IRS updates rules on retirement plan hardship distributions

Updates to the hardship distribution regulations were recently finalized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The new regulations are intended to make the requirements more flexible and participant friendly. Read the following article to learn more about these updated regulations.


Employers who allow for hardship distributions from their 401(k) or 403(b) plans should be aware that the Internal Revenue Service recently finalized updates to the hardship distribution regulations to reflect legislative changes. The new rules make the hardship distribution requirements more flexible and participant-friendly.

Hardship distributions are in-service distributions from 401(k) or 403(b) plans that are available only to participants with an immediate and heavy financial need. Plans are not required to offer hardship distributions. But there are certain requirements if a plan does offer hardship distributions. Generally, a hardship distribution may be made to a participant only if the participant has an immediate and heavy financial need, and the distribution is necessary and not in excess of the amount needed (plus related taxes or penalties) to satisfy that financial need.

An administrator of a 401(k) or 403(b) plan can determine whether a participant satisfies these requirements based on all of the facts and circumstances, or the administrator may rely on certain tests that the IRS has established, called safe harbors.

Over the last fifteen years, Congress has changed the laws that apply to hardship distributions. The new rules align existing IRS regulations with Congress’s legislative changes. Some of the changes are mandatory and some are optional. The new rules make the following changes. The following changes are required.

Elimination of six-month suspension.

Employers may no longer impose a six-month suspension of employee elective deferrals following the receipt of a hardship distribution.

Required certification of financial need.

Employers must now require participants to certify in writing or by other electronic means that they do not have sufficient cash or liquid assets reasonably available, in order to satisfy the financial need and qualify for a hardship distribution.

There were also some optional changes made to hardship distributions.

Removal of the requirement to take a plan loan.

Employers have the option, but are not mandated, to eliminate the requirement that participants take a plan loan before qualifying for a hardship distribution. In order to qualify for a hardship distribution, participants are still required to first take all available distributions from all of the employer’s tax-qualified and nonqualified deferred compensation plans to satisfy the participant’s immediate and heavy financial need. The optional elimination of the plan loan requirement may first apply beginning January 1, 2019.

Expanded safe harbor expenses to qualify for hardship.

The new hardship distribution regulations expand the existing list of pre-approved expenses that are deemed to be an immediate and heavy financial need. Prior to the new regulations, the list included the following expenses:

  • Expenses for deductible medical care under Section 213(d) of the Internal Revenue Code;
  • Costs related to the purchase of a principal residence;
  • Payment of tuition and related expenses for a spouse, child, or dependent;
  • Payment of amounts to prevent eviction or foreclosure related to the participant’s principal residence;
  • Payments for burial or funeral expenses for a spouse, child, or dependent; and
  • Expenses for repair of damage to a principal residence that would qualify for a casualty loss deduction under Section 165 of the Internal Revenue Code.

The new regulations expand this list of permissible expenses by adding a participant’s primary beneficiary under the plan as a person for whom medical, tuition and burial expenses can be incurred. The new regulations also clarify that the immediate and heavy financial need for principal residence repair and casualty loss expenses is not affected by recent changes to Section 165 of the Internal Revenue Code, which allows for a deduction of such expenses only if the principal residence is located in a federally declared disaster zone. Finally, the new regulations add an additional permissible financial need to the list above for expenses incurred due to federally declared disasters.

New contribution sources for hardships.

The law and regulations provide that employers may now elect to allow participants to obtain hardship distributions from safe harbor contributions that employers use to satisfy nondiscrimination requirements, qualified nonelective elective contributions (QNECS), qualified matching contributions (QMACs) and earnings on elective deferral contributions. However, 403(b) plans are not permitted to make hardship distributions from earnings on elective deferrals, and QNECS and QMACs are distributable as hardship distributions only from 403(b) plans not held in a custodial account.

As this list indicates, the new regulations make substantial changes to the hardship distribution rules.

The deadline for adopting this amendment depends on the type of plan the employer maintains and when the employer elects to apply the changes. Plan sponsors should work with their document providers and legal counsel to determine the specific deadlines for making amendments.

SOURCE: Tavares, L. (01 November 2019) "IRS updates rules on retirement plan hardship distributions" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/irs-updates-rules-on-401k-403b-plan-hardship-distributions


DOL proposes rule on digital 401(k) disclosures

The Department of Labor (DOL) proposed a rule recently that is meant to encourage employers to issue retirement plan disclosures electronically. This rule would allow plan sponsors of 401(k)s and other defined-contribution plans to default participants with a valid email address to receive plan disclosures electronically. Read the following blog post to learn more.


The Department of Labor proposed a rule Tuesday that's meant to encourage more employers to issue retirement plan disclosures electronically to plan participants.

The rule would allow sponsors of 401(k)s and other defined-contribution plans to default participants with valid email addresses into receiving all their retirement plan disclosures — such as fee disclosure statements and summary plan descriptions — digitally instead of on paper, as has been the traditional route.

Participants can opt-out of e-delivery if they prefer paper notices. The proposed rule covers the roughly 700,000 retirement plans subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.

"DOL rules have largely relied on a paper default," said Will Hansen, chief government affairs officer for the American Retirement Association. "Everything had to be paper, unless they opted into electronic default. This rule is changing the current standing."

Proponents of digital delivery believe it will save employers money and increase participants' retirement savings. The DOL also believes digital delivery will increase the effectiveness of the disclosures.

Plan sponsors are responsible for the costs associated with furnishing participant notices, and many small and large plans pass those costs on to plan participants, Mr. Hansen said. The DOL estimates its proposal will save retirement plans $2.4 billion over the next 10 years through the reduction of materials, printing and mailing costs for paper disclosures.

Opponents of digital delivery maintain that paper delivery should remain the default option. They have noted that participants are more likely to receive and open disclosures if they come by mail, and claim that print is a more readable medium for financial disclosures that helps participants better retain the information.

"We are reviewing the proposal carefully and look forward to providing comments to the Department of Labor, but we already know that in a world of information overload, many people prefer to get important financial information delivered on paper, not electronically," said Cristina Martin Firvida, vice president of financial security and consumer affairs at AARP. "The reality is missed emails, misplaced passwords and difficulties reading complex information on a screen mean that most people do not visit their retirement plan website on a regular basis."

President Donald J. Trump issued an executive order on August 2018 calling on the federal government to strengthen U.S. retirement security. In that order, Mr. Trump directed the Labor secretary to examine how the agency could improve the effectiveness of plan notices and disclosures and reduce their cost.

The DOL proposal, called Default Electronic Disclosure by Employee Pension Benefit Plans under ERISA, is structured as a safe harbor, which offers legal protections to employers that follow the guidelines laid out in the rule.

Retirement plans would satisfy their obligation by making the disclosure information available online and sending participants and beneficiaries a notice of internet availability of the disclosures. That notice must be sent each time a plan disclosure is posted to the website.

A digital default can't occur without first notifying participants by paper that disclosures will be sent electronically to the participant's email address.

The 30-day comment period on the proposal starts Wednesday. In addition, the DOL issued a request for information on other measures it could take to improve the effectiveness of ERISA disclosures.

SOURCE: Lacurci, G. (22 October 2019) "DOL proposes rule on digital 401(k) disclosures" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.investmentnews.com/article/20191022/FREE/191029985/dol-proposes-rule-on-digital-401-k-disclosures


A 401(k) plan administrators’ guide to the recent IRS revenue ruling

A new ruling was recently released by the IRS. This new ruling provides 401(k) plan administrators with helpful guidance on reporting and withholding from 401(k) plan distributions. Continue reading this blog post from Employee Benefits News for more information on this new ruling.


The IRS recently issued revenue ruling 2019-19. The revenue ruling provides 401(k) plan administrators with helpful guidance on how to report and withhold from 401(k) plan distributions when a plan participant actually receives the distribution but for some reason, does not cash the check.

Unfortunately, this new guidance does not provide answers to the complex issues that 401(k) plan administrators face when the plan must make a distribution, but the plan participant is missing.

Let’s hope revenue ruling 2019-19 is just the first in a series of much-needed guidance from the IRS and the Department of Labor about how 401(k) plan administrators should handle the increasingly common administrative issues related to uncashed checks and missing plan participants.

There are many situations in which a 401(k) plan must make a distribution to a plan participant. For example, plans must distribute small benefit cash outs (e.g., account balances that are $1,000 or less) or required minimum distributions to plan participants who reach age 70 and a half. This may come as a surprise, but plan participants fail to actually cash these checks with some regularity.

In the ruling, the IRS confirmed that 401(k) plan administrators should withhold taxes on a 401(k) plan distribution and report the distribution on a Form 1099-R in the year the check is distributed to the participant, even if the participant does not cash the check until a later year.

Similarly, the participant needs to include the plan distribution as taxable income in the year in which the plan makes the distribution even if the participant fails to cash the check until a later year. While this guidance is not surprising, it does provide clarity to 401(k) plan administrators as to how they must withhold and report normal course and required plan distributions. In particular, 401(k) plan administrators should not reverse the tax withholding or reporting of the distribution when the participant receives the distribution and simply does not cash the check until a later year.

Unfortunately, this new IRS guidance has limited use because the ruling uses an example that specifically concedes that the plan participant actually received the plan distribution check, but simply failed to cash it. What should 401(k) plan administrators do when the participant may not have received the distribution check at all (e.g., a check is returned for an invalid address) or the plan itself does not have current contact information for the participant?

Retirement plan administrators have an ERISA fiduciary obligation to implement a diligent and prudent process to find missing plan participants and to take additional steps to make sure participants actually receive plan distributions. Uncashed 401(k) plan distribution checks are still retirement plan assets which means the 401(k) plan administrator is still subject to ERISA fiduciary standards of care, prudence and diligence related to those amounts. As a result, the IRS and DOL have increased their focus on uncashed checks and missing participants in retirement plan audits.

Plan administrators would be well-served by establishing and implementing a consistent process to stay on top of any missing plan participants or uncashed checks and taking steps to locate those participants and properly address uncashed checks. Plan administrators should also carefully document the steps that they take in this regard. The IRS and DOL have currently provided limited guidance on the steps a 401(k) plan administrator can take to locate missing participants, but more guidance is needed — let’s hope revenue ruling 2019-19 is just the beginning.

This article originally appeared on the Foley & Lardner website. The information in this legal alert is for educational purposes only and should not be taken as specific legal advice.

SOURCE: Dreyfus Bardunias, K. (6 September 2019) "A 401(k) plan administrators’ guide to the recent IRS revenue ruling" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/401k-administrators-guide-to-the-irs-revenue-ruling-2019-19


15 states where $1M in retirement savings lasts the longest

According to GOBankingRates data, employees with $1 million in retirement savings can make it last for more than 20 years in Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. Read below to understand what better retirement choices can do for your future.


Employees with $1 million in retirement savings can make it stretch for more than 20 years in Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri, according to GOBankingRates data in an article from Business Insider. Retirees in New Mexico, Tennessee, Michigan and Kansas can also live on a similar amount of savings, data shows. Retirees with $1 million can expect their savings to last in average span of 19 years, GOBankingRates estimates.

Less choice could mean better retirement outcomes
The amount of income that seniors can replace in retirement is a good measure to determine whether there is a looming retirement crisis in the U.S., according to retirement expert Mark Miller in this article from Morningstar. However, it is hard to make generalizations, he explains. “I think it varies tremendously, depending which demographic group you’re looking at, you can do it generationally or otherwise,” Miller says.

Retirement requires a shift in thinking
As retirees needs change, they should be ready to adjust their mindset and modify their investment strategies, an expert in Kiplinger writes. Retirees should focus more on preservation and distribution after the accumulation phase, the expert writes. “In retirement, it’s important to think of your savings as income rather than a lump sum. It’s not all about achieving maximum return on investment anymore," the expert says. "It’s about how you can get the maximum return from your portfolio and into your pocket."

Employees nearing retirement? 12 features to look for in their next home
Seniors who intend to move to a new home in retirement should consider a property that offers low yard maintenance, a single-story open floor plan and easy access to loved ones and essential amenities, according to a Forbes article. They should ensure that the new house is cheap to maintain and won’t trigger a hefty tax bill, says one expert. “If those costs are low, it can be a great investment.”

SOURCE: Peralta, P. (15 August, 2019) "15 states where $1M in retirement savings lasts the longest"(Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/states-where-retirement-savings-will-last-the-longest


Half of older Americans have nothing in retirement savings

A U.S. Government Accountability Office estimate for 2016 revealed that of those Americans 55 and older, 48 percent had nothing saved in a 401(k) or an individual retirement account. Continue reading to learn more.


The bad news is that almost half of Americans approaching retirement have nothing saved in a 401(k) or other individual account. The good news is that the new estimate, from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, is slightly better than a few years earlier.

Of those 55 and older, 48% had nothing put away in a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan or an individual retirement account, according to a GAO estimate for 2016 that was released Tuesday. That’s an improvement from the 52% without retirement money in 2013.

Two in five of such households did have access to a traditional pension, also known as a defined benefit plan. However, 29% of older Americans had neither a pension nor any assets in a 401(k) or IRA account.

The estimate from the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, is a brief update to a more comprehensive 2015 report on retirement savings in the U.S. Both are based on the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances.

The previous report found the median household of those age 65 to 74 had about $148,000 saved, the equivalent of an inflation-protected annuity of $649 a month.

“Social Security provides most of the income for about half of households age 65 and older,” the GAO said.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimated earlier this month that 41% of U.S. households headed by someone age 35 to 64 are likely to run out of money in retirement. That’s down 1.7 percentage points since 2014.

EBRI found these Americans face a combined retirement deficit of $3.83 trillion.

SOURCE: Steverman, B.; Bloomberg News (27 March 2019) "Half of older Americans have nothing in retirement savings" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/articles/half-of-older-americans-have-no-retirement-savings


IRS bumps up 401(k) contribution limit for 2019

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently increased the annual contribution cap for participants of 401(k) and other retirement plans. Read this blog post to learn what the new contribution caps are.


Participants in 401(k) and other defined contribution retirement accounts will see their annual contribution cap raised from $18,500 to $19,000 in 2019, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

The catch-up contribution limit on defined contribution plans remains unchanged at $6,000.

Savers with IRAs will see the annual contribution cap raised from $5,500 to $6,000 — the first time the cap on IRA deferrals has been raised since 2013. The annual catch-up contribution for savers age 50 and over will remain at $1,000.

Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) increases will also be applied to the deduction phase-out scale for IRA owners who are also covered by a workplace retirement plan:

  • for single filers the scale will be $64,000 to $74,000, up $1,000
  • for joint filers where the spouse contributing to an IRA is also covered by a workplace plan, the phase-out slot increase to $103,000 to $123,000
  • for an IRA contributor whose spouse is covered by a plan, the income phase-out is $193,000 to $2003,000

Single contributors to Roth IRAs will see the income phase-out range increase to $122,000 to $137,000, up $2,000 from last year. For married couples filing jointly the range will increase to $193,000 to $203,000, up $4,000 from last year.

More low and moderate-income families may be able to claim the Saver’s Credit on their tax returns for contributions to retirement savings plans. The threshold increases $1,000 for married couples, to $64,000; $48,000 for head of households, up $750; and $32,000 for singles and single filers, up $500 from last year.

The deferred compensation limit in defined contribution plans for pre-tax and after-tax dollars will increase $1,000, to $56,000. And the maximum defined benefit annual pension will increase $5,000, to $225,000.

SOURCE: Thornton, N. (1 November 2018) "IRS bumps up 401(k) contribution limit for 2019" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/11/01/irs-bumps-401k-contribution-limit-for-2019/


Stop making 401(k) contributions. Fill up your HSA first

Are your employees making contributions to a 401(k) or an HSA? Read this blog post to learn why employees should contribute to their HSA before their 401(k).


With healthcare open enrollment season approaching, employees electing a high-deductible health plan will soon have an opportunity to decide how much to contribute to their health savings account for next year.

My advice?

Contribute as much as you possibly can. And prioritize your HSA contributions ahead of your 401(k) contributions. I believe that employees eligible to contribute to an HSA should max out their HSA contributions each year. Here’s why.

See also: 

HSAs are triple tax-free. HSA payroll contributions are made pre-tax. When balances are used to pay qualified healthcare expenses, the money comes out of HSA accounts tax-free. Earnings on HSA balances also accumulate tax-free. There are no other employee benefits that work this way.

HSA payroll contributions are truly tax-free. Unlike pre-tax 401(k) contributions, HSA contributions made from payroll deductions are truly pre-tax in that Medicare and Social Security taxes are not withheld. Both 401(k) pre-tax payroll contributions and HSA payroll contributions are made without deductions for state and federal taxes.

No use it or lose it. You may confuse HSAs with flexible spending accounts, where balances not used during a particular year are forfeited. With HSAs, unused balances carry over to the next year. And so on, forever. Well at least until you pass away. HSA balances are never forfeited due to lack of use.

Paying retiree healthcare expenses. Anyone fortunate enough to accumulate an HSA balance that is carried over into retirement may use it to pay for many routine and non-routine healthcare expenses.

See also:

HSA balances can be used to pay for Medicare premiums, long-term care insurance premiums, COBRA premiums, prescription drugs, dental expenses and, of course, any co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance amounts for you or your spouse. HSA accounts are a tax-efficient way of paying for healthcare expenses in retirement, especially if the alternative is taking a taxable 401(k) or IRA distribution.

No age 70 1/2 minimum distribution requirements. There are no requirements to take minimum distributions at age 70.5 from HSA accounts as there are on 401(k) and IRA accounts. Any unused balance at your death can be passed on to your spouse (make sure you have completed a beneficiary designation so the account avoids probate). After your death, your spouse can enjoy the same tax-free use of your account. (Non-spouse beneficiaries lose all tax-free benefits of HSAs).

Contribution limits. Maximum annual HSA contribution limits (employer plus employee) for 2019 are modest — $3,500 per individual and $7,000 for a family. An additional $1,000 in catch-up contributions is permitted for those age 55 and older. Legislation has been proposed to increase the amount of allowable contributions and make usage more flexible. Hopefully, it will pass.

HSAs and retirement planning. Most individuals will likely benefit from the following contribution strategy incorporating HSA and 401(k) accounts:

  1. Determine and make the maximum contributions to your HSA account via payroll deduction. The maximum annual contributions are outlined above.
  2. Calculate the percentage that allows you to receive the maximum company match in your 401(k) plan. Make sure you contribute at least that percentage each year. There is no better investment anyone can make than receiving free money. You may be surprised that I am prioritizing HSA contributions ahead of employee 401(k) contributions that generate a match. There are good reasons. Besides being triple tax-free and not being subject to age 70 1/2 required minimum distributions, these account balances will likely be used every year. Unfortunately, you may die before using any of your retirement savings. However, someone in your family is likely to have healthcare expenses each year.
  3. If the ability to contribute still exists, then calculate what it would take to max out your contributions to your 401(k) plan by making either the maximum percentage contribution or reaching the annual limit.
  4. Finally, if you are still able to contribute and are eligible, consider contributing to a Roth IRA. Roth IRAs have no age 70 1/2 minimum distribution requirements (unlike pre-tax IRAs and 401(k) accounts). In addition, account balances may be withdrawn tax-free if certain conditions are met.

The contributions outlined above do not have to be made sequentially. In fact, it would be easiest and best to make all contributions on a continuous, simultaneous, regular basis throughout the year. Calculate each contribution percentage separately and then determine what you can commit to for the year.

See also: 

Investing in HSA contributions is important. The keys to building an HSA balance that carries over into retirement include maxing out HSA contributions each year and investing unused contributions so account balances can grow. If your HSAs don’t offer investment funds, talk to your human resources department about adding them.

HSAs will continue to become a more important source of funds for retirees to pay healthcare expenses as the use of HDHPs becomes more prevalent. Make sure you maximize your use of these accounts every year.

SOURCE: Lawton, R. (19 September 2018) "Stop making 401(k) contributions. Fill up your HSA first" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/viewsstop-making-401k-contributions-fill-up-your-hsa-first


Retirement ABCs: How employers can help baby boomers prepare

Sixty-six percent of baby boomers are working past the traditional retirement age. There are specific rules and regulations regarding contributions and withdrawals in retirement. Continue reading to learn how employers can help prepare their employers for retirement.


Seventy-four million: That’s the estimated number of baby boomers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And 66% of baby boomers are working past traditional retirement ages for a variety of reasons. Some feel they can’t afford to retire, particularly with the looming high costs of healthcare; others may choose to work longer to keep their brains active or because they fear the adjustment to a less structured lifestyle.

Older workers approaching full retirement age (which varies, depending on when they were born) where they can begin receiving 100% of Social Security, face some daunting decisions about Medicare, Social Security and retirement plans such as health savings accounts and 401(k)s — unchartered territory until this point in their lives. There are specific rules about contributions and withdrawals in retirement, and employers should help with the education process. Here are three ways to do so.

Break down the HSA rules from a retiree perspective. If you offer HSAs to your employees, it’s important they understand how HSAs work with Medicare: The IRS dictates that a person can’t contribute to an HSA if they’re enrolled in part of Medicare (Part A, Part D, etc.) However, they can draw on funds already in the account to pay for qualified medical expenses and premiums for Medicare Parts B, C and D (but generally not Medicare supplement plans or Medigap insurance premiums).

Importantly, your employees may be penalized for delaying Medicare, depending on the number of employees you have and whether you have group health insurance. These requirements may not be well known by your employees and should be communicated clearly.

Of course, because Medicare, Social Security and any retirement plans involve several layers of government rules and financial regulations, there are some tricky issues your employees need to know about. One is retirement “back pay.”

When employees sign up for Social Security at least six months beyond the full retirement age, they’ll receive six months of retirement benefit back pay. This is problematic if your employees contributed to their HSAs over the previous six months — they are liable for tax penalties on HSAs. Create an education strategy that includes this information for employees looking to retire, so that they can stop contributing to their HSA six months before retirement and avoid costly mistakes.

Help employees understand how all their benefits work together. Your employees have contributed their knowledge and skills to you; it’s important to help them understand their options as they work toward retirement. For those just a few years out from retirement, your education plan may include helping employees understand eligibility requirements for both Social Security and Medicare, as well as any penalties that might arise from applying late to Medicare.

As your employees age, they are also eligible to contribute “catch-up” funds to HSAs, IRAs and 401(k)s in preparation for retirement. Your 401(k) partners and financial wellness resources can help employees assess their financial situations and prepare for retirement. For example, it’s a good idea to encourage employees who may have multiple 401(k) plans to consolidate them into one — this will make it easier to manage when they retire. They may ultimately roll these into an IRA to access additional investment options.

Maintain a focus on wellness. If you have a wellness program in place, take measures to boost participation and steer employees, especially older participants, toward healthy habits to help them live well and be productive leading up to retirement.

Wellness may extend outside of physical, emotional and mental wellness to professional development. Help them improve their retirement outlook by keeping job skills up to date so they are better prepared if they need to take on other employment to supplement their retirement.

For anyone nearing retirement age it’s a good idea to become acquainted with “Medicare and You,” the government’s official Medicare handbook. While each employee’s situation will differ, there’s no doubt that planning and education are key to a successful retirement strategy and, as an employer, you can support these efforts.

SOURCE: Metzger, L (14 August 2018) "Retirement ABCs: How employers can help baby boomers prepare" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-to-best-educate-baby-boomer-workers-on-retirement


How to motivate millennials to participate in retirement savings

Millennials make up a third of today’s workforce, but according to The National Institute on Retirement Security, not even half of millennials that are offered retirement plans participate in them. Continue reading to learn more.


Millennials comprise one-third of the U.S. labor force, making them the single-largest generation at work today, according to Pew Research Center. But they don’t appear to be functioning as full-fledged members of the workforce just yet — at least when it comes to participating in benefit plans.

The National Institute on Retirement Security found that two-thirds of millennials work for employers that offer retirement plans, but only about half of that group participates. That means just one-third of working millennials are saving for retirement through employer-sponsored plans.

The culprit for such low participation originates primarily with eligibility requirements. Millennials are more prone to disqualifying factors like minimum hours worked or time with the company — products of being relative newcomers to the workplace and spending the early parts of the careers in a deeply challenging labor market. The passage of time will hopefully help relax these eligibility limitations.

But there are other headwinds bearing down on millennials that could be holding them back from plan participation, and which present an opportunity for plan sponsors to demonstrate value to the largest working generation. For one thing, millennials have earned the most college degrees as a share of their generation, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, all while tuition costs have continued to outpace inflation. The resulting financial burden is compounded by the fact that millennials are earning less so far in their careers, despite their education gains, than older generations were earning at their age.

It’s important for sponsors to figure out how to enroll more millennials, and not just because it will generate goodwill. Boomers will continue to roll assets out of their plan accounts as they retire. The flight of their outsized share of plan assets will leave a smaller pool to share plan costs. Increased millennial engagement can offset this drawdown.

Plan design that gives due consideration to the rise of millennials should consider how to help with their financial needs and play to their strengths.

Harness millennial tech savvy

Growing up immersed in an electronic and interconnected environment reduces the learning curve that millennials might face in using planning tools. Simple offerings like a loan payment calculator or retirement savings projection interface can make a profound difference on the path to financial preparation.

The flipside to millennials’ willingness to tinker is that they tend to over-scrutinize their investment mix. TIAA found that millennials are three times as likely as boomers to change their investment allocation amid a market downturn — typically a decision that ends in regret. The compulsion to de-risk tends to strike after the worst of the damage is done, leaving investors ill-prepared for the ensuing recovery.

Solutions like target-date funds can remove the need to think about allocations altogether, so millennials can focus on more effective factors like retirement savings or loan repayment rates and stretching for their full matching contributions.

Provide an education benefit umbrella

Compound interest — the accelerant that makes saving and investing for retirement over several decades so effective — works in a similar way against borrowers that are slow to repay their loans. This is an acute problem for millennials, but it doesn’t stop with them. Almost three-fifths of 22 to 44-year-olds have student debt, and they’re joined by more than one-fifth of those over 45-years-old.

Employer-sponsored student loan repayment assistance can take a variety of forms. It can be as simple as directing participants to enroll for dedicated loan payments, and can extend all the way to helping them refinance at a better rate or consolidate multiple loans.

The education benefit umbrella can also cover tuition reimbursement programs for employees that want to continue their education but are hesitant to spend the money. These programs can also serve employee retention goals as they’re typically offered with a payback period if workers leave shortly after being reimbursed.

Any program that lowers employee financial stress will likely help improve productivity. From a practical standpoint, workers have more disposable income — and feel wealthier — once they’ve vanquished their loans.

Being an advocate in helping employees accomplish that goal has obvious benefits for organizations that are seeking to retain members of the country’s largest working generation.

SOURCE: Zito, A (9 August 2018) "How to motivate millennials to participate in retirement savings" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/motivating-millennials-to-participate-in-retirement-savings


What's the best combination of spending/saving with an HSA?

Did you know you could save for retirement by spending money? Health savings accounts (HSAs) are a new way for employees to save for retirement and pay for healthcare expenses. Read on to learn more about HSAs and how they can help you save for retirement.


The old adage, “You need to spend money to make money,” is applicable to many areas of life and business, but when it comes to retirement, not so much. Particularly for people who are enrolled in retirement accounts, like the 401(k) or IRA.

After all, the more you’re able to fund these accounts on a yearly basis, the sooner you’ll be able to accrue enough money to retire to that beach condo or cabin in the backcountry.  But in recent years, a newcomer has entered the retirement planning picture offering a novel new way to save money: By spending it.

The health savings account (HSA) has the potential to influence the spending/saving conundrum many young professionals face: Do I spend my HSA money on qualifying health care expenses (which can save me up to 40 percent on the dollar) or do I pay out of pocket for the same expenses and watch my HSA balance grow?

What many people don’t realize is that yearly HSA contributions are tax-deductible. So if account holders aren’t factoring in doctor co-payments, prescription drugs and the thousands of over-the-counter health products that tax-advantaged HSA funds can cover, they may be missing an opportunity to save in taxes each year.

By maximizing their contributions and paying with HSA funds as opposed to out-of-pocket, HSA users can cover products they were going to purchase anyway with tax-free funds, while using whatever is rolled over to save for retirement.

Spending more to save more. Who knew?

Here’s some food for thought that savvy employersshould consider sharing with employees of all ages.

Facts about health savings accounts (HSAs)

HSAs were created in 2003, but unlike flexible spending accounts (FSAs) that work on a year-to-year basis, HSAs have no deadlines and funds roll over annually. HSAs also feature a “triple tax benefit,” in that HSA contributions reduce your taxable income, interest earned on the HSA balance accrues tax free, and withdrawals for qualifying health expenses are not taxed.

Account holders can set aside up to $3,500 (2019 individual health plan enrollment limit) annually and $7,000 if participating in the health plan as two-person or family, and these funds can cover a huge range of qualifying medical products and services.

HSAs can only be funded if the account holder is enrolled in an HSA-qualified high-deductible health plan (HDHP). If the account holder loses coverage, he/she can still use the money in the HSA to cover qualifying health care expenses, but will be unable to deposit more funds until HDHP coverage resumes. The IRS defines an HSA-qualified HDHP as any plan with a deductible of at least $1,350 for an individual or $2,700 for a family (in 2019 – limits are adjusted each year).

Despite their relatively short lifespan, HSAs are among the fastest growing tax-advantaged accounts in the United States today. In 2017, HSAs hit 22 million accounts for the first time, but a massive growth in HSA investment assets is the real story. HSA investment assets grew to an estimated $8.3 billion at the end of December, up 53 percent year-over-year (2017 Year-End Devenir HSA Research Report).

However, while HSAs offer immediate tax benefits, they also have a key differentiator: the ability to save for retirement. HSA funds roll over from year to year, giving account holders the option to pay for expenses out of pocket while they are employed and save their HSA for retirement.

If account holders use their HSA funds for non-qualified expenses, they will face a 20% tax penalty. However, once they are Medicare-eligible at age 65, that tax penalty disappears and HSA funds can be withdrawn for any expense and  will only be taxed as income. Additionally, once employees  turn 55, they  can contribute an extra $1,000 per year to their HSAs, a “catch-up contribution,” to bolster their HSA nest eggs before retirement. When all is said and done, diligently funding an HSA can provide a major boost to employees’ financial bottom lines in retirement.

What’s the best HSA strategy by income level?

HSAs have immediate tax-saving benefits and long-term retirement potential, but they require different savings strategies based on your income level.

Ideally, if you have the financial means to do so, putting aside the HSA maximum each year may allow you to cover health expenses as they come up and continue saving for retirement down the road. But even if you’re depositing far below the yearly contribution limit, your HSA can provide a boost to your financial wellness now and in the future.

I’ve seen this firsthand. Before we launched our e-commerce store for all HSA-eligible medical products, we extensively researched the profiles of the primary HSA user groups through partnerships with HSA plan providers.

We then created “personas” that provide insights on how to communicate with different audiences about HSA management at varying points in the account holder’s life cycle, and these same lessons can be just as vital to employers.

The following contribution strategies are based on these personas and offer insights that could help employees get their HSA nest egg off and growing. These suggestions offer a means of getting started.

As employees receive pay raises and promotions, they may be able to increase their HSA contributions over time, but this can be a way to get their health care savings off the ground and then adjust to life with an HSA.

Disclaimer: These personas are for illustrative purposes only and in all cases you may want to speak with a tax or financial advisor. Information provided should not be considered tax or legal advice.

1. Employee Type: Millennials/Gen-Z with an income between $35-75k/year

For the vast majority of young professionals starting out, health care is not at the top of their budget priorities. However, high-deductible health plans have low monthly premiums, and by contributing to an HSA, an account holder can cover these expenses until the deductible is exhausted. For this group of employees, starting off small and gradually increasing contributions as income increases is a sound financial solution.

Potential Contribution Range: $1,000-$1,500

2. Employee Type: Full-Time HDHP Users Enrolled with an income between $35-60k/year

With many companies switching to all HDHP health plan options, a large contingent of workers find themselves using HDHPs for the first time. For this group, it’s all about finding the right balance between tax savings and the ability to cover necessary health expenses. Setting aside money in an HSA will allow workers to reduce how much they pay in taxes yearly by reducing their taxable income, while being able to pay down their deductible with HSA funds at the same time.

Potential Contribution Range: $1,000-$1,500

3. Employee Type: Staff with Families with an income between $75-100k/year

Low premiums from an HDHP plan are attractive for these employees, but parents will have far more health expenses to cover and more opportunities to utilize tax-free funds to cover health and wellness products. With more opportunities to spend down their deductible with qualifying health expenses and the resulting tax savings, parents should strive to put the family maximum contribution ($7000 for 2019) into their HSAs.

Potential Contribution Range:$4,000-$6,900

4. Employee Type: Pre-Retirement Staff with an income between $100-200k/year

Employees who are in their peak earning years have the greatest opportunity to put away thousands in tax-free funds through an HSA. So whenever possible, they should be encouraged to contribute the largest possible allocation to their HSA on a yearly basis. Additionally, employees age 55 and over can contribute an extra $1,000 to their HSA annually until they reach Medicare age at 65 to fast-track their HSA earnings.

Potential Contribution Range: HSA Maximum ($3,500 individual, $7,000 families for 2019)

What else should employers know about HSAs?

Employers can help employees get the most out of HSAs. Here are some tips:

  • Employers should consider contributing to their employees’ accounts on an annual basis. Employer contributions to an HSA are tax-deductible, and this has the added bonus for employees of making it easier to max out their contributions annually.
  • Remember: Employer and employee contributions cannot exceed the yearly HSA contribution limits ($3,500 individual, $7,000 family for 2019), so make this information clear to employees during open enrollment.
  • If employees are still on the fence about HSAs, remind them that deductible expenses can be paid for with HSA funds, and yearly HSA contributions are tax-deductible for employees as well.

SOURCE:
Miller, J (2 July 2018) "What's the best combination of spending/saving with an HSA?" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/06/08/whats-the-best-combination-of-spendingsaving-with/