Is Your ERISA Retirement Plan Updated for Section 415 Changes?

July 17th, 2008

On April 5, 2007, the IRS released final regulations related to Section 415 of the Internal Revenue Code (Code).  The final regulations closely follow the proposed regulations that were issued in 2005, with some changes, including changes that were made by the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA).

Section 415 was originally added to the Code by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974(ERISA), and the initial regulations were issued in 1981.  In general, Section 415 sets limits on annual contributions allowed to qualified defined contribution (DC) plans and annual benefits provided under qualified defined benefit (DB) plans.  Included in Section 415 is a definition for compensation (§415(c)(3)) that is also used in a number of other instances for qualified plans, such as determining highly compensated employees and nondiscriminatory compensation for testing purposes.  One of the most significant provisions of the Section 415 final regulations involves post-employment compensation or severance pay.

The proposed regulations generally did not allow post-employment compensation to be considered compensation under Section 415 with 2 exceptions: (i) if the payments would have been paid if employment had been continued (such as overtime or commissions); or (ii) if the payments were due to accrued bona fide leave (such as vacation or sick leave) that would have been available if employment had been continued.  These exceptions would only apply if the compensation was paid out no later than 2 ½ months after termination of employment. 

With regard to the post-employment compensation, the final regulations adopted the proposed regulations with one adjustment.  The final regulations extend the time period for severance compensation payout.  Instead of requiring payment within 2 ½ months after termination of employment, payment of post-employment compensation (as allowed by the exceptions) must be made by the later of 2 ½ months after severance or the end of the limitation year that includes the participant’s termination date.

In addition, the final rules addressed areas such as:

  • Post-termination payments from non-qualified deferred compensation plans as compensation
  • Compensation paid to permanently and totally disabled participants
  • Calculation of average compensation under a qualified defined benefit plan
  • Combined contribution limits for participants in both a qualified DB plan and a qualified DC plan
  • Required modifications due to the PPA

With certain exceptions, the final regulations are applicable to limitation years beginning on or after July 1, 2007.  For most plans, this means that the final regulations took effect as of January 1, 2008.  Generally, plans are required to be amended to comply with the Section 415 final regulations.  The plan amendments must be made by the employer’s deadline for filing its income tax return (including extensions) for tax year 2008 (sometime in 2009).  With 2008 already half gone, employers are encouraged to contact their benefits counsel to have their plans reviewed and amended for Section 415 changes as soon as possible.  For further questions about Section 415 changes, please contact our attorneys.

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