Fiduciary Is Fun!
(a.k.a. I heart taxes)
(a.k.a. I heart taxes)
The recently passed CARES Act is designed to provide stimulus and economic support during the COVID-19 pandemic. The largest such relief of its kind in history, it’s not surprising that there is much to the legislation. The law itself runs for 880 pages. And like all big pieces of legislation, there are provisions affecting your retirement plan. Let’s take a look at one.
One of the provisions getting the most press permits eligible employees to take hardship distributions from their qualified accounts penalty free up to $100,000. Normally, a Hardship Distribution that occurs before 59 ½ is subject to both income taxes as well as a 10% early withdrawal penalty. Waiving the withdrawal penalty seems like a humanitarian gesture in this time of need. But as with most things like this, the initial gesture can get complicated quickly.
For one thing, the law permits the income tax on the distribution to be paid over a period of 3 years, but it does not require this. Presumably an employee would make some kind of election as to how to pay this tax – all at once, evenly spread, some here/some there, etc. But because the amount is treated as ordinary income, it would get lumped in with all other earned income and considered part of your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (“MAGI”). This by itself is going to require some real planning. But wait, it gets better.
On the top of page 159 of the CARES Act there is a specific provision that allows, but does not require, someone who has taken a distribution to repay the amount of the distribution into the same qualified account from which it came or another qualified account if the repayment occurs within 3 years. If the amounts taken, or some of the amounts taken are repaid, those amounts are not considered taxable income. It would sort of be like the distribution never actually occurred, and no tax would be owed on those amounts repaid.
What if an employee chose to pay all the tax this year, and in 2 ½ years when this whole crisis is in the rear-view mirror decides to repay some of the original distribution? It would seem as though the employee should receive credit for the taxes paid originally, right? Double taxing the same dollars would be inappropriate. I’m sure we will get guidance on this, but the law is silent.
And on top of all this, if the distribution is from an employer qualified retirement plan versus an IRA, this whole thing has to be approved by an employer. The employer is not required to permit hardship distributions. And what type of reporting might the employer need to consider if these distributions, repayments, and taxes all need to be tracked and monitored? What if the distribution comes from your plan but the employee repays the amount to an IRA? Or another plan?
If you are an employer looking for good counsel during these times, I would encourage you to give me a call. This is not the time to try to figure this stuff out on your own.
Pete Welsh a/k/a 401kGuy
PWC is one of the largest accounting firms in the country working with some of the largest corporations in the US and even around the world. Given their size and scope, they do a lot of research, and one annual report they have been publishing for several years is around Employee Financial Wellness. They have been producing this report for 8 years.
The report is interesting because it asks employees a number of questions regarding their overall financial wellness and preparedness. How confident are employees regarding their financial decisions? What kind of decisions are employees making? What do employees think about their future? And the ones I find most interesting are those around what their employers can do to help them with their overall financial wellness.
Financial Wellness and programs around them in the workplace have been very popular for a number of years now. It’s very seldom I come across a 401k prospect that doesn’t have some type of “program” in place to address financial wellness for their employees. So you would think that after several years of workplace initiatives employees would be feeling better about their finances, right? Less stressed than ever. Ya, well, it doesn’t seem to be working out that way.
In 2017, the PWC survey indicated that 46% of employees said that financial or money matter challenges were their #1 stressor. After years of trying to help employees, the most recent PWC survey indicates that 59% of them now consider financial or money matter challenges their #1 stressor. Almost 30% more employees are stressed about financial matters now than they were just 3 years ago! At this rate, we should have everyone completely freaked out about financial matters by 2025!
So what the heck is going on here? During this time frame, the economy was strong, inflation was virtually non-existent, and unemployment was at historic lows. We can’t blame any of those factors. What I think is going on is an over reliance on technology as the solution to this issue. I see it all the time as companies roll out new programs to help employees. They are well intentioned, and often well-constructed, but they lack much human involvement.
In my practice, when I am able to meet with employees face-to-face to review their situations and make plans, they are not more stressed after our visit(s) but less stressed. Sure we use technology as an enabler, but the real work happens face to face.
If you are an employer who has implemented a Financial Wellness program but are questioning its effectiveness, I would love to sit down and discuss how we can change that result and begin getting your employees less stressed!
Please give me a call.
Pete Welsh a/k/a 401kGuy