Guaranteed lifetime income from a DC plan requires a contract with a life insurance company. Period. Even if the program is provided by a mutual fund company, a bank, or any other non-governmental entity, insurance companies are the only businesses which can issue to DC plans a contract guaranteeing lifetime income.

Choosing the right insurer

Lifetime Income for 401(k) plans has been been getting a lot of press, driven in large part by efforts by the DOL and Treasury to find ways to promote retirement security.

The IRS took a substantial step in making these DC lifetime income efforts become a reality with its publication of the final regulations establishing the “Qualified Plan Longevity Annuity Contract,” or “QLAC “. In order to even publish this regulation, however, the IRS had to “clear the underbrush” and resolve an number of technical issues relating to the manner in which defined contribution plans could even provide lifetime income.

Treasury and IRS staff did just this, and quite practically. The final regs even addressed some key market concerns, removing a couple of roadblocks which would have made the QLACs difficult to provide. So, for example, the QLAC can have a return of premium feature; can pay certain gains (which is important for certain, popular, annuity products); removed potentially duplicative disclosure requirements; and permits insurance companies to use off the shelf annuity products without amending them (if the contract otherwise meets the QLAC annuity requirements) until 2016. Staff also kept the QLAC simple (for example, no variable annuity contracts will qualify), thus keeping it very affordable.

Even though the establishment of the QLAC provides a good planning tool, for sure, and it does provide a modest tax benefit, that is not the real story here. The true impact of the QLAC reg, and what makes it so very important, is that it establishes the foundation under tax law by which DC plans can simply annuitize.

So, before you dive into the close details of the QLAC (and we will do that, as will many others, I’m sure, over the coming months), lets first turn to the tax rules that actually make lifetime income work in a defined contribution plan. You will need to understand what it takes to put an annuity into a plan, as well as what it takes to distribute an annuity from the plan.  I invite you to read the preamble to the originally proposed QLAC reg, as well as Rev Rul 2012-03. Between these two pieces of guidance, you find some very basic instructions on how DC annuitzation-even beyond QLACs- will work. Here’s a brief list of key elements:
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We have been extensively researching, writing on and developing the concept of providing lifetime income from defined contribution plans for some 15 years. The work has resulted in a patent; several major independantly published research papers; the  outlining of some of the important concepts which underline the proposed QLAC regs and its key revenue ruling; and the development of more than one retirement product. If you look closely, you’ll see that that many of the major whitepapers  published on lifetime income are well based on this extensive work we have published. Some of the work really is groundbreaking; for example, we propose  a useful fiduciary process which can be used by fiduciaries in the purchase of annuities, in our NYU paper.

This blog has carried much of that material for the past 5 years, since February, 2009. We’ve now compiled those pieces here for use by  employers, vendors, actuaries, advisers and attorneys who may be struggling to support lifetime income in defined contribution plans.


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A more complete and up to date description of how lifetime income can work in a DC plan is in order. Evan Giller (newly Of Counsel with Boutwell and Faye) and I put together the attached piece entitled “Regulatory and Fiduciary Framework for Providing Lifetime Income from Defined Contribution Plans.” It is originally appearing in the New York University Review of Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation – 2013. Published by LexisNexis Matthew Bender. Copyright 2013 New York University.” In the paper, we’ve drawn upon our long experience with retirement plan annuities, mixing it well with all of these new developments.
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In an almost stealth-like way, innovation is creeping into the marketplace and creating ways to address critical retirement issues, even without an incubator. Though these programs can do little to address what I view as the basic retirement inadequacy issue-that is, employers are generally moving away from the traditional notion of building adequate retirement programs into their employment models-they are making progress toward making the best of what we’ve got.
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There are many insurance separate accounts which really are invested like stable value funds from collective trusts, for example. But if it has guarantees of principal or interest-the “guaranteed separate account”-the risk just moves down a level, and the investor in the guaranteed separate account is still subject to an insurer’s insolvency risk. So, instead of the insurer standing up for the value of the guarantees, and how well the insolvency risk is managed and priced into the product, the risk is instead hidden and not discussed.
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Both of these agencies (Treasury and DOL) continue to attempt to support this process, using their existing regulatory authority. Though there are a number of things which probably need legislative action in order to really make guaranteed lifetime income readily available, there are still a few things regulators may want to consider doing to help it all along
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For those of you who do not subscribe to BNA, BNA published as an "Insight" an article I wrote on QLAC and Rev Rul 2012-3 (yes, my author agreement permits me to post it here, with attribution).  Look for Paul Hamburger’s upcoming related article, delving into a number of technical and policy issues they raise,

The Treasury’s issuance of proposed regulations introducing the "Qualified Longevity Annuity Contract" is a substantial step in the efforts to better provide plan participants the ability to use their defined contribution balances to plan for retirement security. One of the QLAC’s most useful effects is that it gives us a "base," a laboratory of sorts,