The DOL issued FAB 2009-2 back in July, in response to the concerns of employers and investment providers that in many cases they would not be able to obtain the information necessary related  to a number of "old" 403(b) contracts and accounts for the expanded Form 5500 required for 403(b) plans beginning with the 2009 plan year. Moreover, even in cases where some annual reporting with respect to the contracts would be possible, the DOL recognized that compliance efforts involved in including these contracts in the financial statements would be substantial and expensive.

The FAB  was not uniformly well received initially, many expressing the thought that the relief was illusory at best.  Now that we have had some time for the FAB to settle in, and now that parts of the market are beginning to try to identify past contracts and "classify" what to do with them, the usefulness of the FAB becomes more clear. 

The FAB allowed contracts to be excluded from an audit if they met the following 4 conditions:

  1. were issued prior to 1/1/09,
  2. all contributions ceased prior to 1/1/09,
  3. all rights under the contract are"legally enforceable" against the insurer or custodian by the individual owner "without any involvement of the employer," and
  4. the mounts in the contract were fully vested and non-forfeitable.

The real key to making the FAB work for the employer in keeping auditing costs down is in the sensible application of the FAB’s 3rd condition.  I would suggest that applying it consists of two parts. First, use a reasonable effort to determine and find contracts that were related to the plan at some time in the past and, secondly, making a reasonable effort to determine whether or not the rights under those contracts are "legally enforceable" by the individual.

Finding contracts

Establish a reasonable (meaning not "perfect") method to use to find what contracts might possibly be part of your plan. Review the employer records to determine (to the best of your ability) which employees made contributions to which vendors over a reasonable period of time (perhaps the ERISA 6 year recordkeping requirement?).  Do the best you can, document it, and convince your CPA that a reasonable effort should do. 

Legally Enforceable 

From a purely legal viewpoint, this should be "easy." Heck, just get a copy of all those contracts issued over the past (6 years?) and read them. Right? Two problems, of course:

  • Go ahead. Try finding them. You won’t find them. This is in part because insurance companies don’t typically keep actual copies of contracts. Instead, they keep records of the application, plus the "form number" they issued to the individual. Which means when you try to ask for a copy, you’ll just get an assembled form-assuming the company would give the employer (who doesn’t own the contract) a copy anyway.
  • Then try reading it. I dare you.  Have you ever tried to read an annuity contract?Trying to determine whether or not rights are solely enforceable by the individual will be a difficult task, and one which an answer to this question may never be readily findable.

There may be a way a reasonable method or two to try to divine this answer.  For current vendors, for example, the task is a simple one (of course, nothing is turning out to be simple nowadays in this world): have your vendors give you a list of all the contracts to which they seek your approval for something like loans or distributions.

For past vendors, this is where the gold mine should be. See if you have heard from any of those past vendors for which you have compiled a list (see "Finding Vendors"). It may well be reasonable to assume that, had you not heard from them on your former or current employees, that those employees rights are being enforced without your involvement.

Tougher questions arise when, under 2007-71, you have excluded contracts from your plan.  Can these contracts be excluded for Title 1 reporting purposes? Vendors have taken a hard line on these contracts, and are submitting all sorts of decisions to employers for approval, even where the employer has advised them those contracts are not part of the plan-and many times these approvals are demanded in spite of contract language NOT requiring employer approval.  

A number of employers have decided that they were subject to ERISA just this year, because of the press of the tax regulations. One needs to consider (after consulting a lawyer or accountant) whether any of the old, past contracts under such circumstances would need to be counted.

Finally, this business really is only the tip of one of those melting Antarctica icebergs. Ultimately, the lawyer, accountant and employer need to sit down and review the employer’s situation, and make a case amongst themselves for the most reasonable approach. Remember, the DOL’s approach right now is accommodative. It is not trying to bankrupt charities through the crushing cost of unreasonable audit requirements.



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