return requires total annual operating expenses expressed as both a percentage of assets and as a dollar amount and any shareholder-type fees or restrictions on the participant's ability to purchase or withdraw from the investment; for investment options that have a fixed rate of return, any shareholder-type fees or restrictions on the participant's ability to purchase or withdraw from the investment is required;
·        Internet website address must be included for investment-related information, which will provide participants access to specific additional information about the investment options if more current information is desired; and
·        a glossary of investment-related terms to understand the plan's investment options, or an Internet website address that provides access to such a glossary.  DOL Reg. § 2550.404a-5(d)(1)(i)-(vi).
Comparative Format Requirement.  The above investment-related information is to be furnished in a chart or similar format, so that a comparison of the available investment alternatives is easily observed, and the data should be prominently displayed.  DOL Reg. § 2550.404a-5(d)(2)(i).  The regulation includes an appendix with a model comparative chart.
Additional Information.  The investment related information must include the contact information for the plan administrator (or person designated on its behalf), where to obtain additional information, a reference to the web site with additional investment-related information and how to obtain a paper copy of certain information.  DOL Reg. § 2550.404a-5(d)(2).  Additional information must be made available on request, including copies of prospectuses of the funds, financial statements and shareholder reports, value of each share of designated investment alternatives and the assets comprising the portfolio of each fund.  DOL Reg. § 2550.404a-5(d)(3).
Original Effective Dates.  These final participant disclosure regulations were effective on December 20, 2010.  They become applicable to covered individual account plans for plan years beginning on or after November 1, 2011.  DOL Reg. § 2550.404a-5(j).  The initial disclosure was required by the date they can first direct investments, which is 60 days after the effective date of the service provider fee disclosure effective date.  (See also, 76 F.R. 31544 (June 1, 2011).)
Delayed Effective Date to August 30, 2012.  The final regulations have been amended in DOL Reg. § 2550.404a-5(j), in 76 Fed. Reg. 42539 (July 19, 2011) to provide that the initial disclosure to participants is required by the date the participant can first direct his or her investments (60 days after the beginning of the plan year beginning on or after November 1, 2011), or, if later, 60 days after the effective date of the 408b-2 regulations which is currently July 1, 2012, i.e., August 30, 2012.
Field Assistance Bulletin 2012-12.  DOL Field Assistance Bulletin 2012-12 (May 7, 2012), http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/regs/fab2012-2.html, contains 38 FAQs on fee disclosure to participants.  They provide: (i) designated investment managers that choose among investment alternatives (managed accounts) are not separate investment alternatives and do not require investment related disclosure but should be described under the plan related disclosure (Q&As 4 & 27); (ii) brokerage window fees and expenses must be disclosed to all participants with general information about the purchases and sales of securities and how to obtain more information (Q&As 13, 29 and 30); (iii) model portfolios of various investment alternatives offered among the plan need not contain extra disclosure unless the model portfolio provides a separate equity security or similar interest in the entity (Q&A 28); (iv) revenue sharing explanations must be provided quarterly but do not need to identify specific plan expenses or specific investments (Q&A 10); (v) multiple comparative charts can be used in a single mailing but may not be used if separately distributed (Q&A 21); (vi) a fund of funds would disclose the operating expenses of acquired funds in the annual operating expenses of the fund of funds (Q&A 31); (vii) stable value fund insurance contract fee to smooth the rate of return must be included in the total annual operating expenses of the stable value fund (Q&A 34); (viii) closed funds are still subject to fee disclosure because participant must still decide whether to transfer out of the fund (Q&A 15); and (ix) website information must be updated as soon as reasonably possible although the printed comparative chart only needs to be updated annually (Q&A 22).
2.    Interim Guidance on Electronic Delivery of Participant Fee Disclosure
DOL Tech Rel. 2011-03R (issued Sept. 13, 2011 and revised Dec. 8, 2011) provides interim guidance on fee disclosure by electronic delivery.  Where the disclosure is included as part of pension benefit statements or along with pension benefit statements, the guidance in FAB 2006-03 applicable to pension benefit statements can be used, which allows secure website access where certain notice requirements are met. 
Where the disclosure is not included as part of pension benefit statements, the safe harbor of DOL Reg. § 2520.104b-1(c) (from 2002) can be used, which allows  plan administrators to use electronic delivery of notices (i) for participants who can easily access electronic documents at their place of work and the computer is an integral part of his work, or (ii) where a participant does not have effective access at work but affirmatively consents to receive the document electronically.  Alternatively, DOL Tech. Rel. 2011-03R allows an email method where participants voluntarily furnish their email, an initial notice that satisfies  the specific notice is provided with the request for the email address, an annual notice containing similar information must be provided (which can be electronically if the participant has interacted with the electronic delivery system), the electronic delivery is reasonably calculated to ensure actual receipt (e.g. email return-receipt), confidentiality is maintained and the notice is calculated to be understood by the average plan participant.  Pursuant to DOL Tech. Rel. 2011-03R as revised, disclosure through electronic media may include a continuous access web site.
3.    Fee Disclosure by Service Providers (to Plan Fiduciaries) – Final Regulations – Effective Date Delayed to July 1, 2012
ERISA § 408(b)(2) Service Provider Exception.  ERISA § 406 generally prohibits transactions between an ERISA plan and a party in interest.  A service provider to a plan would be a party in interest, making the arrangement a prohibited transaction.  However, under the service-provider exception, ERISA § 408(b)(2) exempts service contracts or arrangements between a plan and a party in interest if (i) the contract or arrangement is reasonable, (ii) the services are necessary for the establishment or operation of the plan, and (iii) no more than reasonable compensation is paid for the services.
DOL Regulation § 2550.408b-2.  DOL Regulation § 2550.408b-2, proposed December 13, 2007, 72 Fed. Reg. 70988, revised as interim regulations, July 16, 2010, 75 Fed. Reg. 41600, and finalized Feb. 3, 2012, 77 Fed. Reg. 5632, clarify the meaning of a ''reasonable'' contract or arrangement.
Reasonable Contract.  Under the DOL regulations, to be a reasonable contract, a "covered service provider" (as defined below) must disclose certain information in writing to the "responsible plan fiduciary" (the fiduciary with authority to cause the plan to enter into or renew the contract).
·        This disclosure enables the fiduciary to determine whether the services are reasonable.
Covered Service Provider.  A "covered service provider" is a service provider that enters into a contract or arrangement with a "covered plan" (as defined below) and reasonably expects $1,000 or more in direct or indirect compensation to be received in connection with providing certain enumerated services.  This includes (i) services provided as a fiduciary to an investment vehicle holding plan assets and services provided as an investment advisor to a covered plan, (ii) certain recordkeeping and brokerage services to an individual account plan, or (iii) other services for which service provider, affiliate or subcontractor expect to receive indirect compensation (such as accounting, auditing, actuarial, appraisal, banking, consulting, attorney who is hired directly by the plan, and recordkeeper (but this category iii only applies for indirect compensation, e.g., consultant which also has investment fund)).  DOL Reg. § 2550.408b-2(c)(1)(iii).
Covered Plan.  "Covered Plan" is defined as an ERISA pension plan, but does not include a SEP, SIMPLE retirement plan, IRA or top-hat plan and also does not include a 403(b) plan that was frozen prior to January 1, 2009.  DOL Reg. § 2550.408b-2(c)(1)(ii).
Disclosure.  The disclosure must describe:
·        services to be provided (but not including non-fiduciary services to an investment contract or plan investment);
·        if applicable, status as a fiduciary or investment advisor;
·        any direct or indirect compensation the service provider, affiliate, or subcontractor expects to receive; and in the case of indirect compensation the services for which the indirect compensation will be received, the payer of the indirect compensation, and the arrangement pursuant to which the indirect compensation is paid; and where compensation is to be paid among related parties, i.e., between the service provider, affiliate and a subcontractor in connection with the services, the compensation to be paid if it is set on a transaction basis (e.g., commissions, soft dollars, finder fees, etc.), or if it is to be charged against the plan's investment (e.g., 12b-1 fees);
·        compensation expected in connection with termination of the contract;
·        with regard to recordkeeping services a description of direct and indirect compensation that is expected to be received;
·        whether the plan will be billed or the compensation will be deducted directly from the plan's individual accounts;
·        for fiduciary service providers with respect to plan assets, any compensation that will be charged directly against the amount invested (e.g., sales charges, loads, redemption fees, surrender charges, etc.) and operating expenses; and
·        for certain recordkeeping and brokerage services with respect to each designated investment alternative, current accurate disclosure materials of the issuer of the designated investment alternative that includes the information in the previous bullet.  DOL Reg. § 2550.408b-2(c)(1)(iv).
Timing of Service Provider Disclosure.  The service provider must disclose any additional information relating to compensation to the responsible plan fiduciary within the following time periods: (i) for initial disclosure reasonably in advance of the date the arrangement is executed, extended or renewed, (ii) when the investment entity does not initially hold plan assets, within 30 days of when the investment entity holds plan assets, and (iii) as soon as an investment alternative is designated.  Changes in the disclosed information must be communicated no later than 60 days from the date of change, and the covered service provider must disclose at least annually any changes to the investment and recordkeeping and brokerage services described in the last two bullets above.  DOL Reg. § 2550.408b-2(c)(1)(v).
Upon request, the service provider must furnish other information relating to the compensation received in connection with the contract.  DOL Reg. § 2550.408b-2(c)(1)(vi).  Good faith errors or omission in disclosing the information required will not cause there to be a failure, as long as the service provider discloses the correct information as soon as practicable and no later than 30 days after the service provider knows of such error or omission.  DOL Reg. § 2550.408b-2(c)(1)(vii).
Guide to Initial Disclosure.  The regulations strongly encourage service providers to offer fiduciaries a guide of the initial disclosures.  An appendix to the regulations provides a sample guide to initial disclosure in the form of a chart referencing the places in the service agreement or on a website where the required disclosures can be found.
Prohibited Transaction Class Exemption.  There is an exemption in the form of a prohibited transaction class exemption, and also incorporated into the regulations, for the responsible plan fiduciary from the prohibited transaction restrictions for a party in interest providing goods and services to or receiving assets from the plan, for any failure by a covered service provider to disclose the information required above, provided that the following conditions are met: (i) the plan fiduciary did not know that the service provider failed or would fail to make required disclosures and reasonably believed that the covered service provider disclosed the information required above, (ii) the plan fiduciary requests the additional information in writing and notifies  the DOL, and (iii) the service provider terminates the arrangement or complies with the request within 90 days.  DOL Reg. § 2550.408b-2(c)(1)(ix).
            Termination Without Penalty.  The regulations also require that for the contract to be reasonable, it must permit termination of the contract without penalty other than for reasonable start-up costs and expenses.  DOL Reg. § 2550.408b-2(c)(3).
            Effective Date.  The regulations were to be effective July 16, 2011.  DOL Reg. § 2550.408b-2(c)(1)(xii).   On June 1, 2011, 76 Fed. Reg. 31545, the DOL extended the effective date to January 1, 2012.  On July 19, 2011, 76 Fed. Reg. 42539,  the DOL extended the effective date to April 1, 2012.  On Feb. 3, 2012, 77 Fed. Reg. 5632, the DOL further extended the effective date of these service provider fee disclosure regulations to July 1, 2012 (amending DOL Reg. § 2550.408b-2(c)(1)(xii)).
The rules (under previous and current effective dates) apply to all contracts or arrangements, regardless of whether entered into before or after the effective date.
      4.  Eligible Investment Advice Arrangements by Fiduciary Advisors Under Pension Protection Act    Regulations Withdrawn and then Revised
Under ERISA § 408, as amended by the Pension Protection Act of 2006, a prohibited transaction statutory exemption is added for the provision of investment advice by a "fiduciary advisor" to participants of participant-directed plans through an "eligible investment advice arrangement."  ERISA §§ 408(b)(14) & 408(g). 
ERISA § 408(b)(14) & 408(g).  ERISA § 408(b)(14) and IRC § 4975(d)(17) state that the provision of investment advice regarding an investment or sale under the plan, or the receipt of fees by a fiduciary adviser or affiliate in connection with the investment advice, will be exempt from the prohibited transaction rules if the investment advice is provided under an "eligible investment advice arrangement" under ERISA § 408(g) and IRC § 4975(f)(8), which means that the arrangement must either (i) provide "level fee arrangements" that do not depend on investment, or (ii) uses a "computer model" that applies generally accepted investment theories, utilizes relevant information, utilizes objective criteria and does not favor investments offered by the fiduciary adviser.  ERISA § 408(g).
Regulations Issued, Withdrawn and Reissued.  In January 2009 the Department of Labor finalized regulations implementing the provisions of the statutory exemption for eligible investment advice arrangements for level-fee or computer model arrangements.  74 Fed. Reg. 3822 (Jan. 21, 2009), (originally proposed Aug. 22, 2008).  The DOL also provided an administrative class exemption pursuant to which the fee-leveling or computer model requirements would be liberalized.  The effective date was to have been March 23, 2009.   The effective date was delayed several times in 2009.  The DOL delayed and then withdrew these regulations and the class exemption in 2009.  74 Fed. Reg. 60156 (Nov. 20, 2009).  The DOL issued revised regulations, DOL Reg. § 2550.408g–1 and -2, reproposed March 2, 2010, 75 Fed. Reg. 9360 and finalized October 25, 2011, 76 Fed. Reg. 66136.
Arrangements Using Fee Leveling.  Fee level arrangements must be based on generally accepted investment theories, taking into account fees and expenses and the participants' age, other assets, risk tolerance and preferences, and provide that fees received by fiduciary advisers providing investment advice do not vary on the basis of the investments chosen (level fee arrangements).  DOL Reg. § 2550.408g-1(b)(3).
Arrangements Using Computer Models.  Computer model arrangements must (i) provide generally accepted investment theories taking into account historic risks and returns, (ii) take into account investment management and other fees and expenses, (iii) weigh factors used to estimate future returns, (iv) request information about age, life expectancy, risk tolerance, other assets and investment preferences, (v) use appropriate objective criteria, (vi) not favor investment options of the advisor and (vii) take into account all of the investment options of the plan.  DOL Reg. § 2550.408g-1(b)(4)(i).  In addition, the computer model must be certified in writing in advance by an eligible investment expert that the computer model meets the above requirements.  An eligible investment expert must have appropriate technical training or experience and proficiency to analyze and certify the computer model (and cannot have a material relationship with the fiduciary adviser).  The written certification must (i) contain the methodology in making the determination, (ii) state how the methodology shows that the computer model meets DOL Reg. § 2550.408g-1(b)(4)(i), (iii) describe the limitations imposed on the selection of appropriate methodology, and (iv) contain a representation that the methodology was applied by an expert.  DOL Reg. § 2550.408g-1(b)(4)(ii).
A plan fiduciary (or plan sponsor) must expressly authorize the investment advice arrangement, and an annual written audit by an independent auditor with appropriate expertise of the arrangement must be made.  DOL Reg. § 2550.408g-1(b)(5) & (6).
The fiduciary adviser must disclose to participants prior to the initial investment advice the following: (i) the role of any party that has a material affiliation, (ii) past performance of the investment options, (iii) all fees or compensation that the adviser or affiliate receives for the advice, sale, purchase or rollover, (iv) any material affiliation the fiduciary or affiliate has in the fund, (v) the manner in which participant information will be used, and (vi) the types of services provided by the fiduciary adviser in connection with the investment advice, (vii) that the adviser is a fiduciary and (viii) that the participants may arrange for advice by another adviser.  DOL Reg. § 2550.408g-1(b)(7).  The Appendix to DOL Reg. § 2550.408g-1 contains a model disclosure form that may be used to satisfy this disclosure requirement.
The fiduciary advisor must provide the authorizing fiduciary a written notice that it intends to comply with ERISA §§ 408(b)(14) and 408(g) that the adviser's arrangement will be audited annually, and that the auditor will furnish the authorizing fiduciary a copy of the auditor's findings within 60 days of completion of the audit.  DOL Reg. § 2550.408g-1(b)(8).
A "fiduciary adviser" is a fiduciary to the plan who is also a registered investment advisor, bank, insurance company, registered broker dealer or an affiliate or employee of any of the above.  DOL Reg. § 2550.408g-1(c)(2).
A prohibited transaction class exemption in the original 2009 regulations would have permitted follow-up individual advice subsequent to the computer model, and would have also permitted varying fees, as long as the individual employee providing the advice met the level fee requirements.  However, in response to comments questioning the potential for self-dealing, the class exemption has been eliminated in the revised 2011 regulations.
The regulations are effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, i.e. December 24, 2011, but go into effect on the first business day thereafter, i.e., Tuesday, December 27, 2011.  See DOL Reg. § 2550.408g–2(f).
      5.  Schedule C Service Provider Reporting – Effective for 2009 Plan Years; Good Faith Transition Rule  
            Final guidance for revised Form 5500 Schedule C disclosure provides for expanded requirements for service providers reporting of direct and indirect compensation, and requires fiduciaries to review and approve expenses, effective for 5500s relating to plan years beginning in 2009. 
  • For Schedule C purposes, reportable compensation includes cash and any other items of value (e.g., gifts or awards) received from the plan (including fees charged as a percentage of assets and deducted from investment returns) in connection with services rendered to the plan. 
  • Indirect compensation is compensation received from sources other than the plan or plan sponsor, in connection with services rendered to the plan, and would include, for example, fees and expense reimbursement payments received from a mutual fund, account maintenance fees, 12b–1 distribution fees, etc.  72 Fed. Reg. 64710 (Nov.16, 2007), amending DOL Reg. §§ 2520.103-1 & 2520.104-46.
            The DOL issued FAQs regarding the Schedule C requirements in July 2008 (www.dol.gov/ebsa/faqs/faq_scheduleC.html) and in October 2009 (www.dol.gov/ebsa/faqs/faq-sch-C-supplement.html).  FAQ 40 and Supplemental FAQ 10 provides transition relief where a service provider makes reasonable, good faith efforts to develop systems to provide information as required under Schedule C, but is not able to update the recordkeeping and information management systems in time for the 2009 filing.  There have been requests to extend the transition relief further.  For example, the American Society of Pension Professionals & Actuaries in a July 5, 2011 letter to the DOL (at www.asppa.org/Document-Vault/pdfs/GAC/2011/752011schc-comment.aspx) requests an extension of the transition relief for any plan year filing that may include periods during the plan year that preceded the effective date of the final fee disclosure for service providers regulations under ERISA § 408(b)(2).