§ 2509.99-1Interpretive Bulletin Relating to Payroll Deduction IRAs.
(a) Scope. This interpretive bulletin sets forth the Department of Labor's (the Department's) interpretation of section 3(2)(A) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended, (ERISA) and 29 CFR 2510.3-2(d), as applied to payroll deduction programs established by employers 1 for the purpose of enabling employees to make voluntary contributions to individual retirement accounts or individual retirement annuities (IRAs) described in section 408(a) or (b) or section 408A of the Internal Revenue Code (the Code).
1 The views expressed in this Interpretive Bulletin with respect to payroll deduction programs of employers are also generally applicable to dues checkoff programs of employee organizations.
(b) General. It has been the Department's long-held view that an employer who simply provides employees with the opportunity for making contributions to an IRA through payroll deductions does not thereby establish a “pension plan” within the meaning of section 3 (2) (A) of ERISA. In this regard, 29 CFR 2510.3-2 (d) sets forth a safe harbor under which IRAs will not be considered to be pension plans when the conditions of the regulation are satisfied. Thus, an employer may, with few constraints, provide to its employees an opportunity for saving for retirement, under terms and conditions similar to those of certain other optional payroll deduction programs, such as for automatic savings deposits or purchases of United States savings bonds, without thereby creating a pension plan under Title I of ERISA. The guidance provided herein is intended to clarify the application of the IRA safe harbor set forth at 29 CFR 2510.3-2 (d) and, thereby, facilitate the establishment of payroll deduction IRAs.
(c) Employee communications. (1) It is the Department's view that, so long as an employer maintains neutrality with respect to an IRA sponsor in its communications with its employees, the employer will not be considered to “endorse” an IRA payroll deduction program for purposes of 29 CFR 2510.3-2(d). 2 An employer may encourage its employees to save for retirement by providing general information on the IRA payroll deduction program and other educational materials that explain the advisability of retirement savings, including the advantages of contributing to an IRA, without thereby converting the program under which the employees' wages are withheld for contribution into the IRAs into an ERISA covered plan. However, the employer must make clear that its involvement in the program is limited to collecting the deducted amounts and remitting them promptly to the IRA sponsor and that it does not provide any additional benefit or promise any particular investment return on the employee's savings.
2 The Department has specifically stated, in its Advisory Opinions, that an employer may demonstrate its neutrality with respect to an IRA sponsor in a variety of ways, including (but not limited to) by ensuring that any materials distributed to employees in connection with an IRA payroll deduction program clearly and prominently state, in language reasonably calculated to be understood by the average employee, that the IRA payroll deduction program is completely voluntary; that the employer does not endorse or recommend either the sponsor or the funding media; that other IRA funding media are available to employees outside the payroll deduction program; that an IRA may not be appropriate for all individuals; and that the tax consequences of contributing to an IRA through the payroll deduction program are generally the same as the consequences of contributing to an IRA outside the program. The employer would not be considered neutral, in the Department's view, to the extent that the materials distributed to employees identified the funding medium as having as one of its purposes investing in securities of the employer or its affiliates or the funding medium in fact has any significant investments in such securities. If the IRA program were a result of an agreement between the employer and an employee organization, the Department would view informational materials that identified the funding medium as having as one of its purposes investing in an investment vehicle that is designed to benefit an employee organization by providing more jobs for its members, loans to its members, or similar direct benefits (or the funding medium's actual investments in any such investment vehicles) as indicating the employee organization's involvement in the program in excess of the limitations of 29 CFR 2510.3-2 (d).
(2) The employer may also do the following without converting a payroll deduction IRA program into an ERISA plan: An employer may answer employees' specific inquiries about the mechanics of the IRA payroll deduction program and may refer other inquiries to the appropriate IRA sponsor. An employer may provide to employees informational materials written by the IRA sponsor describing the sponsor's IRA programs or addressing topics of general interest regarding investments and retirement savings, provided that the material does not itself suggest that the employer is other than neutral with respect to the IRA sponsor and its products; the employer may request that the IRA sponsor prepare such informational materials and it may review such materials for appropriateness and completeness. The fact that the employer's name or logo is displayed in the informational materials in connection with describing the payroll deduction program would not in and of itself, in the Department's view, suggest that the employer has “endorsed” the IRA sponsor or its products, provided that the specific context and surrounding facts and circumstances make clear to the employees that the employer's involvement is limited to facilitating employee contributions through payroll deductions. 3
3 For example, if the employer whose logo appeared on the promotional materials provided a statement along the lines of in the first sentence of footnote 5, the employer would not be considered to have endorsed the IRA product.
(d) Employer Limitations on the number of IRA sponsors offered under the program. The Department recognizes that the cost of permitting employees to make IRA contributions through payroll deductions may be significantly affected by the number of IRA sponsors to which the employer must remit contributions. It is the view of the Department that an employer may limit the number of IRA sponsors to which employees may make payroll deduction contributions without exceeding the limitations of 29 CFR 2510.3-2(d), provided that any limitations on, or costs or assessments associated with an employee's ability to transfer or roll over IRA contributions to another IRA sponsor is fully disclosed in advance of the employee's decision to participate in the program. The employer may select one IRA sponsor as the designated recipient for payroll deduction contributions, or it may establish criteria by which to select IRA sponsors, e.g., standards relating to the sponsor's provision of investment education, forms, availability to answer employees' questions, etc., and may periodically review its selectees to determine whether to continue to designate them. However, an employer may be considered to be involved in the program beyond the limitations set forth in 29 CFR 2510.3-2(d) if the employer negotiates with an IRA sponsor and thereby obtains special terms and conditions for its employees that are not generally available to similar purchasers of the IRA. The employer's involvement in the IRA program would also be in excess of the limitations of the regulation if the employer exercises any influence over the investments made or permitted by the IRA sponsor.
(e) Administrative fees. The employer may pay any fee the IRA sponsor imposes on employers for services the sponsor provides in connection with the establishment and maintenance of the payroll deduction process itself, without exceeding the limitations of 29 CFR 2510.3-2(d). Further, the employer may assume the internal costs (such as for overhead, bookkeeping, etc) of implementing and maintaining the payroll deduction program without reimbursement from either employees or the IRA sponsor without exceeding the limits of the regulation. However, if an employer pays, in connection with operating an IRA payroll deduction program, any administrative, investment management, or other fee that the IRA sponsor would require employees to pay for establishing or maintaining the IRA, the employer would, in the view of the Department, fall outside the safe harbor and, as a result, may be considered to have established a “pension plan” for its employees.
(f) Reasonable Compensation for Services.29 CFR 2510.3-2(d) provides that an employer may not receive any consideration in connection with operating an IRA payroll deduction program, but may be paid “reasonable compensation for services actually rendered in connection with payroll deductions or dues checkoffs.” Employers have asked whether “reasonable compensation” under section 2510.3-2(d) includes payments from an IRA sponsor to an employer for the employer's cost of operating the IRA payroll deduction program. It is the Department's view that the IRA sponsor may make such payments, to the extent that they constitute compensation for the actual costs of the program to the employer. However, “reasonable compensation” does not include any profit to the employer. See29 CFR 2510.3-1(j), relating to group or group-type insurance programs. For example, if an IRA sponsor offers to pay an employer an amount equal to a percentage of the assets contributed by employees to IRAs through payroll deduction, such an arrangement might exceed “reasonable compensation” for the services actually rendered by the employer in connection with the IRA payroll deduction program. An employer will also be considered to have received consideration that is not “reasonable compensation” if the IRA sponsor agrees to make or to permit particular investments of IRA contributions in consideration for the employer's agreement to make a payroll deduction program available to its employees, or if the IRA sponsor agrees to extend credit to or for the benefit of the employer in return for the employer's making payroll deduction available to the employees.
(g) Additional rules when employer is IRA sponsor or affiliate of IRA sponsor. Under certain circumstances, an employer that offers IRAs in the normal course of its business to the general public or that is an affiliate 4 of an IRA sponsor may provide its employees with the opportunity to make contributions to IRAs sponsored by the employer or the affiliate through a payroll deduction program, without exceeding the limitations of § 2510.3-2(d). If the IRA products offered to the employees for investment of the payroll deduction contributions are identical to IRA products the sponsor offers the general public in the ordinary course of its business, and any management fees, sales commissions, and the like charged by the IRA sponsor to employees participating in the payroll deduction program are the same as those charged by the sponsor to employees of non-affiliated employers that establish an IRA payroll deduction program, the Department has generally taken the position that this alone will not cause the employer to be sufficiently involved in the IRA program as an employer or to have received consideration of the type prohibited under § 2510.2(d)(iv) to warrant the program being considered outside the safe harbor of the regulation. 5 Under such circumstances, the employer, in offering payroll deduction contribution opportunities to its employees, would appear to be acting generally as an IRA sponsor, rather than as the employer of the individuals who make the contributions. 6
4 For purposes of this interpretive bulletin, the definition of “affiliate” in ERISA section 407(d)(7) applies.
5 While the funding medium offered by an employer that is an IRA sponsor or an affiliate of an IRA sponsor might be considered an employer security when offered to its own employees, the fact that informational materials provided to employees identify the funding medium as having as one of its purposes investing in securities of the employer would not, in the Department's view, involve the employer beyond the limits of 29 CFR 2510.3-2(d). Neither would the fact that the funding medium may actually be so invested. However, the Department would consider that an employer may have exceeded the limitation of 2510.3-2(d) if the informational materials the employer provides to employees suggest that the employer, in providing the IRA payroll deduction program for purposes of investing in employer securities, is acting as an employer in relation to persons who participate in the program, rather than as an IRA sponsor acting in the course of its ordinary business of making IRA products available to the public.
6 However, if an employer that is an IRA sponsor waives enrollment and management fees for its employees' IRAs, and it normally charges those fees to members of the public who purchase IRAs, the employer would be considered to be so involved in the program as to be outside the safe harbor of the regulation.