On August 18, 2020, the DOL announced an interim final rule regarding lifetime income illustrations for participant benefit statements. The rule’s requirements are applicable to defined contribution plans, which would include 401(k) plans.
As background, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019 (SECURE Act) amended ERISA Section 105 to require an annual income disclosure to be included as part of a participant’s benefit statement. The disclosure is intended to help a participant understand how their account balance translates into monthly income at retirement. As a result, a participant may be better able to prepare for retirement and assess whether current contributions should be increased to achieve retirement income goals.
Accordingly, the disclosure would reflect the monthly payment amounts the participant would receive if their total account balance were used to provide a single life annuity (SLA) for the participant or a qualified joint and survivor annuity (QJSA) that would also provide a benefit for a surviving spouse. As prescribed by the SECURE Act, the interim final rule sets forth the specific assumptions upon which these lifetime income payments would be based.
The first assumption is the annuity commencement date, which is the last day of the statement period. For example, if the annual disclosure was included with the fourth quarter statement, the annuity starting date would be December 31. Second, the assumed age on the annuity starting date is 67, which was chosen because it is the Social Security full retirement age of most workers. However, for participants older than age 67, their actual age must be used instead.
The third assumption focuses upon the specific characteristics of the SLA and QJSA benefits for purposes of the illustrations. The SLA benefit must reflect a single life annuity, which will pay a fixed monthly amount for the life of the participant, with no survivor benefit upon the participant’s death. The QJSA benefit assumes that all participants have a spouse of equal age and provides a 100% survivor annuity, so the same fixed monthly amount would continue for the life of the participant or surviving spouse upon the participant’s death.
Fourth, the assumed interest rate is the 10 year constant maturity Treasury rate, which was selected because it approximates the rates used by insurers for immediate annuities. Finally, the assumed life expectancies are to be based upon gender neutral mortality tables that are currently used by defined benefit pension plans to determine lump sum payments.
Explanations must also be provided to participants that describe how the illustrative payments were calculated and that emphasize the portrayed estimates are not guarantees. Model language is provided for this purpose. Plan administrators can either insert the eleven model provisions into their existing statement formats or attach one of the Model Benefit Statement Supplements as an addendum.
Significantly, the rule provides ERISA liability relief to plan sponsors and fiduciaries for providing lifetime income illustrations that conform to the specified requirements. This relief was intended to address sponsor concerns of potential participant lawsuits if their actual monthly payments at retirement were less than the statement projections.
Defined contribution plan sponsors should be aware of the interim final rule’s requirements and consult with their service providers regarding incorporation of the disclosures in participant benefit statements. The rule is effective one year from publication in the federal register and applies to benefit statements provided after such date.
Source: NFP BenefitsPartners