26 CFR 54.4980F-1 - Notice requirements for certain pension plan amendments significantly reducing the rate of future benefit accrual.

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§ 54.4980F-1 Notice requirements for certain pension plan amendments significantly reducing the rate of future benefit accrual.
The following questions and answers concern the notification requirements imposed by 4980F of the Internal Revenue Code and section 204(h) of ERISA relating to a plan amendment of an applicable pension plan that significantly reduces the rate of future benefit accrual or that eliminates or significantly reduces an early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy.
List of Questions
Q-1. What are the notice requirements of section 4980F(e) of the Internal Revenue Code and section 204(h) of ERISA?
Q-2. What are the differences between section 4980F and section 204(h)?
Q-3. What is an “applicable pension plan” to which section 4980F and section 204(h) apply?
Q-4. What is “section 204(h) notice” and what is a “section 204(h) amendment”?
Q-5. For which amendments is section 204(h) notice required?
Q-6. What is an amendment that reduces the rate of future benefit accrual or reduces an early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy for purposes of determining whether section 204(h) notice is required?
Q-7. What plan provisions are taken into account in determining whether an amendment is a section 204(h) amendment?
Q-8. What is the basic principle used in determining whether a reduction in the rate of future benefit accrual or a reduction in an early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy is significant for purposes of section 4980F and section 204(h)?
Q-9. When must section 204(h) notice be provided?
Q-10. To whom must section 204(h) notice be provided?
Q-11. What information is required to be provided in a section 204(h) notice?
Q-12. What special rules apply if participants can choose between the old and new benefit formulas?
Q-13. How may section 204(h) notice be provided?
Q-14. What are the consequences if a plan administrator fails to provide section 204(h) notice?
Q-15. What are some of the rules that apply with respect to the excise tax under section 4980F?
Q-16. How do section 4980F and section 204(h) apply when a business is sold?
Q-17. How are amendments to cease accruals and terminate a plan treated under section 4980F and section 204(h)?
Q-18. What are the effective dates of section 4980F, section 204(h), as amended by EGTRRA, and these regulations?
Questions and Answers
Q-1. What are the notice requirements of section 4980F(e) of the Internal Revenue Code and section 204(h) of ERISA?
A-1. (a) Requirements of Internal Revenue Code section 4980F(e) and ERISA section 204(h). Section 4980F of the Internal Revenue Code (section 4980F) and section 204(h) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1054(h) (section 204(h)) each generally requires notice of an amendment to an applicable pension plan that either provides for a significant reduction in the rate of future benefit accrual or that eliminates or significantly reduces an early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy. The notice is required to be provided to plan participants and alternate payees who are applicable individuals (as defined in Q&A-10 of this section), to certain employee organizations, and to contributing employers under a multiemployer plan (as described in Q&A-10(a) of this section). The plan administrator must generally provide the notice before the effective date of the plan amendment. Q&A-9 of this section sets forth the time frames for providing notice, Q&A-11 of this section sets forth the content requirements for the notice, and Q&A-12 of this section contains special rules for cases in which participants can choose between the old and new benefit formulas.
(b) Other notice requirements. Other provisions of law may require that certain parties be notified of a plan amendment. See, for example, sections 102 and 104 of ERISA, and the regulations thereunder, for requirements relating to summary plan descriptions and summaries of material modifications.
Q-2. What are the differences between section 4980F and section 204(h)?
A-2. The notice requirements of section 4980F generally are parallel to the notice requirements of section 204(h), as amended by the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, Public Law 107-16 (115 Stat. 38) (2001) (EGTRRA). However, the consequences of the failure to satisfy the requirements of the two provisions differ: Section 4980F imposes an excise tax on a failure to satisfy the notice requirements, while section 204(h)(6), as amended by EGTRRA, contains a special rule with respect to an egregious failure to satisfy the notice requirements. See Q&A-14 and Q&A-15 of this section. Except to the extent specifically indicated, these regulations apply both to section 4980F and to section 204(h).
Q-3. What is an “applicable pension plan” to which section 4980F and section 204(h) apply?
A-3. (a) In general.Section 4980F and section 204(h) apply to an applicable pension plan. For purposes of section 4980F, an applicable pension plan means a defined benefit plan qualifying under section 401(a) or 403(a) of the Internal Revenue Code, or an individual account plan that is subject to the funding standards of section 412 of the Internal Revenue Code. For purposes of section 204(h), an applicable pension plan means a defined benefit plan that is subject to part 2 of subtitle B of title I of ERISA, or an individual account plan that is subject to such part 2 and to the funding standards of section 412 of the Internal Revenue Code. Accordingly, individual account plans that are not subject to the funding standards of section 412 of the Internal Revenue Code, such as profit-sharing and stock bonus plans and contracts under section 403(b) of the Internal Revenue Code, are not applicable pension plans to which section 4980F or section 204(h) apply. Similarly, a defined benefit plan that neither qualifies under section 401(a) or 403(a) of the Internal Revenue Code nor is subject to part 2 of subtitle B of title I of ERISA is not an applicable pension plan. Further, neither a governmental plan (within the meaning of section 414(d) of the Internal Revenue Code), nor a church plan (within the meaning of section 414(e) of the Internal Revenue Code) with respect to which no election has been made under section 410(d) of the Internal Revenue Code is an applicable pension plan.
(b) Section 204(h) notice not required for small plans covering no employees. Section 204(h) notice is not required for a plan under which no employees are participants covered under the plan, as described in § 2510.3-3(b) of the Department of Labor regulations, and which has fewer than 100 participants.
Q-4. What is “section 204(h) notice” and what is a “section 204(h) amendment”?
A-4. (a) Section 204(h) notice is notice that complies with section 4980F(e) of the Internal Revenue Code, section 204(h)(1) of ERISA, and this section.
(b) A section 204(h) amendment is an amendment for which section 204(h) notice is required under this section.
Q-5. For which amendments is section 204(h) notice required?
A-5. (a) Significant reduction in the rate of future benefit accrual.Section 204(h) notice is required for an amendment to an applicable pension plan that provides for a significant reduction in the rate of future benefit accrual.
(b) Early retirement benefits and retirement-type subsidies. Section 204(h) notice is also required for an amendment to an applicable pension plan that provides for the significant reduction of an early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy. For purposes of this section, early retirement benefit and retirement-type subsidy mean early retirement benefits and retirement-type subsidies within the meaning of section 411(d)(6)(B)(i).
(c) Elimination or cessation of benefits. For purposes of this section, the terms reduce or reduction include eliminate or cease or elimination or cessation.
(d) Delegation of authority to Commissioner. The Commissioner may provide in revenue rulings, notices, or other guidance published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin (see§ 601.601(d)(2) of this chapter) that section 204(h) notice need not be provided for plan amendments otherwise described in paragraph (a) or (b) of this Q&A-5 that the Commissioner determines to be necessary or appropriate, as a result of changes in the law, to maintain compliance with the requirements of the Internal Revenue Code (including requirements for tax qualification), ERISA, or other applicable federal law.
Q-6. What is an amendment that reduces the rate of future benefit accrual or reduces an early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy for purposes of determining whether section 204(h) notice is required?
A-6. (a) In general. For purposes of determining whether section 204(h) notice is required, an amendment reduces the rate of future benefit accrual or reduces an early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy only as provided in paragraph (b) or (c) of this Q&A-6.
(b) Reduction in rate of future benefit accrual—
(1) Defined benefit plans. For purposes of section 4980F and section 204(h), an amendment to a defined benefit plan reduces the rate of future benefit accrual only if it is reasonably expected that the amendment will reduce the amount of the future annual benefit commencing at normal retirement age (or at actual retirement age, if later) for benefits accruing for a year. For this purpose, the annual benefit commencing at normal retirement age is the benefit payable in the form in which the terms of the plan express the accrued benefit (or, in the case of a plan in which the accrued benefit is not expressed in the form of an annual benefit commencing at normal retirement age, the benefit payable in the form of a single life annuity commencing at normal retirement age that is the actuarial equivalent of the accrued benefit expressed under the terms of the plan, as determined in accordance with section 411(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code).
(2) Individual account plans. For purposes of section 4980F and section 204(h), an amendment to an individual account plan reduces the rate of future benefit accrual only if it is reasonably expected that the amendment will reduce the amount of contributions or forfeitures allocated for any future year. Changes in the investments or investment options under an individual account plan are not taken into account for this purpose.
(3) Determination of rate of future benefit accrual. The rate of future benefit accrual for purposes of this paragraph (b) is determined without regard to optional forms of benefit within the meaning of § 1.411(d)-4, Q&A-1(b) of this chapter (other than the annual benefit described in paragraph (b)(1) of this Q&A-6). The rate of future benefit accrual is also determined without regard to ancillary benefits and other rights or features as defined in § 1.401(a)(4)-4(e) of this chapter.
(c) Reduction of early retirement benefits or retirement-type subsidies. For purposes of section 4980F and section 204(h), an amendment reduces an early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy only if it is reasonably expected that the amendment will eliminate or reduce an early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy.
Q-7. What plan provisions are taken into account in determining whether an amendment is a section 204(h) amendment?
A-7. (a) Plan provisions taken into account—-(1) In general. All plan provisions that may affect the rate of future benefit accrual, early retirement benefits, or retirement-type subsidies of participants or alternate payees must be taken into account in determining whether an amendment is a section 204(h) amendment. For example, plan provisions that may affect the rate of future benefit accrual include the dollar amount or percentage of compensation on which benefit accruals are based; the definition of service or compensation taken into account in determining an employee's benefit accrual; the method of determining average compensation for calculating benefit accruals; the definition of normal retirement age in a defined benefit plan; the exclusion of current participants from future participation; benefit offset provisions; minimum benefit provisions; the formula for determining the amount of contributions and forfeitures allocated to participants' accounts in an individual account plan; in the case of a plan using permitted disparity under section 401(l) of the Internal Revenue Code, the amount of disparity between the excess benefit percentage or excess contribution percentage and the base benefit percentage or base contribution percentage (all as defined in section 401(l) of the Internal Revenue Code); and the actuarial assumptions used to determine contributions under a target benefit plan (as defined in § 1.401(a)(4)-8(b)(3)(i) of this chapter). Plan provisions that may affect early retirement benefits or retirement-type subsidies include the right to receive payment of benefits after severance from employment and before normal retirement age and actuarial factors used in determining optional forms for distribution of retirement benefits.
(2) Provisions incorporated by reference in plan. If all or a part of a plan's rate of future benefit accrual, or an early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy provided under the plan, depends on provisions in another document that are referenced in the plan document, a change in the provisions of the other document is an amendment of the plan.
(b) Plan provisions not taken into account—
(1) In general. Plan provisions that do not affect the rate of future benefit accrual of participants or alternate payees are not taken into account in determining whether there has been a reduction in the rate of future benefit accrual.
(2) Interaction with section 411(d)(6). Any benefit that is not a section 411(d)(6) protected benefit as described in §§ 1.411(d)-3(g)(14) and 1.411(d)-4, Q&A-1(d) of this chapter, or that is a section 411(d)(6) protected benefit that may be eliminated or reduced as permitted under § 1.411(d)-3(c), (d), or (f), or under § 1.411(d)-4, Q&A-2(a)(2), (a)(3), (b)(1), or (b)(2)(ii) through (b)(2)(xi) of this chapter, is not taken into account in determining whether an amendment is a section 204(h) amendment. Thus, for example, provisions relating to the right to make after-tax deferrals are not taken into account.
(c) Examples. The following examples illustrate the rules in this Q&A-7:
Example 1.
(i) Facts. A defined benefit plan provides a normal retirement benefit equal to 50% of highest 5-year average pay multiplied by a fraction (not in excess of one), the numerator of which equals the number of years of participation in the plan and the denominator of which is 20. A plan amendment is adopted that changes the numerator or denominator of that fraction.
(ii) Conclusion. The plan amendment must be taken into account in determining whether there has been a reduction in the rate of future benefit accrual.
Example 2.
(i) Facts. Plan C is a multiemployer defined benefit plan subject to several collective bargaining agreements. The specific benefit formula under Plan C that applies to an employee depends on the hourly rate of contribution of the employee's employer, which is set forth in the provisions of the collective bargaining agreements that are referenced in the Plan C document. Collective Bargaining Agreement A between Employer B and the union representing employees of Employer B is renegotiated to provide that the hourly contribution rate for an employee of B who is subject to the Collective Bargaining Agreement A will decrease. That decrease will result in a decrease in the rate of future benefit accrual for employees of B.
(ii) Conclusion. Under paragraph (a)(2) of this Q&A-7, the change to Collective Bargaining Agreement A is a plan amendment that is a section 204(h) amendment if the reduction in the rate of future benefit accrual is significant.
Q-8. What is the basic principle used in determining whether a reduction in the rate of future benefit accrual or a reduction in an early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy is significant for purposes of section 4980F and section 204(h)?
A-8. (a) General rule. Whether an amendment reducing the rate of future benefit accrual or eliminating or reducing an early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy provides for a reduction that is significant for purposes of section 4980F (and section 204(h) of ERISA) is determined based on reasonable expectations taking into account the relevant facts and circumstances at the time the amendment is adopted, or, if earlier, at the effective date of the amendment.
(b) Application for determining significant reduction in the rate of future benefit accrual. For a defined benefit plan, the determination of whether an amendment provides for a significant reduction in the rate of future benefit accrual is made by comparing the amount of the annual benefit commencing at normal retirement age (or at actual retirement age, if later), as determined under Q&A-6(b)(1) of this section, under the terms of the plan as amended with the amount of the annual benefit commencing at normal retirement age (or at actual retirement age, if later), as determined under Q&A-6(b)(1) of this section, under the terms of the plan prior to amendment. For an individual account plan, the determination of whether an amendment provides for a significant reduction in the rate of future benefit accrual is made in accordance with Q&A-6(b)(2) of this section by comparing the amounts to be allocated in the future to participants' accounts under the terms of the plan as amended with the amounts to be allocated in the future to participants' accounts under the terms of the plan prior to amendment. An amendment to convert a money purchase pension plan to a profit-sharing or other individual account plan that is not subject to section 412 of the Internal Revenue Code is, in all cases, deemed to be an amendment that provides for a significant reduction in the rate of future benefit accrual.
(c) Application to certain amendments reducing early retirement benefits or retirement-type subsidies. Section 204(h) notice is not required for an amendment that reduces an early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy if the amendment is permitted under the third sentence of section 411(d)(6)(B) of the Internal Revenue Code and paragraphs (c), (d), and (f) of § 1.411(d)-3 of this chapter (relating to the elimination or reduction of benefits or subsidies which create significant burdens or complexities for the plan and plan participants unless the amendment adversely affects the rights of any participant in a more than de minimis manner). However, in determining whether an amendment reducing a retirement-type subsidy constitutes a significant reduction because it reduces a retirement-type subsidy as permitted under § 1.411(d)-3(e)(6) of this chapter, the amendment is treated in the same manner as an amendment that limits the retirement-type subsidy to benefits that accrue before the applicable amendment date (as defined at § 1.411(d)-3(g)(4) of this chapter) with respect to each participant or alternate payee to whom the reduction is reasonably expected to apply.
(d) Plan amendments reflecting a change in statutorily mandated minimum present value rules. If a defined benefit plan offers a distribution to which the minimum present value rules of section 417(e)(3) apply (other than a payment to which section 411(a)(13)(A) applies) and the plan is amended to reflect the changes to the applicable interest rate and applicable mortality table in section 417(e)(3) made by the Pension Protection Act of 2006, Public Law 109-780 (120 Stat. 780) (PPA '06) (and no change is made in the dates on which the payment will be made), no section 204(h) notice is required to be provided.
(e) Examples. The following examples illustrate the rules in this Q&A-8:
Example 1.
(i) Facts. Pension Plan A is a defined benefit plan that provides a rate of benefit accrual of 1% of highest-5 years pay multiplied by years of service, payable annually for life commencing at normal retirement age (or at actual retirement age, if later). An amendment to Plan A is adopted on August 1, 2009, effective January 1, 2010, to provide that any participant who separates from service after December 31, 2009, and before January 1, 2015, will have the same number of years of service he or she would have had if his or her service continued to December 31, 2014.
(ii) Conclusion. In this example, the effective date of the plan amendment is January 1, 2010. While the amendment will result in a reduction in the annual rate of future benefit accrual from 2011 through 2014 (because, under the amendment, benefits based upon an additional 5 years of service accrue on January 1, 2010, and no additional service is credited after January 1, 2010 until January 1, 2015), the amendment does not result in a reduction that is significant because the amount of the annual benefit commencing at normal retirement age (or at actual retirement age, if later) under the terms of the plan as amended is not under any conditions less than the amount of the annual benefit commencing at normal retirement age (or at actual retirement age, if later) to which any participant would have been entitled under the terms of the plan had the amendment not been made.
Example 2.
(i) Facts. The facts are the same as in Example 1, except that the 2009 amendment does not alter the plan provisions relating to a participant's number of years of service, but instead amends the plan's provisions relating to early retirement benefits. Before the amendment, the plan provides for distributions before normal retirement age to be actuarially reduced, but, if a participant retires after attainment of age 55 and completion of 10 years of service, the applicable early retirement reduction factor is 3% per year for the years between the ages 65 and 62 and 6% per year for the ages from 62 to 55. The amendment changes these provisions so that an actuarial reduction applies in all cases, but, in accordance with section 411(d)(6)(B), provides that no participant's early retirement benefit will be less than the amount provided under the plan as in effect on December 31, 2009 with respect to service before January 1, 2010. For participant X, the reduction is significant.
(ii) Conclusion. The amendment will result in a reduction in a retirement-type subsidy provided under Plan A (i.e., Plan A's early retirement subsidy). Section 204(h) notice must be provided to participant X and any other participant for whom the reduction is significant and the notice must be provided at least 45 days before January 1, 2010 (or by such other date as may apply under Q&A-9 of this section).
Example 3.
(i) Facts. The facts are the same as in Example 2, except that, for participant X, the change does not go into effect for any annuity commencement date before January 1, 2011. Participant X continues employment through January 1, 2011.
(ii) Conclusion. The conclusion is the same as in Example 2. Taking into account the rule in the second sentence of Q&A-8(c) of this section, the reduction that occurs for participant X on January 1, 2011, is treated as the same reduction that occurs under Example 2. Accordingly, assuming that the reduction is significant, section 204(h) notice must be provided to participant X at least 45 days before the January 1, 2010 effective date of the amendment (or by such other date as may apply under Q&A-9 of this section).
Q-9. When must section 204(h) notice be provided?
A-9. (a) 45-day general rule. Except as otherwise provided in this Q&A-9, section 204(h) notice must be provided at least 45 days before the effective date of any section 204(h) amendment. See paragraph (e) of this Q&A-9 for special rules for amendments permitting participant choice.
(b) 15-day rule for small plans. Except for amendments described in paragraphs (d)(2) and (g) of this Q&A-9, section 204(h) notice must be provided at least 15 days before the effective date of any section 204(h) amendment in the case of a small plan. For purposes of this section, a small plan is a plan that the plan administrator reasonably expects to have, on the effective date of the section 204(h) amendment, fewer than 100 participants who have an accrued benefit under the plan.
(c) 15-day rule for multiemployer plans. Except for amendments described in paragraphs (d)(2) and (g) of this Q&A-9, section 204(h) notice must be provided at least 15 days before the effective date of any section 204(h) amendment in the case of a multiemployer plan. For purposes of this section, a multiemployer plan means a multiemployer plan as defined in section 414(f) of the Internal Revenue Code.
(d) Special timing rule for business transactions—
(1) 15-day rule for section 204(h) amendment in connection with an acquisition or disposition. Except for amendments described in paragraphs (d)(2) and (g) of this Q&A-9, if a section 204(h) amendment is adopted in connection with an acquisition or disposition, section 204(h) notice must be provided at least 15 days before the effective date of the section 204(h) amendment.
(2) Later notice permitted for a section 204(h) amendment significantly reducing early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidies in connection with certain plan transfers, mergers, or consolidations. If a section 204(h) amendment is adopted with respect to liabilities that are transferred to another plan in connection with a transfer, merger, or consolidation of assets or liabilities as described in section 414(l) of the Internal Revenue Code and § 1.414(l)-1 of this chapter, the amendment is adopted in connection with an acquisition or disposition, and the amendment significantly reduces an early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy, but does not significantly reduce the rate of future benefit accrual, then section 204(h) notice must be provided no later than 30 days after the effective date of the section 204(h) amendment.
(3) Definition of acquisition or disposition. For purposes of this paragraph (d), see § 1.410(b)-2(f) of this chapter for the definition of acquisition or disposition.
(e) Timing rule for amendments permitting participant choice. In general, section 204(h) notice of a section 204(h) amendment that provides applicable individuals with a choice between the old and the new benefit formulas (as described in Q&A-12 of this section) must be provided in accordance with the time period applicable under paragraphs (a) through (d) of this Q&A-9. See Q&A-12 of this section for additional guidance regarding section 204(h) notice in connection with participant choice.
(f) Special timing rule for certain plans maintained by commercial airlines. See section 402 of PPA '06 for a special rule that applies to certain plans maintained by an employer that is a commercial passenger airline or the principal business of which is providing catering services to a commercial passenger airline. Under this special rule, section 204(h) notice must be provided at least 15 days before the effective date of the amendment.
(g) Special timing rules relating to certain section 204(h) amendments that reduce section 411(d)(6) protected benefits—
(1) Plan amendments permitted to reduce prior accruals. This paragraph (g) generally provides special rules with respect to a plan amendment that would not violate section 411(d)(6) even if the amendment were to reduce section 411(d)(6) protected benefits, which are limited to accrued benefits that are attributable to service before the applicable amendment date. For example, this paragraph (g) applies to amendments that are permitted to be effective retroactively under section 412(d)(2) of the Code (section 412(c)(8) for plan years beginning before January 1, 2008), section 418D of the Code, section 418E of the Code, section 4281 of ERISA, or section 1107 of PPA '06. See, generally, § 1.411(d)-3(a)(1).
(2) General timing rule for amendments to which this paragraph (g) applies. For an amendment to which this paragraph (g) applies, the amendment is effective on the first date on which the plan is operated as if the amendment were in effect. Thus, except as otherwise provided in this paragraph (g), a section 204(h) notice for an amendment to which paragraph (a) of this section applies that is adopted after the effective date of the amendment must be provided, with respect to any applicable individual, at least 45 days before (or such other date as may apply under paragraph (b), (c), (d), or (f) of this Q&A-9) the date the amendment is put into operational effect.
(3) Special rules for section 204(h) notices provided in connection with other disclosure requirements—
(i) In general. Notwithstanding the requirements in this Q&A-9 and Q&A-11 of this section, if a plan provides one of the notices in paragraph (g)(3)(ii) of this Q&A-9, in accordance with the applicable timing and content rules for such notice, the plan is treated as timely providing a section 204(h) notice with respect to a section 204(h) amendment.
(ii) Notice requirements. The notices in this paragraph (g)(3)(ii) are—
(A) A notice required under any revenue ruling, notice, or other guidance published under the authority of the Commissioner in the Internal Revenue Bulletin to affected parties in connection with a retroactive plan amendment described in section 412(d)(2) (section 412(c)(8) for plan years beginning before January 1, 2008);
(B) A notice required under section 101(j) of ERISA if an amendment is adopted to comply with the benefit limitation requirements of section 206(g) of ERISA (section 436 of the Code);
(C) A notice required under section 432(b)(3)(D) of the Code for an amendment adopted to comply with the benefit restrictions under section 432(f)(2);
(D) A notice required under section 418D, or section 4244A(b) of ERISA, for an amendment that reduces or eliminates accrued benefits attributable to employer contributions with respect to a multiemployer plan in reorganization;
(E) A notice required under section 418E, or section 4245(e) of ERISA, relating to the effects of the insolvency status for a multiemployer plan; and
(F) A notice required under section 4281 of ERISA for an amendment of a multiemployer plan reducing benefits pursuant to section 4281(c) of ERISA.
(4) Delegation of authority to Commissioner. The Commissioner may provide special rules under section 4980F, in revenue rulings, notices, or other guidance published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin (see§ 601.601(d)(2)(ii)(b) of this chapter), that the Commissioner determines to be necessary or appropriate with respect to a section 204(h) amendment—
(A) That applies to benefits accrued before the applicable amendment date but that does not violate section 411(d)(6); or
(B) For which there is a required notice relating to a reduction in benefits and such notice has timing and content requirements similar to a section 204(h) notice with respect to a significant reduction in the rate of future benefit accruals.
Q-10. To whom must section 204(h) notice be provided?
A-10. (a) In general.Section 204(h) notice must be provided to each applicable individual, to each employee organization representing participants who are applicable individuals, and, for plan years beginning after December 31, 2007, to each employer that has an obligation to contribute (within the meaning of section 4212(a) of ERISA) to a multiemployer plan. A special rule is provided in paragraph (d) of this Q&A-10.
(b) Applicable individual. Applicable individual means each participant in the plan, and any alternate payee, whose rate of future benefit accrual under the plan is reasonably expected to be significantly reduced, or for whom an early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy under the plan may reasonably be expected to be significantly reduced, by the section 204(h) amendment. The determination is made with respect to individuals who are reasonably expected to be participants or alternate payees in the plan at the effective date of the section 204(h) amendment.
(c) Alternate payee. Alternate payee means a beneficiary who is an alternate payee (within the meaning of section 414(p)(8) of the Internal Revenue Code) under an applicable qualified domestic relations order (within the meaning of section 414(p)(1)(A) of the Internal Revenue Code).
(d) Designees. Section 204(h) notice may be provided to a person designated in writing by an applicable individual or by an employee organization representing participants who are applicable individuals, instead of being provided to that applicable individual or employee organization. Any designation of a representative made through an electronic method that satisfies standards similar to those of Q&A-13(c)(1) of this section satisfies the requirement that a designation be in writing.
(e) Facts and circumstances test. Whether a participant or alternate payee is an applicable individual is determined on a typical business day that is reasonably proximate to the time the section 204(h) notice is provided (or at the latest date for providing section 204(h) notice, if earlier), based on all relevant facts and circumstances.
(f) Examples. The following examples illustrate the rules in this Q&A-10:
Example 1.
(i) Facts. A defined benefit plan requires an individual to complete 1 year of service to become a participant who can accrue benefits, and participants cease to accrue benefits under the plan at severance from employment with the employer. There are no alternate payees and employees are not represented by an employee organization. On November 18, 2004, the plan is amended effective as of January 1, 2005 to reduce significantly the rate of future benefit accrual. Section 204(h) notice is provided on November 1, 2004.
(ii) Conclusion.Section 204(h) notice is only required to be provided to individuals who, based on the facts and circumstances on November 1, 2004, are reasonably expected to have completed at least 1 year of service and to be employed by the employer on January 1, 2005.
Example 2.
(i) Facts. The facts are the same as in Example 1, except that the sole effect of the plan amendment is to alter the pre-amendment plan provisions under which benefits payable to an employee who retires after 20 or more years of service are unreduced for commencement before normal retirement age. The amendment requires 30 or more years of service in order for benefits commencing before normal retirement age to be unreduced, but the amendment only applies for future benefit accruals.
(ii) Conclusion.Section 204(h) notice is only required to be provided to individuals who, on January 1, 2005, have completed at least 1 year of service but less than 30 years of service, are employed by the employer, have not attained normal retirement age, and will have completed 20 or more years of service before normal retirement age if their employment continues to normal retirement age.
Example 3.
(i) Facts. A plan is amended to reduce significantly the rate of future benefit accrual for all current employees who are participants. Based on the facts and circumstances, it is reasonable to expect that the amendment will not reduce the rate of future benefit accrual of former employees who are currently receiving benefits or of former employees who are entitled to deferred vested benefits.
(ii) Conclusion. The plan administrator is not required to provide section 204(h) notice to any former employees.
Example 4.
(i) Facts. The facts are the same as in Example 3, except that the plan covers two groups of alternate payees. The alternate payees in the first group are entitled to a certain percentage or portion of the former spouse's accrued benefit and, for this purpose, the accrued benefit is determined at the time the former spouse begins receiving retirement benefits under the plan. The alternate payees in the second group are entitled to a certain percentage or portion of the former spouse's accrued benefit and, for this purpose, the accrued benefit was determined at the time the qualified domestic relations order was issued by the court.
(ii) Conclusion. It is reasonable to expect that the benefits to be received by the second group of alternate payees will not be affected by any reduction in a former spouse's rate of future benefit accrual. Accordingly, the plan administrator is not required to provide section 204(h) notice to the alternate payees in the second group.
Example 5.
(i) Facts. A plan covers hourly employees and salaried employees. The plan provides the same rate of benefit accrual for both groups. The employer amends the plan to reduce significantly the rate of future benefit accrual of the salaried employees only. At that time, it is reasonable to expect that only a small percentage of hourly employees will become salaried in the future.
(ii) Conclusion. The plan administrator is not required to provide section 204(h) notice to the participants who are currently hourly employees.
Example 6.
(i) Facts. A plan covers employees in Division M and employees in Division N. The plan provides the same rate of benefit accrual for both groups. The employer amends the plan to reduce significantly the rate of future benefit accrual of employees in Division M. At that time, it is reasonable to expect that in the future only a small percentage of employees in Division N will be transferred to Division M.
(ii) Conclusion. The plan administrator is not required to provide section 204(h) notice to the participants who are employees in Division N.
Example 7.
(i) Facts. The facts are the same facts as in Example 6, except that at the time the amendment is adopted, it is expected that thereafter Division N will be merged into Division M in connection with a corporate reorganization (and the employees in Division N will become subject to the plan's amended benefit formula applicable to the employees in Division M).
(ii) Conclusion. In this case, the plan administrator must provide section 204(h) notice to the participants who are employees in Division M and to the participants who are employees in Division N.
Example 8.
(i) Facts. A plan is amended to reduce significantly the rate of future benefit accrual for all current employees who are participants. The plan amendment will be effective on January 1, 2004. The plan will provide the notice to applicable individuals on October 31, 2003. In determining which current employees are applicable individuals, the plan administrator determines that October 1, 2003, is a typical business day that is reasonably proximate to the time the section 204(h) notice is provided.
(ii) Conclusion. In this case, October 1, 2003 is a typical business day that satisfies the requirements of Q&A-10(e) of this section.
Q-11. What information is required to be provided in a section 204(h) notice?
A-11. (a) Explanation of notice requirements—(1) In general.Section 204(h) notice must include sufficient information to allow applicable individuals to understand the effect of the plan amendment. In order to satisfy this rule, a plan administrator providing section 204(h) notice must generally satisfy paragraphs (a)(2), (a)(3), (a)(4), (a)(5), and (a)(6) of this Q&A-11. See paragraph (g)(3) of Q&A-9 of this section for special rules relating to section 204(h) notices provided in connection with certain other written notices. See also paragraph (g)(4) of Q&A-9 of this section for a delegation of authority to the Commissioner to provide special rules.
(2) Information in section 204(h) notice. The information in a section 204(h) notice must be written in a manner calculated to be understood by the average plan participant and to apprise the applicable individual of the significance of the notice.
(3) Required narrative description of amendment—
(i) Reduction in rate of future benefit accrual. In the case of an amendment reducing the rate of future benefit accrual, the notice must include a description of the benefit or allocation formula prior to the amendment, a description of the benefit or allocation formula under the plan as amended, and the effective date of the amendment.
(ii) Reduction in early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy. In the case of an amendment that reduces an early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy (other than as a result of an amendment reducing the rate of future benefit accrual), the notice must describe how the early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy is calculated from the accrued benefit before the amendment, how the early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy is calculated from the accrued benefit after the amendment, and the effective date of the amendment. For example, if, for a plan with a normal retirement age of 65, the change is from an unreduced normal retirement benefit at age 55 to an unreduced normal retirement benefit at age 60 for benefits accrued in the future, with an actuarial reduction to apply for benefits accrued in the future to the extent that the early retirement benefit begins before age 60, the notice must state the change and specify the factors that apply in calculating the actuarial reduction (for example, a 5% per year reduction applies for early retirement before age 60).
(4) Sufficient information to determine the approximate magnitude of reduction—
(i) General rule.
(A) Section 204(h) notice must include sufficient information for each applicable individual to determine the approximate magnitude of the expected reduction for that individual. Thus, in any case in which it is not reasonable to expect that the approximate magnitude of the reduction for each applicable individual will be reasonably apparent from the description of the amendment provided in accordance with paragraph (a)(3) of this Q&A-11, further information is required. The further information may be provided by furnishing additional narrative information or in other information that satisfies this paragraph of this section.
(B) To the extent any expected reduction is not uniformly applicable to all participants, the notice must either identify the general classes of participants to whom the reduction is expected to apply, or by some other method include sufficient information to allow each applicable individual receiving the notice to determine which reductions are expected to apply to that individual.
(ii) Illustrative examples—
(A) Requirement generally. The requirement to include sufficient information for each applicable individual to determine the approximate magnitude of the expected reduction for that individual under (a)(4)(i)(A) of this Q&A-11 is deemed satisfied if the notice includes one or more illustrative examples showing the approximate magnitude of the reduction in the examples, as provided in this paragraph (a)(4)(ii). Illustrative examples are in any event required to be provided for any change from a traditional defined benefit formula to a cash balance formula or a change that results in a period of time during which there are no accruals (or minimal accruals) with regard to normal retirement benefits or an early retirement subsidy (a wear-away period).
(B) Examples must bound the range of reductions. Where an amendment results in reductions that vary (either among participants, as would occur for an amendment converting a traditional defined benefit formula to a cash balance formula, or over time as to any individual participant, as would occur for an amendment that results in a wear-away period), the illustrative example(s) provided in accordance with this paragraph (a)(4)(ii) must show the approximate range of the reductions. However, any reductions that are likely to occur in only a de minimis number of cases are not required to be taken into account in determining the range of the reductions if a narrative statement is included to that effect and examples are provided that show the approximate range of the reductions in other cases. Amendments for which the maximum reduction occurs under identifiable circumstances, with proportionately smaller reductions in other cases, may be illustrated by one example illustrating the maximum reduction, with a statement that smaller reductions also occur. Further, assuming that the reduction varies from small to large depending on service or other factors, two illustrative examples may be provided showing the smallest likely reduction and the largest likely reduction.
(C) Assumptions used in examples. The examples provided under this paragraph (a)(4)(ii) are not required to be based on any particular form of payment (such as a life annuity or a single sum), but may be based on whatever form appropriately illustrates the reduction. The examples generally may be based on any reasonable assumptions (for example, assumptions relating to the representative participant's age, years of service, and compensation, along with any interest rate and mortality table used in the illustrations, as well as salary scale assumptions used in the illustrations for amendments that alter the compensation taken into account under the plan), but the section 204(h) notice must identify those assumptions. However, if a plan's benefit provisions include a factor that varies over time (such as a variable interest rate), the determination of whether an amendment is reasonably expected to result in a wear-away period must be based on the value of the factor applicable under the plan at a time that is reasonably close to the date section 204(h) notice is provided, and any wear-away period that is solely a result of a future change in the variable factor may be disregarded. For example, to determine whether a wear-away occurs as a result of a section 204(h) amendment that converts a defined benefit plan to a cash balance pension plan that will credit interest based on a variable interest factor specified in the plan, the future interest credits must be projected based on the interest rate applicable under the variable factor at the time section 204(h) notice is provided.
(D) Individual statements. This paragraph (a)(4)(ii) may be satisfied by providing a statement to each applicable individual projecting what that individual's future benefits are reasonably expected to be at various future dates and what that individual's future benefits would have been under the terms of the plan as in effect before the section 204(h) amendment, provided that the statement includes the same information required for examples under paragraphs (a)(4)(ii)(A) through (C) of this Q&A-11, including showing the approximate range of the reductions for the individual if the reductions vary over time and identification of the assumptions used in the projections.
(5) No false or misleading information. A section 204(h) notice may not include materially false or misleading information (or omit information so as to cause the information provided to be misleading).
(6) Additional information when reduction not uniform—
(i) In general. If an amendment by its terms affects different classes of participants differently (e.g., one new benefit formula will apply to Division A and another to Division B), then the requirements of paragraph (a) of this Q&A-11 apply separately with respect to each such general class of participants. In addition, the notice must include sufficient information to enable an applicable individual who is a participant to understand which class he or she is a member of.
(ii) Option for different section 204(h) notices. If a section 204(h) amendment affects different classes of applicable individuals differently, the plan administrator may provide to differently affected classes of applicable individuals a section 204(h) notice appropriate to those individuals. Such section 204(h) notice may omit information that does not apply to the applicable individuals to whom it is furnished, but must identify the class or classes of applicable individuals to whom it is provided.
(b) Examples. The following examples illustrate the requirements paragraph (a) of this Q&A-11. In each example, it is assumed that the actual notice provided is written in a manner calculated to be understood by the average plan participant and to apprise the applicable individual of the significance of the notice in accordance with paragraph (a)(2) of this Q&A-11. The examples are as follows:
Example 1.
(i) Facts. Plan A provides that a participant is entitled to a normal retirement benefit of 2% of the participant's average pay over the 3 consecutive years for which the average is the highest (highest average pay) multiplied by years of service. Plan A is amended to provide that, effective January 1, 2004, the normal retirement benefit will be 2% of the participant's highest average pay multiplied by years of service before the effective date, plus 1% of the participant's highest average pay multiplied by years of service after the effective date. The plan administrator provides notice that states: “Under the Plan's current benefit formula, a participant's normal retirement benefit is 2% of the participant's average pay over the 3 consecutive years for which the average is the highest multiplied by the participant's years of service. This formula is being changed by a plan amendment. Under the Plan as amended, a participant's normal retirement benefit will be the sum of 2% of the participant's average pay over the 3 consecutive years for which the average is the highest multiplied by years of service before the January 1, 2004 effective date, plus 1% of the participant's average pay over the 3 consecutive years for which the average is the highest multiplied by the participant's years of service after December 31, 2003. This change is effective on January 1, 2004.” The notice does not contain any additional information.
(ii) Conclusion. The notice satisfies the requirements of paragraph (a) of this Q&A-11.
Example 2.
(i) Facts. Plan B provides that a participant is entitled to a normal retirement benefit at age 64 of 2.2% of the participant's career average pay multiplied by years of service. Plan B is amended to cease all accruals, effective January 1, 2004. The plan administrator provides notice that includes a description of the old benefit formula, a statement that, after December 31, 2003, no participant will earn any further accruals, and the effective date of the amendment. The notice does not contain any additional information.
(ii) Conclusion. The notice satisfies the requirements of paragraph (a) of this Q&A-11.
Example 3.
(i) Facts. Plan C provides that a participant is entitled to a normal retirement benefit at age 65 of 2% of career average compensation multiplied by years of service. Plan C is amended to provide that the normal retirement benefit will be 1% of average pay over the 3 consecutive years for which the average is the highest multiplied by years of service. The amendment only applies to accruals for years of service after the amendment, so that each employee's accrued benefit is equal to the sum of the benefit accrued as of the effective date of the amendment plus the accrued benefit equal to the new formula applied to years of service beginning on or after the effective date. The plan administrator provides notice that describes the old and new benefit formulas and also explains that for an individual whose compensation increases over the individual's career such that the individual's highest 3-year average exceeds the individual's career average, the reduction will be less or there may be no reduction. The notice does not contain any additional information.
(ii) Conclusion. The notice satisfies the requirements of paragraph (a) of this Q&A-11.
Example 4.
(i) Facts. (A) Plan D is a defined benefit pension plan under which each participant accrues a normal retirement benefit, as a life annuity beginning at the normal retirement age of 65, equal to the participant's number of years of service multiplied by 1.5 percent multiplied by the participant's average pay over the 3 consecutive years for which the average is the highest. Plan D provides early retirement benefits for former employees beginning at or after age 55 in the form of an early retirement annuity that is actuarially equivalent to the normal retirement benefit, with the reduction for early commencement based on reasonable actuarial assumptions that are specified in Plan D. Plan D provides for the suspension of benefits of participants who continue in employment beyond normal retirement age, in accordance with section 203(a)(3)(B) of ERISA and regulations thereunder issued by the Department of Labor. The pension of a participant who retires after age 65 is calculated under the same normal retirement benefit formula, but is based on the participant's service credit and highest 3-year pay at the time of late retirement with any appropriate actuarial increases.
(B) Plan D is amended, effective July 1, 2005, to change the formula for all future accruals to a cash balance formula under which the opening account balance for each participant on July 1, 2005, is zero, hypothetical pay credits equal to 5 percent of pay are credited to the account thereafter, and hypothetical interest is credited monthly based on the applicable interest rate under section 417(e)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code at the beginning of the quarter. Any participant who terminates employment with vested benefits can receive an actuarially equivalent annuity (based on the same reasonable actuarial assumptions that are specified in Plan D) commencing at any time after termination of employment and before the plan's normal retirement age of 65. The benefit resulting from the hypothetical account balance is in addition to the benefit accrued before July 1, 2005 (taking into account only service and highest 3-year pay before July 1, 2005), so that it is reasonably expected that no wear-away period will result from the amendment. The plan administrator expects that, as a general rule, depending on future pay increases and future interest rates, the rate of future benefit accrual after the conversion is higher for participants who accrue benefits before approximately age 50 and after approximately age 70, but is lower for participants who accrue benefits between approximately age 50 and age 70.
(C) The plan administrator of Plan D announces the conversion to a cash balance formula on May 16, 2005. The announcement is delivered to all participants and includes a written notice that describes the old formula, the new formula, and the effective date.
(D) In addition, the notice states that the Plan D formula before the conversion provided a normal retirement benefit equal to the product of a participant's number of years of service multiplied by 1.5 percent multiplied by the participant's average pay over the 3 years for which the average is the highest (highest 3-year pay). The notice includes an example showing the normal retirement benefit that will be accrued after June 30, 2005 for a participant who is age 49 with 10 years of service at the time of the conversion. The plan administrator reasonably believes that such a participant is representative of the participants whose rate of future benefit accrual will be reduced as a result of the amendment. The example estimates that, if the participant continues employment to age 65, the participant's normal retirement benefit for service from age 49 to age 65 will be $657 per month for life. The example assumes that the participant's pay is $50,000 at age 49. The example states that the estimated $657 monthly pension accrues over the 16-year period from age 49 to age 65 and that, based on assumed future pay increases, this amount annually would be 9.1 percent of the participant's highest 3-year pay at age 65, which over the 16 years from age 49 to age 65 averages 0.57 percent per year multiplied by the participant's highest 3-year pay. The example also states that the sum of the monthly annuity accrued before the conversion in the 10-year period from age 39 to age 49 plus the $657 monthly annuity estimated to be accrued over the 16-year period from age 49 to age 65 is $1,235 and that, based on assumed future increases in pay, this would be 17.1 percent of the participant's highest 3-year pay at age 65, which over the employee's career from age 39 to age 65 averages 0.66 percent per year multiplied by the participant's highest 3-year pay. The notice also includes two other examples with similar information, one of which is intended to show the circumstances in which a small reduction may occur and the other of which shows the largest reduction that the plan administrator thinks is likely to occur. The notice states that the estimates are based on the assumption that pay increases annually after June 30, 2005, at a 4 percent rate. The notice also specifies that the applicable interest rate under section 417(e) for hypothetical interest credits after June 30, 2005 is assumed to be 6 percent, which is the section 417(e) of the Internal Revenue Code applicable interest rate under the plan for 2005.
(ii) Conclusion. The information in the notice, as described in paragraph (i)(C) and (i)(D) of this Example 4, satisfies the requirements of paragraph (a)(3) of this Q&A-11 with respect to applicable individuals who are participants. The requirements of paragraph (a)(4) of this Q&A-11 are satisfied because, as noted in paragraph (i)(D) of this Example 4, the notice describes the old formula and describes the estimated future accruals under the new formula in terms that can be readily compared to the old formula, i.e., the notice states that the estimated $657 monthly pension accrued over the 16-year period from age 49 to age 65 averages 0.57 percent of the participant's highest 3-year pay at age 65. The requirement in paragraph (a)(4)(ii) of this Q&A-11 that the examples include sufficient information to be able to determine the approximate magnitude of the reduction would also be satisfied if the notice instead directly stated the amount of the monthly pension that would have accrued over the 16-year period from age 49 to age 65 under the old formula.
Example 5.
(i) Facts. The facts are the same as in Example 4, except that, under the plan as in effect before the amendment, the early retirement pension for a participant who terminates employment after age 55 with at least 20 years of service is equal to the normal retirement benefit without reduction from age 65 to age 62 and reduced by only 5 percent per year for each year before age 62. As a result, early retirement benefits for such a participant constitute a retirement-type subsidy. The plan as in effect after the amendment provides an early retirement benefit equal to the sum of the early retirement benefit payable under the plan as in effect before the amendment taking into account only service and highest 3-year pay before July 1, 2005, plus an early retirement annuity that is actuarially equivalent to the account balance for service after June 30, 2005. The notice provided by the plan administrator describes the old early retirement annuity, the new early retirement annuity, and the effective date. The notice includes an estimate of the early retirement annuity payable to the illustrated participant for service after the conversion if the participant were to retire at age 59 (which the plan administrator believes is a typical early retirement age) and elect to begin receiving an immediate early retirement annuity. The example states that the normal retirement benefit expected to be payable at age 65 as a result of service from age 49 to age 59 is $434 per month for life beginning at age 65 and that the early retirement annuity expected to be payable as a result of service from age 49 to age 59 is $270 per month for life beginning at age 59. The example states that the monthly early retirement annuity of $270 is 38 percent less than the monthly normal retirement benefit of $434, whereas a 15 percent reduction would have applied under the plan as in effect before the amendment. The notice also includes similar information for examples that show the smallest and largest reduction that the plan administrator thinks is likely to occur in the early retirement benefit. The notice also specifies the applicable interest rate, mortality table, and salary scale used in the example to calculate the early retirement reductions.
(ii) Conclusion. The information in the notice, as described in paragraphs (i)(C) and (D) of Example 4 and paragraph (i) of this Example 5, satisfies the requirements of paragraph (a)(3) of this Q&A-11 with respect to applicable individuals who are participants. The requirements of paragraph (a)(4) of this Q&A-11 are satisfied because, as noted in paragraph (i) of this Example 5, the notice describes the early retirement subsidy under the old formula and describes the estimated early retirement pension under the new formula in terms that can be readily compared to the old formula, i.e., the notice states that the monthly early retirement pension of $270 is 38 percent less than the monthly normal retirement benefit of $434, whereas a 15 percent reduction would have applied under the plan as in effect before the amendment. The requirements of paragraph (a)(4)(ii) of this Q&A-11 that the examples include sufficient information to be able to determine the approximate magnitude of the reduction would also be satisfied if the notice instead directly stated the amount of the monthly early retirement pension that would be payable at age 59 under the old formula.
Q-12. What special rules apply if participants can choose between the old and new benefit formulas?
A-12. In any case in which an applicable individual can choose between the benefit formula (including any early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy) in effect before the section 204(h) amendment (old formula) or the benefit formula in effect after the section 204(h) amendment (new formula), section 204(h) notice has not been provided unless the applicable individual has been provided the information required under Q&A-11 of this section, and has also been provided sufficient information to enable the individual to make an informed choice between the old and new benefit formulas. The information required under Q&A-11 of this section must be provided by the date otherwise required under Q&A-9 of this section. The information sufficient to enable the individual to make an informed choice must be provided within a period that is reasonably contemporaneous with the date by which the individual is required to make his or her choice and that allows sufficient advance notice to enable the individual to understand and consider the additional information before making that choice.
Q-13. How may section 204(h) notice be provided?
A-13. (a) Delivering section 204(h) notice. A plan administrator (including a person acting on behalf of the plan administrator, such as the employer or plan trustee) must provide section 204(h) notice through a method that results in actual receipt of the notice or the plan administrator must take appropriate and necessary measures reasonably calculated to ensure that the method for providing section 204(h) notice results in actual receipt of the notice. Section 204(h) notice must be provided either in the form of a paper document or in an electronic form that satisfies the requirements of paragraph (c) of this Q&A-13. First class mail to the last known address of the party is an acceptable delivery method. Likewise, hand delivery is acceptable. However, the posting of notice is not considered provision of section 204(h) notice. Section 204(h) notice may be enclosed with or combined with other notice provided by the employer or plan administrator (for example, a notice of intent to terminate under title IV of ERISA). Except as provided in paragraph (c) of this Q&A-13, a section 204(h) notice is deemed to have been provided on a date if it has been provided by the end of that day. When notice is delivered by first class mail, the notice is considered provided as of the date of the United States postmark stamped on the cover in which the document is mailed.
(b) Example. The following example illustrates the provisions of paragraph (a) of this Q&A-13:
Example.
(i) Facts. Plan A is amended to reduce significantly the rate of future benefit accrual effective January 1, 2005. Under Q&A-9 of this section, section 204(h) notice is required to be provided at least 45 days before the effective date of the amendment. The plan administrator causes section 204(h) notice to be mailed to all affected participants. The mailing is postmarked November 16, 2004.
(ii) Conclusion. Because section 204(h) notice is given 45 days before the effective date of the plan amendment, it satisfies the timing requirement of Q&A-9 of this section.
(c) New technologies—
(1) General rule. A section 204(h) notice may be provided to an applicable individual through an electronic method (other than an oral communication or a recording of an oral communication), provided that all of the following requirements are satisfied:
(i) Either the notice is actually received by the applicable individual or the plan administrator takes appropriate and necessary measures reasonably calculated to ensure that the method for providing section 204(h) notice results in actual receipt of the notice by the applicable individual.
(ii) The section 204(h) notice is delivered using an electronic medium (other than an oral communication or a recording of an oral communication) under an electronic system that satisfies the applicable notice requirements of § 1.401(a)-21.
(iii) Special effective date. For plan years beginning prior to January 1, 2007, Q&A-13 of this section, as it appeared in the April 1, 2006 edition of 26 CFR part 1, applies.
(2) Examples. The following examples illustrate the requirement in paragraph (c)(1)(i) of this Q&A-13. In these examples, it is assumed that the notice satisfies the requirements in paragraphs (c)(1)(ii) of this section. The examples are as follows:
Example 1.
(i) Facts. On July 1, 2003, M, a plan administrator of Company N's plan, sends notice intended to constitute section 204(h) notice to A, an employee of Company N and a participant in the plan. The notice is sent through e-mail to A's e-mail address on Company N's electronic information system. Accessing Company N's electronic information system is not an integral part of A's duties. M sends the e-mail with a request for a computer-generated notification that the message was received and opened. M receives notification indicating that the e-mail was received and opened by A on July 9, 2003.
(ii) Conclusion. With respect to A, although M has failed to take appropriate and necessary measures reasonably calculated to ensure that the method for providing section 204(h) notice results in actual receipt of the notice, M satisfies the requirement of paragraph (c)(1)(i) of this Q&A-13 on July 9, 2003, which is when A actually receives the notice.
Example 2.
(i) Facts. On August 1, 2003, O, a plan administrator of Company P's plan, sends a notice intended to constitute section 204(h) notice of ERISA to B, who is an employee of Company P and a participant in Company P's plan. The notice is sent through e-mail to B's e-mail address on Company P's electronic information system. B has the ability to effectively access electronic documents from B's e-mail address on Company P's electronic information system and accessing the system is an integral part of B's duties.
(ii) Conclusion. Because access to the system is an integral part of B's duties, O has taken appropriate and necessary measures reasonably calculated to ensure that the method for providing section 204(h) notice results in actual receipt of the notice. Thus, regardless of whether B actually accesses B's email on that date, O satisfies the requirement of paragraph (c)(1)(i) of this Q&A-13 on August 1, 2003, with respect to B.
Q-14. What are the consequences if a plan administrator fails to provide section 204(h) notice?
A-14. (a) Egregious failures—(1) Effect of egregious failure to provide section 204(h) notice. Section 204(h)(6)(A) of ERISA provides that, in the case of any egregious failure to meet the notice requirements with respect to any plan amendment, the plan provisions are applied so that all applicable individuals are entitled to the greater of the benefit to which they would have been entitled without regard to the amendment, or the benefit under the plan with regard to the amendment. For a special rule applicable in the case of a plan termination, see Q&A-17(b) of this section.
(2) Definition of egregious failure. For purposes of section 204(h) of ERISA and this Q&A-14, there is an egregious failure to meet the notice requirements if a failure to provide required notice is within the control of the plan sponsor and is either an intentional failure or a failure, whether or not intentional, to provide most of the individuals with most of the information they are entitled to receive. For this purpose, an intentional failure includes any failure to promptly provide the required notice or information after the plan administrator discovers an unintentional failure to meet the requirements. A failure to give section 204(h) notice is deemed not to be egregious if the plan administrator reasonably determines, taking into account section 4980F, section 204(h), these regulations, other administrative pronouncements, and relevant facts and circumstances, that the reduction in the rate of future benefit accrual resulting from an amendment is not significant (as described in Q&A-8 of this section), or that an amendment does not significantly reduce an early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy.
(3) Example. The following example illustrates the provisions of this paragraph (a):
Example.
(i) Facts. Plan A is amended to reduce significantly the rate of future benefit accrual effective January 1, 2003. Section 204(h) notice is required to be provided 45 days before January 1, 2003. Timely section 204(h) notice is provided to all applicable individuals (and to each employee organization representing participants who are applicable individuals), except that the employer intentionally fails to provide section 204(h) notice to certain participants until May 16, 2003.
(ii) Conclusion. The failure to provide section 204(h) notice is egregious. Accordingly, for the period from January 1, 2003 through June 30, 2003 (which is the date that is 45 days after May 16, 2003), all participants and alternate payees are entitled to the greater of the benefit to which they would have been entitled under Plan A as in effect before the amendment or the benefit under the plan as amended.
(b) Effect of non-egregious failure to provide section 204(h) notice. If an egregious failure has not occurred, the amendment with respect to which section 204(h) notice is required may become effective with respect to all applicable individuals. However, see section 502 of ERISA for civil enforcement remedies. Thus, where there is a failure, whether or not egregious, to provide section 204(h) notice in accordance with this section, individuals may have recourse under section 502 of ERISA.
(c) Excise taxes. See section 4980F and Q&A-15 of this section for excise taxes that may apply to a failure to notify applicable individuals of a pension plan amendment that provides for a significant reduction in the rate of future benefit accrual or eliminates or significantly reduces an early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy, regardless of whether or not the failure is egregious.
Q-15. What are some of the rules that apply with respect to the excise tax under section 4980F?
A-15. (a) Person responsible for excise tax. In the case of a plan other than a multiemployer plan, the employer is responsible for reporting and paying the excise tax. In the case of a multiemployer plan, the plan is responsible for reporting and paying the excise tax.
(b) Excise tax inapplicable in certain cases. Under section 4980F(c)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code, no excise tax is imposed on a failure for any period during which it is established to the satisfaction of the Commissioner that the employer (or other person responsible for the tax) exercised reasonable diligence, but did not know that the failure existed. Under section 4980F(c)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code, no excise tax applies to a failure to provide section 204(h) notice if the employer (or other person responsible for the tax) exercised reasonable diligence and corrects the failure within 30 days after the employer (or other person responsible for the tax) first knew, or exercising reasonable diligence would have known, that such failure existed. For purposes of section 4980F(c)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code, a person has exercised reasonable diligence, but did not know that the failure existed if and only if—
(1) The person exercised reasonable diligence in attempting to deliver section 204(h) notice to applicable individuals by the latest date permitted under this section; and
(2) At the latest date permitted for delivery of section 204(h) notice, the person reasonably believes that section 204(h) notice was actually delivered to each applicable individual by that date.
(c) Example. The following example illustrates the provisions of paragraph (b) of this Q&A-15:
Example.
(i) Facts. Plan A is amended to reduce significantly the rate of future benefit accrual. The employer sends out a section 204(h) notice to all affected participants and other applicable individuals and to any employee organization representing applicable individuals, including actual delivery by hand to employees at worksites and by first-class mail for any other applicable individual and to any employee organization representing applicable individuals. However, although the employer exercises reasonable diligence in seeking to deliver the notice, the notice is not delivered to any participants at one worksite due to a failure of an overnight delivery service to provide the notice to appropriate personnel at that site for them to timely hand deliver the notice to affected employees. The error is discovered when the employer subsequently calls to confirm delivery. Appropriate section 204(h) notice is then promptly delivered to all affected participants at the worksite.
(ii) Conclusion. Because the employer exercised reasonable diligence, but did not know that a failure existed, no excise tax applies, assuming that participants at the worksite receive section 204(h) notice within 30 days after the employer first knew, or exercising reasonable diligence would have known, that the failure occurred.
Q-16. How do section 4980F and section 204(h) apply when a business is sold?
A-16. (a) Generally. Whether section 204(h) notice is required in connection with the sale of a business depends on whether a plan amendment is adopted that significantly reduces the rate of future benefit accrual or significantly reduces an early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy.
(b) Examples. The following examples illustrate the rules of this Q&A-16:
Example 1.
(i) Facts. Corporation Q maintains Plan A, a defined benefit plan that covers all employees of Corporation Q, including employees in its Division M. Plan A provides that participating employees cease to accrue benefits when they cease to be employees of Corporation Q. On January 1, 2006, Corporation Q sells all of the assets of Division M to Corporation R. Corporation R maintains Plan B, which covers all of the employees of Corporation R. Under the sale agreement, employees of Division M become employees of Corporation R on the date of the sale (and cease to be employees of Corporation Q), Corporation Q continues to maintain Plan A following the sale, and the employees of Division M become participants in Plan B.
(ii) Conclusion. No section 204(h) notice is required because no plan amendment was adopted that reduced the rate of future benefit accrual. The employees of Division M who become employees of Corporation R ceased to accrue benefits under Plan A because their employment with Corporation Q terminated.
Example 2.
(i) Facts. Subsidiary Y is a wholly owned subsidiary of Corporation S. Subsidiary Y maintains Plan C, a defined benefit plan that covers employees of Subsidiary Y. Corporation S sells all of the stock of Subsidiary Y to Corporation T. At the effective date of the sale of the stock of Subsidiary Y, in accordance with the sale agreement between Corporation S and Corporation T, Subsidiary Y amends Plan C so that all benefit accruals cease.
(ii) Conclusion.Section 204(h) notice is required to be provided because Subsidiary Y adopted a plan amendment that significantly reduced the rate of future benefit accrual in Plan C.
Example 3.
(i) Facts. As a result of an acquisition, Corporation U maintains two defined benefit plans: Plan D covers employees of Division N and Plan E covers the rest of the employees of Corporation U. Plan E provides a significantly lower rate of future benefit accrual than Plan D. Plan D is merged with Plan E, and all of the employees of Corporation U will accrue benefits under the merged plan in accordance with the benefit formula of former Plan E.
(ii) Conclusion.Section 204(h) notice is required.
Example 4.
(i) Facts. The facts are the same as in Example 3, except that the rate of future benefit accrual in Plan E is not significantly lower. In addition, Plan D has a retirement-type subsidy that Plan E does not have and the Plan D employees' rights to the subsidy under the merged plan are limited to benefits accrued before the merger.
(ii) Conclusion.Section 204(h) notice is required for any participants or beneficiaries for whom the reduction in the retirement-type subsidy is significant (and for any employee organization representing such participants).
Example 5.
(i) Facts. Corporation V maintains several plans, including Plan F, which covers employees of Division P. Plan F provides that participating employees cease to accrue further benefits under the plan when they cease to be employees of Corporation V. Corporation V sells all of the assets of Division P to Corporation W, which maintains Plan G for its employees. Plan G provides a significantly lower rate of future benefit accrual than Plan F. Plan F is merged with Plan G as part of the sale, and employees of Division P who become employees of Corporation W will accrue benefits under the merged plan in accordance with the benefit formula of former Plan G.
(ii) Conclusion. No section 204(h) notice is required because no plan amendment was adopted that reduces the rate of future benefit accrual or eliminates or significantly reduces an early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy. Under the terms of Plan F as in effect prior to the merger, employees of Division P cease to accrue any further benefits (including benefits with respect to early retirement benefits and any retirement-type subsidy) under Plan F after the date of the sale because their employment with Corporation V terminated.
Q-17. How are amendments to cease accruals and terminate a plan treated under section 4980F and section 204(h)?
A-17. (a) General rule—(1) Rule. An amendment providing for the cessation of benefit accruals on a specified future date and for the termination of a plan is subject to section 4980F and section 204(h).
(2) Example. The following example illustrates the rule of paragraph (a)(1) of this Q&A-17:
Example.
(i) Facts. An employer adopts an amendment that provides for the cessation of benefit accruals under a defined benefit plan on December 31, 2003, and for the termination of the plan pursuant to title IV of ERISA as of a proposed termination date that is also December 31, 2003. As part of the notice of intent to terminate required under title IV in order to terminate the plan, the plan administrator gives section 204(h) notice of the amendment ceasing accruals, which states that benefit accruals will cease “on December 31, 2003 whether or not the plan is terminated on that date.” However, because all the requirements of title IV for a plan termination are not satisfied, the plan cannot be terminated until a date that is later than December 31, 2003.
(ii) Conclusion. Nonetheless, because section 204(h) notice was given stating that the plan was amended to cease accruals on December 31, 2003, section 204(h) does not prevent the amendment to cease accruals from being effective on December 31, 2003. The result would be the same had the section 204(h) notice informed the participants that the plan was amended to provide for a proposed termination date of December 31, 2003 and to provide that “benefit accruals will cease on the proposed termination date whether or not the plan is terminated on that date.” However, neither section 4980F nor section 204(h) would be satisfied with respect to the December 31, 2003 effective date if the section 204(h) notice had merely stated that benefit accruals would cease “on the termination date” or “on the proposed termination date.”
(3) Additional requirements under title IV of ERISA. See29 CFR 4041.23(b)(4) and 4041.43(b)(5) for special rules applicable to plans terminating under title IV of ERISA.
(b) Terminations in accordance with title IV of ERISA. A plan that is terminated in accordance with title IV of ERISA is deemed to have satisfied section 4980F and section 204(h) not later than the termination date (or date of termination, as applicable) established under section 4048 of ERISA. Accordingly, neither section 4980F nor section 204(h) would in any event require that any additional benefits accrue after the effective date of the termination.
(c) Amendment effective before termination date of a plan subject to title IV of ERISA. To the extent that an amendment providing for a significant reduction in the rate of future benefit accrual or a significant reduction in an early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy has an effective date that is earlier than the termination date (or date of termination, as applicable) established under section 4048 of ERISA, that amendment is subject to section 4980F and section 204(h). Accordingly, the plan administrator must provide section 204(h) notice (either separately, with, or as part of the notice of intent to terminate) with respect to such an amendment.
Q-18. What are the effective dates of section 4980F, section 204(h), as amended by EGTRRA, and these regulations?
A-18. (a) Statutory effective date—(1) General rule.Section 4980F and section 204(h), as amended by EGTRRA, apply to plan amendments taking effect on or after June 7, 2001 (statutory effective date), which is the date of enactment of EGTRRA.
(2) Transition rule. For amendments applying after the statutory effective date in paragraph (a)(1) of this Q&A-18 and prior to the regulatory effective date in paragraph (c) of this Q&A-18, the requirements of section 4980F(e)(2) and (3) of the Internal Revenue Code and section 204(h), as amended by EGTRRA, are treated as satisfied if the plan administrator makes a reasonable, good faith effort to comply with those requirements.
(3) Special notice rule—
(i) In general. Notwithstanding Q&A-9 of this section, section 204(h) notice is not required by section 4980F(e) of the Internal Revenue Code or section 204(h), as amended by EGTRRA, to be provided prior to September 7, 2001 (the date that is three months after the date of enactment of EGTRRA).
(ii) Reasonable notice. The requirements of section 4980F and section 204(h), as amended by EGTRRA, do not apply to any plan amendment that takes effect on or after June 7, 2001 if, before April 25, 2001, notice was provided to participants and beneficiaries adversely affected by the plan amendment (and their representatives) which was reasonably expected to notify them of the nature and effective date of the plan amendment. For purposes of this paragraph (a)(3)(ii), notice that complies with § 1.411(d)-6 of this chapter, as it appeared in the April 1, 2001 edition of 26 CFR part 1, is deemed to be notice which was reasonably expected to notify participants and beneficiaries adversely affected by the plan amendment (and their representatives) of the nature and effective date of the plan amendment.
(4) Special effective date for certain section 204(h) amendments made by plans of commercial airlines. Section 402 of PPA '06 applies to section 204(h) amendments adopted in plan years ending after August 17, 2006.
(5) Special effective date for rule relating to contributing employers. Section 502(c) of PPA '06, which amended section 4980F(e)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code, applies to section 204(h) amendments adopted in plan years beginning after December 31, 2007.
(b) Regulatory effective date—
(1) General effective date. Except as otherwise provided in this paragraph (b) of this section, Q&A-1 through Q&A-18 of this section apply to amendments with an effective date that is on or after September 1, 2003.
(2) Effective date for Q&A-7(a)(2). Q&A-7(a)(2) of this section applies to amendments with an effective date that is on or after January 1, 2004.
(3) Effective dates for Q&A-9(g)(1), (g)(3), and (g)(4)—
(i) General effective date. Except as otherwise provided in Q&A-18(b)(3)(ii) or (b)(3)(iii) of this section, Q&A-9(g)(1), (g)(3), and (g)(4) of this section apply to amendments that are effective on or after January 1, 2008.
(ii) Effective dates for Q&A-9(g)(2) and Q&A-7(b). Except as otherwise provided in Q&A-18(b)(3)(iii) of this section, Q&A-9(g)(2) and Q&A-7(b) of this section apply to section 204(h) amendments adopted in plan years beginning after July 1, 2008.
(iii) Special rules for section 204(h) amendments to an applicable defined benefit plan. Except as otherwise provided in paragraph (b)(3)(i) or (b)(3)(ii) of this Q&A-18, with respect to any section 204(h) notice provided in connection with a section 204(h) amendment to an applicable defined benefit plan within the meaning of section 411(a)(13)(C)(i) to limit distributions as permitted under section 411(a)(13)(A) for distributions made after August 17, 2006, that is made pursuant to section 701 of PPA '06, paragraphs (g)(1) and (g)(2) of Q&A-9 of this section apply to amendments that are effective after December 21, 2006. For such an amendment that is effective not later than December 31, 2008, section 204(h) notice does not fail to be timely if the notice is provided at least 30 days, rather than 45 days, before the date that the amendment is first effective.
(c) Amendments taking effect prior to June 7, 2001. For rules applicable to amendments taking effect prior to June 7, 2001, see§ 1.411(d)-6 of this chapter, as it appeared in the April 1, 2001 edition of 26 CFR part 1.
[T.D. 9052, 68 FR 17281, Apr. 9, 2003, as amended by T.D. 9219, 70 FR 47126, Aug. 12, 2005; T.D. 9294, 71 FR 61888, Oct. 20, 2006; T.D. 9472, 74 FR 61276, Nov. 24, 2009]

Title 26 published on 2013-04-01

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  • 2014-10-01; vol. 79 # 190 - Wednesday, October 1, 2014
    1. 79 FR 59130 - Amendments to Excepted Benefits
      GPO FDSys XML | Text
      DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY, Employee Benefits Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service
      Final rules.
      Effective date. These final regulations are effective on December 1, 2014. Applicability date. These final regulations apply to group health plans and group health insurance issuers for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2015.
      26 CFR Part 54

Title 26 published on 2013-04-01

The following are ALL rules, proposed rules, and notices (chronologically) published in the Federal Register relating to 26 CFR 54 after this date.

  • 2014-10-01; vol. 79 # 190 - Wednesday, October 1, 2014
    1. 79 FR 59130 - Amendments to Excepted Benefits
      GPO FDSys XML | Text
      DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY, Employee Benefits Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service
      Final rules.
      Effective date. These final regulations are effective on December 1, 2014. Applicability date. These final regulations apply to group health plans and group health insurance issuers for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2015.
      26 CFR Part 54