Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Good News -- IRS Floods Us With Guidance on Lifetime Income Options

When it rains, it pours. And, unlike in days of future past (for you, Moody Blues fans, with a slight spelling change), when the IRS decides to provide guidance on a topic, we get a package. In this case, the package is related to distribution options, primarily from qualified defined contribution (DC) plans, but also with implications for defined benefit (DB) plans and individual retirement accounts (IRAs).

So, here's what we got:

So, what's in them? Since it's American Idol season, dim the lights, here we go. 

Partial Annuity Options

For participants, this is good news. For plan sponsors and especially for plan administrators, this could be a nightmare, because participants may actually elect split options. Under these regulations, participants could take a split distribution option from a defined benefit plan. For example, a participant could elect a partial lump sum and a partial annuity. 

The proposed regulations specify that [Code Section] 417(e)(3) assumptions would be used to calculate the lump sum amount, but that plan assumptions (plan's definition of actuarial equivalence) would be used to calculate the amount of the annuity. This makes things way simpler than the existing rules which would require use of 417(e)(3) assumptions for the entire calculation.

Let's consider an example. Suppose a participant was entitled to an immediate single life annuity of $1000 per month or a lump sum of $140,000, among other options. Further, suppose that the plan conversion factor for this participant and this participant's spouse for a 50% Joint and Survivor Annuity payable immediately is 0.95 (if you don't like my factors, you may write your own blog, but they seemed simple and convenient for my purposes). Now, suppose that the participant elects a split option: 60% as a lump sum and 40% as a 50% Joint and Survivor. The math gets simple. The lump sum would be 0.60*140,000 = $84,000. The monthly annuity would be 0.40*0.95*1000 = $380 per month.

Hmm, maybe this is more of a pleasant daydream than it is a nightmare for plan administrators, but computer-based administration will require a lot of re-programming.

Longevity Annuities

This is great news for plan participants. I repeat, this is great news for plan participants. When a participant uses their DC or IRA account to purchase a longevity annuity (sometimes referred to as longevity insurance), the longevity annuity piece will be disregarded for purposes of the minimum distribution rules under Code Section 401(a)(9).

Here is how it works. Sometime before a participant turns 70, he elects to allocate some portion of his account to a Qualified Longevity Annuity Contract (QLAC). In order to be a QLAC, the single premium for the annuity must not exceed the smaller of 25% of the account balance or $100,000 (indexed for inflation). A participant may make multiple QLAC allocations, but in that case, the total QLAC premium is similarly limited. The QLAC must specify the deferral date for the deferred annuity and that date cannot be later than age 85. 

In the event that participant makes such an allocation, the QLAC allocation will not be subject to the required minimum distribution rules. 

And, in a piece of bad news, money in a Roth account will not be considered a QLAC.

DC Spousal Consent Rules

This one is very simple. It clarifies that when a participant invests part of his DC account balance in a deferred annuity, that part of the account is not subject to the Qualified Preretirement Survivor Annnuity (QPSA) requirement until the participant makes an affirmative election to begin annuity distribution immediately.

DC --> DB Rollovers

This is another piece of good news. Suppose you are a participant in both a DC plan and a DB plan. Revenue Ruling 2012-4 allows a DB plan to be amended to accept rollovers from a DB plan. And, when you do so in order to get an  annuity, you get the DB plan's definition of actuarial equivalence rather than having to subsidize the profits of an insurance company.

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