2022 – An Ideal Time to Review Plan Design
- Expansion of the definition of “spouse” to include those of the same gender;
- Availability of plan forfeitures to offset additional types of company contributions;
- Ability to amend safe harbor 401(k) plans once the year has already started;
- Creation of in-plan Roth transfers.
Eligibility defines how and when employees can join your retirement plan. Though your current eligibility requirements may fit the company’s employee demographic for full-time employees, the SECURE Act permits long term part-time employees (LTPTs) the ability to enter the plan starting in 2024, provided that they have satisfied the legally mandated requirements. Though SECURE Act law will not be included in this restatement, it seems wise to explore the effects that LTPT employees may have on your plan’s design and filing requirements.
Implement or Expand Auto-Enrollment
Auto-enrollment enables employers to automatically enroll new hires into the retirement plan. Employees can always opt out of auto-enrollment if they decide they do not want to participate in the plan. Auto-enrollment has proven to be a successful tool in expanding retirement plan usage, especially among younger employees. According to a Principal Retirement Security Survey in July 2021, 84% of workers that were automatically enrolled in their workplace retirement plan say they started to save for retirement earlier than if they had to take action to make the enrollment decision on their own. To further help maximize savings and improve outcomes, employers may want to consider enrolling new employees at a higher deferral rate, such as 6%, rather than the standard 3%. The 6% rate will be far more meaningful for retirement and, though there is a risk that more participants could opt-out of the plan, a 2020 report released by John Hancock states the opposite to be true.
Under the SECURE Act, an eligible employer that adds an auto-enrollment feature to their plan can claim a tax credit of $500 per year for a three-year taxable period beginning with the first taxable year the employer includes the auto-enrollment feature.
Increase Re-Enrollment Adoption
Re-enrollment has become increasingly important due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a white paper for Voya Financial, Shlomo Benartzi, professor emeritus at UCLA Anderson School of Management, suggested frequently re-enrolling existing participants. He pointed to the U.K., where plan providers are required to automatically re-enroll workers every three years, even if they’ve previously opted out. Principal’s study group stated that they were glad their savings had been “jump-started” and reinforced that, if left to make the decision on their own, many wouldn’t have joined or would have at least delayed their enrollment.
Implement or Expand Auto-Escalation
With auto-escalation, employees’ contributions are automatically increased every year. For example, employers can increase deferral rates by 1% each year up to a maximum of 15% of pay.
Redesign Matching Contributions
The pandemic has pressured many employers to discontinue or reduce their 401(k) contribution matches. Rebooting the matching contributions will go a long way in revitalizing employee interest in your plan. If the previous formula does not fit economically, employers might consider reducing the overall matching percentage but increase the cap on contributions (Example: 50% match up to 4% of pay changed to 25% up to 8%). This approach encourages the participant to defer a higher percentage of pay to receive the full matching contribution.
Dr. Benartzi suggested considering a fixed amount matching formula. From the participant’s perspective, a dollar amount seems more real than applying percentages to one’s paycheck. “Psychologically, it’s easy to give up a 6% match, but it’s hard to let go of a $1,200 lump sum,” he wrote.
The pandemic presented unprecedented challenges for employers that offer retirement plan benefits. With the future looking brighter and the Cycle 3 restatement deadline around the corner, now is the optimal time for business owners to review, and if necessary, update their plan design to align with the company’s goals and changing employee demographics.
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