27 November 2022

IRS Changing How Beneficiaries Receive Retirement Funds

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In an effort to streamline the regulation that governs how retirement accounts can be used, the IRS has proposed a change for 403(b) plans — a type of workplace retirement plan use mostly by public and non-profit employees. Employer-sponsored plans are powerful retirement tools and boast specific requirements regarding required minimum distributions and tax treatment that vary depending on the type of account. But soon your 403(b) may resemble the more-common 401(k). If you have a 403(b) retirement plan, you might need to change how you’ve planned for retirement and how your plan beneficiaries will receive their funds. Here’s what you need to know.

IRS Proposes 403(b) RMD Changes 

In accordance with the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act of 2019, the IRS is proposing updates to the existing retirement plan code that governs required minimum distributions (RMDs).

Currently, 403(b) plans are still treated differently from 401(k) plans, with provisions that trigger special exemptions for the non-profit and service-sector organizations that sponsor these plans for their employees. The IRS historically treated 403(b) plans like individual retirement accounts (IRAs), not requiring account holders to withdraw all their funds over their lifetime and allowing savers to invest in a wide variety of financial products with tax-deferred dollars. However, with changes ushered in by the SECURE Act, both 401(k) plans and IRAs now require the participant to take minimum required distributions by age 72. Roth IRAs continue to be an exception.

In order to make 403(b) plans more like the other defined contribution plans, the IRS is proposing a new requirement: starting age 72, or upon retirement, account holders will be required to take minimum distributions based on published life expectancy guidelines. If the account owner passes away before the funds are fully distributed, the beneficiary must take all the funds within 10 years of the owner’s passing.

What Retirement Savers Need to Know 

To align 403(b) plans with other employer-sponsored and individual retirement plans, the IRS is proposing changes to rules governing RMDs. Going forward, any non-profit sponsoring a 403(b) plan for their employees must take RMDs or risk employees paying a hefty tax penalty on the balance not withdrawn.

The National Law Review notes that the proposed changes appear to pose both administrative and legal challenges. 403(b) plans can be invested in a variety of funds, including both group and individual annuity contracts, and so the requirement to take RMDs could create contractual issues.

For example, employers are not involved in the administration of individual 403(b) contracts, and so their ability to take RMDs would be substantially limited, potentially violating the new rule from the very beginning. Even more unclear, in order to partake in safe harbor exemptions, regulation limits employer involvement in retirement plans to specific activities. If the proposed IRS rule goes into effect and employers must then actively negotiate with providers to administer RMDs for participants, this could be a violation of those requirements and inadvertently subject employers to regulation and reporting from which they were previously exempt.

As a result, employees may not know if or when they may be required to take distributions from their 403(b) plans. The IRS directs plan sponsors to administer RMDs, but ultimately it is the participant’s responsibility to ensure accurate and timely withdrawals. If the participants do not take distributions as required, they may end up owing as much as 50% of their calculated RMD in taxes.

The IRS is reviewing the proposed rule and has asked for feedback. Interested parties may submit comments through the Federal Register portal before May 25, 2022, and a hearing on the regulation will be conducted on June 15.

Bottom Line 

The IRS is proposing a new rule to require 403(b) plan participants to take RMDs. The proposed changes may cause administrative and legal difficulties, especially with regard to ERISA-exempt regulations. Penalties for failing to take RMDs can be harsh, so understanding what rules apply to you as a 403(b) plan participant is important. Comments regarding the proposed rule can be submitted through May 25, 2022.

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