Employers and other plan sponsors of tax-qualified 401(k) and other defined contribution or defined benefit plans (retirement plans) and others working to avoid plan disqualification by correcting plan documentation, administration or other problems that otherwise could disqualify their program for tax qualified treatment under the Internal Revenue Code (Code) under the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (EPCRS) or the Audit Closing Agreement Program (Audit CAP) modified rules beginning January 1, 2017, under changes announced by the IRS in Revenue Procedure 2016-51 on September 29, 2016.
The EPCRS and Audit CAP programs are two IRS correction programs commonly used to preserve the tax qualified status of a retirement plan affected by plan documentation, administration or other deficiencies that otherwise would result in the plan ceasing to qualify as a tax retirement plan under the Code. The EPCRS program generally is available to correct and resolve certain qualification concerns not eligible for self-correction that retirement plan sponsors or plans self-identify and disclose to the IRS in accordance with the EPCRS correction procedures, In contrast, the Audit CAP program provides an avenue that may provide a pathway for a plan sponsor of a retirement plan with significant problems in its compliance with the Code’s qualification requirements that are discovered by the IRS on audit or during the determination letter application process to preserve the tax benefits associated with maintaining a retirement plan in compliance with the Code’s tax qualification requirements by entering into a Closing Agreement pursuant to which the problems are corrected and paying a reasonable sanction to the IRS based directly on the amount of tax benefits preserved and the nature, extent and severity of the failure, taking into account the extent to which correction occurred before audit.
Key changes to the EPCRS correction procedures scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2017 under Revenue Procedure 2016-51 include the following:
- The IRS no longer will permit determination letter applications when applying the correction programs under EPCRS;
- The requirement for a plan sponsor to submit a determination letter application to the IRS when correcting qualification failures that include a plan amendment no longer will apply; and
- Fees associated with the Voluntary Correction Program (VCP) after December 31, 2017 will be user fees and no longer set forth in the EPCRS revenue procedure. For VCP submissions made in 2016, refer to Proc. 2016-8 and Rev. Proc. 2013-12 to determine the applicable user fee and after 2016, refer to the annual Employee Plans user fees revenue procedure to determine VCP user fees for that year. Availability of Self-Correction Program (SCP) for significant failures has been modified to provide that, for qualified individually designed plans, a determination letter need not be current to satisfy the Favorable Letter requirement
In addition to its announcements of changes to the EPCRS correction program Revenue Procedures 2016-51 also announces various modifications to the Audit CAP program, including:
- A revised approach to determining Audit CAP sanctions under which
- Sanctions, generally, will not be less than the fees associated with voluntary compliance under the EPCRS program;
- The required reasonable sanction will no longer be a negotiated percentage of the maximum payment amount (MPA). Instead, auditors will review facts and circumstances and the MPA amount is simply one factor to consider. In addition, there are revised, additional factors that IRS considers;
- New factors used in determining sanctions for late amender failures will apply;
- For late amender failures discovered by the IRS, while reviewing a determination letter application, a new approach to determining the applicable sanction will apply;
- The IRS will not provide partial refunds for certain Anonymous Submissions
Beyond specific modifications to the EPCRS and Audit CAP procedures, Revenue Procedures 2016-51 also:
- Updates citations and cross-references for several items previously contained in Rev. Proc. 2013-12; and
- Invites public comments on recovery of overpayments and on expanding EPCRS correction rules to provide additional guidance on the recovery or recoupment of overpayments.
Revenue Procedures 2016-51 is effective January 1, 2017. Plan sponsors may not elect to apply provisions before January 1, 2017. Rev. Proc. 2013-12, as modified by Rev. Proc. 2015-27 and Rev. Proc. 2015-28, are in effect for 2016. When Revenue Procedure 2016-51 takes effect on January 1, 2017:
- Proc. 2013-12 no longer applies as of January 1, 2017; and
- Provisions of Rev. Proc. 2015-27 and Rev. Proc. 2015-28 concerning EPCRS and other older revenue procedures will no longer apply.
About The Author
Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a noted Texas-based management lawyer and consultant, author, lecture and policy advocate, recognized for her nearly 30-years of cutting edge management work as among the “Top Rated Labor & Employment Lawyers in Texas” by LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® and as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the field of “Labor & Employment,”“Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine.
Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, past Group Chair and current Defined Contribution Plans Committee Co-Chair, Groups and Substantive Committee and Membership Committee Members, past Welfare Plans Committee Chair and Co-Chair, and former Fiduciary Responsibility Vice Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and Marketing Committee Chair and a prolific author and highly popular speaker and consultant, Ms. Stamer helps management manage.
Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her nearly 30-year career has focused on helping organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer helps public and private, domestic and international businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup workforce and other legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.
Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.
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