Pension Mortality Updates May Decrease Liabilities

The Society of Actuaries’ (SOA) new Scale MP-2019 mortality improvement rates will lead to lower liabilities compared to the previous versions. Along with the improvement scale, the SOA’s Retirement Plans Experience Committee (RPEC) also released a set of new mortality tables, Pri-2012, both on October 23rd. The new tables and improvement scale may be used for financial reporting purposes now. The improvement scale is expected to be used in 2021 for PBGC, lump sum, and cash funding calculations.

Pri-2012 Mortality Tables

The Pri-2012 tables are the most recent private mortality tables released by the SOA since the RP-2006 tables. The SOA estimates that most plan liabilities will fall within 1.0% (up or down) of the liability they would have seen under the RP-2006 tables. The new tables were developed using data from 2010-2014 and reflect the RPEC’s commitment to update the base mortality tables every five years.

When compared to the RP-2006 tables, life expectancy for a 65 year old female remains at 87.4, while the life expectancy of a 65 year old male decreased from 85.0 to 84.7.

The new Pri-2012 tables are based on more multiemployer data compared to the prior tables. Mortality experience under multiemployer plans did not differ significantly from experience in single employer plans. The SOA determined that job classification (blue-collar and white-collar) is an increasing forecaster of mortality and more indicative of future experience than benefit amount.

The SOA identified that surviving beneficiaries had higher mortality than the general population and created separate mortality tables for this demographic with the Pri-2012 tables update.

MP-2019 Mortality Improvement Scale

The new mortality improvement scale MP-2019 is based on historical U.S. population mortality. This continues to fulfill the RPEC’s pledge to update the improvement scales annually.

Consistent with all prior updates since the first table (MP-2014) was released, the MP-2019 improvement scale will reduce liabilities for pension plans compared to the MP-2018 improvement scale. The SOA estimated that pension obligations will typically be 0.3% to 1.0% lower when compared to using Scale MP-2018.

According to the study, the observed age-adjusted mortality rate increased slightly from the prior year, yet it is fairly level relative to the last several years. Also, the age-adjusted mortality improvement rate averaged just 0.3% per year from 2010 to 2017, compared to 0.5% that was observed in the prior study from 2009 to 2016.

Implications for Pension Plans

Pri-2012 may be adopted for financial accounting disclosures and pension expense purposes. The adoption of the new tables will likely result in little change to liabilities. We expect plan sponsors will generally adopt the Pri-2012 tables to replace the RP-2006 tables.

Plan sponsors who have updated their improvement scale annually will generally adopt the MP-2019 improvement scale. As noted, it is expected to lower liabilities, and thus will result in lower pension expense.

We do not expect that the minimum funding calculations, PBGC premiums, and lump sum calculations will use the Pri-2012 table in the near future. However, the 2021 plan year will likely incorporate the MP-2019 scale based on the currently proposed intent from the IRS. Absent any other changes, this update will result in lower funding liability, PBGC liability and lump sum amounts for pension plans in that plan year.

More information regarding the Pri-2012 mortality table and the Scale MP-2019 mortality improvement scale release can be found on the Society of Actuaries’ website links above.

Questions? Contact the Findley consultant you normally work with, or contact Matthew Gilliland at, 615.665.5306 or Matthew Widick at, 615.665.5407.

Published October 28, 2019

© 2019 Findley. All Rights Reserved.

Minimum Participation Rule Puts Pension Benefits at Risk

Almost all pension plans are subject to certain compliance tests that are outlined by the IRS. The compliance requirements are in place to make sure that if a plan sponsor’s contributions to a pension plan are deductible for tax purposes, then the pension plan’s benefits must not be designed too heavily in favor of the highest paid employees. One set of compliance rules for most pension plans are the minimum participation requirements. As some defined benefit pension plans continue operating, these rules are causing compliance concerns.

Minimum Participation Rule Details

Under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 401(a)(26), a defined benefit pension plan must benefit a minimum of

  • 50 employees or
  • 40% of the employees of the employer.

If the pension plan is not benefiting any highly compensated employees (HCEs), it automatically satisfies the rule.

HCE is generally determined as an individual earning more than a specified dollar threshold established by the IRS for the prior year. This dollar limit is $125,000 based on 2019 earnings to determine HCEs for the 2020 year. All others are considered non-highly compensated employees (NHCEs).

Unintended Consequences

Today, many pension plans have been “partially frozen” for years, which means they have benefits accruing only for a specified group of employees. As time passes and ordinary turnover and retirement occur, the number of employees that accrue benefits in these defined benefit pension plans is decreasing.

Although the original purpose was to provide “meaningful” benefits to employees across the plan sponsor’s organization, these requirements are now causing accruals to be shut off as some plans approach and fall below the minimum threshold of employees accruing benefits.

For the affected employees, it comes at a time close to retirement age when their promised pensions, by design, would be accumulating at the highest rates, and defined contribution style benefits, like 401k plans, can’t realistically replace all lost future accruals.

Potential Strategies

Do Nothing and Wait

  • We can hope that legislative relief will be passed to eliminate the participation issues. However, Congress has considered addressing these issues over the last 5 to 7 years, and no movement towards enacting relief rules has been seen yet.

Merge Pension Plans

  • This provides immediate relief to minimum participation issues.
  • It could be a temporary solution if the benefits are also partially frozen across the combined defined benefit pension plan. Review the demographics to project how long this solution will last when weighing the advantages of this strategy for your situation.

Open the Pension Plan

  • Reopen the pension plan to additional participants. (Yes, this could make sense!)
  • More employees will be benefiting and eliminate minimum participation rule issues.
  • New plan participants can receive a different formula (something similar to the current plan formula but reduced, cash balance formula, variable annuity formula, etc.)
  • Consider if recruiting or employee retention issues can be reduced or alleviated by designing new pension benefits for targeted employee groups.
  • This can be designed to help bridge the time until the potentially affected employees reach retirement age.
  • Watch the mix of HCEs and NHCEs because the additional pension benefit design still needs to satisfy other IRS coverage, nondiscrimination, and design-based compliance rules.

Freeze Remaining Pension Benefits

  • The freeze can be for all participants or only for current and future HCEs.
  • Replacement benefits can be provided to address employee retention and retirement readiness issues.
    • Provide projected lost benefits as cash payment(s).
    • Executive employees can have some or all lost benefits replaced in a nonqualified deferred compensation plan or other executive compensation arrangement.
    • Design partial replacement benefits in a 401k plan.
  • Consider the impact of the pension plan freeze on other sponsored benefit plans. For example, are there benefits that are automatically available, or not available, based upon whether an employee is accruing benefits in the pension plan?
  • Curtailment accounting rules are triggered which may require an additional one-time expense to be recognized through income in the year of the benefit freeze.

In Perspective

There are many valid business reasons that explain why a plan sponsor would want to stop pension accruals for everyone except a specified group. We know the IRS rules were not intended to cause the loss of benefits for employees late in their careers. Regardless, several pension plan sponsors are at the point where their partially frozen pension plans are close to becoming noncompliant. While we continue to wait for legislative relief for this issue (that may never come), if you sponsor a partially frozen pension plan, you should determine when this will become an issue for you. Begin discussing possible strategies, and have an approach in place well ahead of time to minimize the disruption to your organization as much as possible.

Questions? Contact the Findley consultant you normally work with, or contact Colleen Lowmiller at, 216.875.1913.

Published October 28, 2019

© 2019 Findley. All Rights Reserved.

Pension Financial Impact of Record Low Treasury Bond Rates


How will defined benefit pension plans fare as a result of the 30-year U.S. Treasury bond rates falling below 2.00% for the first time in U.S. history? This 100 basis point drop from the beginning of the year and the fact that U.S. Treasury bond rates of all durations are down significantly from the beginning of the year, have pension plan sponsors, CFOs, and actuaries alike, taking an in-depth look at the financial impact.

How Will Record Low Treasury Bond Rates Impact Your Company’s Defined Benefit Plan?

Due to the long-term benefit structure of pension plans, their liabilities produce high duration values that are particularly sensitive to movement in long-term interest rates. For instance, a standard frozen pension plan may have a duration of 12 which indicates that a decrease in the discount rate of 100 basis points would produce a 12% increase in liabilities. 

Under U.S. GAAP and International Accounting Standards, pension liabilities are typically valued using a yield curve of corporate bond rates (which have high correlation to treasury bond rates) to discount projected benefit payments. Current analysis shows that the average discount rate has decreased over 100 basis points from the beginning of the year using this methodology. Assuming all other plan assumptions are realized, the larger liability value caused by the decrease in discount rates will drive up the pension expense and cause a significant increase in the company’s other comprehensive income, reflecting negatively on the company’s financial statements. 

Pension Financial Impact of Record Low Treasury Bond Rates

What If We Want to Terminate our Pension Plan in the Near Future?

For companies that are contemplating defined benefit pension plan termination, there will also be a significant increase in the cost of annuity purchases. The actual cost difference depends on plan-specific information; however, an increase of 10-20% from the beginning of the year would not be out of line with the current market. This can be particularly problematic for companies who have already started the plan termination process. Due to the current regulatory structure of defined benefit pension plan terminations, companies must begin the process months before the annuity contract is purchased. Their decision to terminate is based on estimated annuity prices which could be significantly different than those in effect at the time of purchase.

Consider Growth in Lump Sum Payment Value and PBGC Liabilities

Additional consequences of record low treasury bond rates include growth in the value of lump sum payments and PBGC liabilities. Minimum lump sum amounts must be computed using interest rates prescribed by the IRS in IRC 417(e)(3) which are based on current corporate bond yields. PBGC liabilities are also determined using these rates (standard method) or a 24-month average of those rates (alternative method). If current interest rates hold, lump sums paid out during 2020 will likely be 10-15% higher than those paid out in 2019 for similarly situated participants. In addition, there would be a corresponding increase in the liability used to compute the plan’s PBGC premium. In 2020, there will be an estimated 4.5% fee for each dollar the plan is underfunded on a PBGC basis. Depending on the size and funding level of the plan, the spike in PBGC liability may correspond to a significant increase in the PBGC premium amount.

Actions You Can Take to Mitigate the 2020 Financial Impact

There is potential to help mitigate the financial impact for 2020 by taking action now. Since lump sum payments are projected to increase significantly in 2020, offering a lump sum window to terminated vested or retired participants during 2019 could be a cost effective way to reduce the overall liability of the plan.

Contributions to the plan in excess of the mandatory required amount will help offset rising PBGC premiums since the premium is based on the underfunded amount, not the total liability. Additional contributions would also help offset the increase in pension expense.

The best advice we can offer at this time is to discuss these implications internally and with your service providers. Begin a dialogue with your investment advisors about the potential need to re-evaluate the current strategy due to market conditions. Contact your plan’s actuary to get estimated financial impacts so you can plan and budget accordingly. If your plan has recently begun the plan termination process, you may need to reconvene with decision-makers to make sure this strategy is still economically viable.

Questions? For more information, you can utilize Findley’s Pension Indicator to track the funded status of a variety of plan types each month. To learn more about how falling interest rates may impact your plan specifically contact your Findley consultant or Adam Russo at or 216-875-1949.

Published on August 22, 2019

© 2019 Findley. All Rights Reserved.

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Terminating an Overfunded Pension Plan? Who Gets the Excess?

If a single employer overfunded pension plan is terminating and its participants and beneficiaries are on track to receive full benefits, the plan sponsor will likely ask if the excess is theirs. In other words, will the surplus revert to the plan sponsor? The answer is maybe.

To determine how excess plan funds can be exhausted, which may include a reversion to the plan sponsor, there are 7 possibilities to consider. As always, the place to start with any retirement plan issue is to answer the question: what does the plan say?

Terminating an Overfunded Pension Plan

Possibilities to Consider if the Terminating Plan Document does not Permit a Reversion

A plan document may state that no part of the plan’s assets can be diverted for any purpose other than for the exclusive benefit of participants and beneficiaries. The plan may also indicate that the plan cannot be amended to designate any part of the assets to become the employer’s property. If an overfunded pension plan has these provisions, it is tempting to assume the only choice is to allocate the excess among participants and beneficiaries. However, even in the face of these explicit provisions, there may be other provisions that permit an employer to recover or use a portion of the excess assets.

Possibilities 1 and 2 – Return of Mistaken and Nondeductible Contributions

Plan documents generally indicate that if an employer makes an excessive plan contribution due to a mistake, the employer can demand the surplus is returned. The employer is required to request this from the trustee within one year after the contribution was made to the trust. In addition, plans generally provide that a contribution is made on the condition that the employer receives a corresponding tax deduction. In the unlikely event that the deduction is not permitted by the IRS, the contribution can be returned to the employer within one year following the IRS’ final determination that the tax deduction was not allowed.

An example of a contribution mistake may be an actuarial calculation error. In a 2014 Private Letter Ruling, the IRS considered a surplus reversion when a terminating single employer plan purchased an annuity contract. The excess assets were created when the purchase price selected to fully fund plan benefits actually came in at a lower price than estimated. Using reasonable actuarial assumptions, the plan’s actuary had advised the employer to contribute a higher amount than was ultimately calculated as necessary by the insurance company. In this case, the IRS permitted the return of the mistaken excess contribution. 

Possibility 3 – Have all Reasonable Plan Expenses Been Paid from the Trust?

Many plan documents provide that plan expenses can be paid from the trust. In some instances, appropriate and reasonable plan termination expenses will go a long way to exhaust excess assets. Reasonable plan termination expenses include determination letter costs and fees, service provider termination charges and termination implementation charges such as those for the plan audit, preparing and filing annual reports, calculating benefits, and preparing benefit statements.

Possibilities to Consider if the Terminating Plan Document Permits a Reversion

The overfunded pension plan may explicitly state that excess assets, once all of the plan’s obligations to participants and beneficiaries have been satisfied, may revert to the plan sponsor. On the other hand, the plan may not explicitly permit a reversion. In that case, the plan sponsor may want to consider amending the plan to allow a reversion well ahead of the anticipated termination.

Possibilities 4 – Take a Reversion

If the first three possibilities do not work or are inadequate to exhaust the surplus, and the overfunded pension plan allows a reversion, there are three more possibilities. In the first, the employer takes all. The employer can take all of the excess funds back subject to a 50% excise tax, as well as applicable federal tax.  Notably, a not-for-profit organization may not be subject to the excise tax on the reversion at all if it has always been tax-exempt.

Possibility 5  – Transfer the Excess to a Qualified Replacement Plan

The opportunity to pay only a 20% excise tax (and any applicable federal tax) on part of the surplus is available where the remaining excess assets are transferred from the terminating pension plan to a newly implemented or preexisting qualified replacement plan (QRP). A QRP can be any type of qualified retirement plan including a profit sharing plan, 401(k) plan, or money purchase plan. For example, an employer’s or a parent company’s 401(k) plan, whether newly implemented or preexisting, may qualify as a qualified replacement plan.

Once an appropriate plan is chosen, the amount transferred into the QRP must be allocated directly into participant accounts within the year of the transfer or deposited into a suspense account and allocated over seven years, beginning with the year of the transfer.

There are additional requirements for a qualified replacement plan. At least 95% of the active participants from the terminated plan who remain as employees must participate in the QRP. In addition, the employer is required to transfer a minimum of 25% of the surplus into a qualified replacement plan prior to the reversion. If all of the QRP requirements are satisfied, then only the amounts reverted to the employer are subject to a 20% excise tax and federal tax, if applicable. 

Possibility 6 – Provide Pro Rata Benefit Increases

If the employer chooses not to use a QRP, it can still limit the excise tax if it takes back 80% or less of the surplus and provides pro rata or proportionate benefit increases in the accrued benefits of all qualified participants. The amendment to provide the benefit increases must take effect on the plan’s termination date and must benefit all qualified participants. A qualified participant is an active participant, a participant or beneficiary in pay status, or a terminated vested participant whose credited service under the plan ended during the period beginning 3 years before termination date and ending with the date of the final distribution of plan assets. In addition, certain other conditions apply including how much of the increases are allowed to go to participants who are not active.

A Possibility That’s Always Available

Possibility 7 – Allocate all of the Excess Among Participants and Beneficiaries

It is always possible to allocate all of the excess assets among participants in a nondiscriminatory way that meets all applicable law. A plan amendment is necessary to provide for these higher benefits.

You may know at the outset of terminating your plan that there will be excess assets. On the other hand, a surplus may come as a surprise. Even if a pension plan is underfunded at the time the termination process officially begins, it is possible that the plan becomes overfunded during the approximate 12 month time period to terminate the plan. In this scenario, the plan sponsor will have to address what to do with the excess assets.

Dealing with the excess assets in a terminating defined benefit plan can be a challenge. There are traps for the unwary, and considerations beyond the scope of this article. Plan sponsors need to determine first how the excess was created, because the answer to that question may determine what happens to it. If there is no obvious answer in how to deal with the surplus, then the plan sponsor needs to look at all of the possibilities. It may be that a combination of uses for the excess plan assets is best. If you think you will find yourself in this situation with your defined benefit plan, consult your trusted advisors at your earliest opportunity so that you know the possibilities available to you.

Questions on your defined benefit pension plan’s possibilities? Need help navigating your options? Please contact Sheila Ninnenam in the form below.

Published July 10, 2019

© 2019 Findley. All Rights Reserved.

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Market Volatility Shows Importance of Pension Plan Termination Planning

Equity markets have rallied in early 2019 and the losses from December 2018 have all but been erased. Interest rates haven’t recovered to the November, 2018 high, but the funded status for most pension plans has rebounded. Findley’s April 2019 Pension Indicator shows how the funded status of pension plans has improved since year-end 2018.

Pension Indicator April 2019 rolling 12 months. Funded percentage changes, liability index, and investment mix.
April 2019 Findley Pension Indicator

With all of this volatility, plan sponsors that started planning for a plan termination in early 2018, and monitored the improving funded status of the plan, may have taken some steps to help mitigate the impact of a market downturn. In this case, a plan sponsor which hedged the assets to better match the liabilities prior to December experienced only about a 2% reduction in the plan’s funded status during December. In addition, even though a hedged plan following an LDI investment approach hasn’t seen a great improvement in funded status from the market rebound, it still has a better funded percentage than plans with other investment strategies.

The lesson is most plan sponsors probably don’t really know how close (or far) the plan is or was to being financially ready for a plan termination. And, as the adage goes, “failure to plan is a plan to fail.”

Planning is Fundamental to Success

To help plan sponsors understand this volatility and how to manage it, Findley has developed a process to help plan sponsors prepare for a plan termination. (See Findley’s article “Mapping Your Route to Pension Plan Termination Readiness”). The plan termination process itself requires many steps, but there are also steps that a plan sponsor can take prior to beginning a plan termination to be better prepared. Whether plan termination is 1, 5, or 10 years away, planning is critical.

Findley's Interactive Pension Plan Term Modeler. Defined Benefit plan assets, contributions, and short fall graph.

Findley’s Interactive PlanTermTM Financial Modeler

Taking a closer look at plan’s financial readiness, there are a few topics plan sponsors should explore:

  • the plan’s investment strategy,
  • the benefits of de-risking strategies, and
  • a formalized contribution policy.

Reviewing these financial topics early and monitoring them periodically can help plan sponsors achieve plan termination financial goals in a more orderly and predictable way.

Knowing the time horizon, identifying data issues, and reviewing the plan document are other areas to include in your readiness planning. Findley’s Rapid MapTM process helps plan sponsors take a project management approach to all of these aspects of getting ready for a plan termination.

In Perspective

If you are contemplating plan termination, consider taking advantage of this early 2019 rebound. Planning early for a plan termination can have a positive long-term effect on the point in time when your plan is ultimately ready to terminate. Take steps now to put a process in place to regularly monitor your plan’s funded status. Spending time now can reap rewards and potentially mitigate the negative outcomes from future market downturns.

Questions? Contact the Findley consultant you normally work with, or Larry Scherer at, or 216.875.1920.

Published on May 13, 2019

© 2019 Findley. All Rights Reserved.

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2019 Pension Plan Compliance Calendar

Calendar Plan Year & Calendar Employer Tax Year*

January 2019  
15 Due date to make fourth required quarterly contribution for 2018 plan year
31 Last day to file Form 945 to report withheld federal income tax from distributions
31 Last day to furnish Form 1099-R to recipients of distributions during 2018 calendar year

February 2019
28 Last day to file Form 1096 and Form 1099-R on paper with the IRS

March 2019
31 Deadline for enrolled actuary to issue AFTAP certification for current year to avoid presumption for benefit restrictions (if applicable)

April 2019
01 Presumed AFTAP takes effect unless and until enrolled actuary issues certification of AFTAP for current plan year (if applicable).
01 Last day to pay initial required minimum distributions to applicable plan participants
01 Last day to file Form 1099-R electronically with the IRS
15 Due date to make first required quarterly contribution for 2019 plan year
15 Last day to file financial and actuarial information under ERISA section 4010 with PBGC (if applicable)
15 Last day for C corporation employer plan sponsors to make contributions and take tax deduction for 2018 without corporate tax return extension
30 Last day to furnish Annual Funding Notice (for plans covered by PBGC that have more than 100 participants)

May 2019
01 Last day to provide notice of benefit restrictions, if restrictions are applicable as of April 1, 2019

July 2019
15 Due date to make second required quarterly contribution for 2019 plan year
29 Last day to furnish Summary of Material Modifications (SMM) to participants and beneficiaries receiving benefits
31 Last day to file Form 5500 for 2018 without extension.
31 Last day to file Form 8955-SSA without extension
31 Last day to provide a notice to terminated vested participants describing deferred vested retirement benefits (in conjunction with Form 8955-SSA)
31 (or the day Form 5500 is filed, if earlier) – Last day to furnish Annual Funding Notice (for PBGC covered plans with 100 or fewer participants without extension)
31 Last day (unextended deadline) to file Form 5330 and pay excise tax on nondeductible contributions and prohibited transactions (if applicable)

September 2019
15 Last day to pay balance of remaining required contributions for 2018 plan year to satisfy minimum funding requirements.
30 Last day to furnish Summary Annual Report to participants and beneficiaries (for non-PBGC covered plans)
30 Last day for enrolled actuary to issue AFTAP certification for current plan year

October 2019
01 If enrolled actuary does not issue AFTAP certification for plan year, then AFTAP for plan year presumed to be less than 60 percent and plan will be subject to applicable benefit restrictions.
15 Last day to file Form 5500 (with extension)
15 Last date to file Form 8955-SSA (with extension)
15 Last day to provide a notice to terminated vested participants describing deferred vested retirement benefits (in conjunction with Form 8955-SSA)
15 Due date to make third required quarterly contribution for 2019 plan year
15 Last day to file PBGC comprehensive PBGC premium filing and pay premiums due (for plans covered by PBGC)
31 Last day to provide notice of benefit restrictions, if restrictions are applicable as of October 1, 2019

December 2019
15 Last day (with extension) to furnish Summary Annual Report (for non-PBGC covered plans)
31 Last day for enrolled actuary to issue a certification of the specific AFTAP for current year if a range certification was previously issued
31 Last day for plan sponsors to adopt discretionary plan amendments that would be effective for the current plan year

*This calendar is designed to provide a general overview of certain key compliance dates and is not meant to indicate all possible compliance dates that may affect your plan.

© 2019 Findley • All rights reserved

If you would like more specific information about each compliance item, you may review or print the calendar below.

Print 2019 Detailed Pension Plan Compliance Calendar

Interested in other compliance calendars?

Defined Contribution

Health & Welfare

Mapping Your Route to Pension Plan Termination Readiness

Trying to nail down the financial aspect of being ready to terminate a pension plan is like trying to hit a moving target. And, unfortunately, it is not the only consideration to determine if your pension plan is ready to terminate. A qualified plan termination is a multi-step, government-regulated process. It involves multiple parties, requires accurate participant data and benefit information, and includes managing the resources and messaging for several required communications with plan participants. It also requires leadership involvement and effective change management to determine a successful implementation strategy. Assessing the status of all these aspects will lead to the successful execution of a termination strategy that is predictable and efficient.

Terminating a plan is not something most organizations do more than once. So it is unlikely that you have a prior project plan saved on your company network. Typical project management approaches will require months to coordinate all the people involved and all the decisions that need to be made.

Using Findley’s approach, as an alternative to typical project planning, can dramatically accelerate the process.

Determine Your Destination:

Gather Background Data and Assess Current Status

The first phase of your process should focus on developing some financial projection analyses and assessing the current status of the plan. This will give stakeholders a baseline understanding of your time horizon, the biggest areas you will need to focus on to get ready, and the capacity of your team to take on tasks related to the termination.

A fully funded plan, measured on a termination basis, is a moving target with several factors that influence the funded level over time (asset returns, cash contributions, interest rates, etc.). Actuarial analytics, projections, and interactive scenarios, that can be modeled with a tool like Findley’s PlanTermTM Financial Modeler, show how possible future economic conditions could affect your plan and will provide critical data for stakeholders to understand which variables have the most impact, and how they all interact.

Outside of the financial aspect, a review of the plan document provisions and compliance and an assessment of historical data will uncover any additional work needed.

Plan Your Itinerary:

Define Your Objectives by Leveraging a Collaborative Session

Defining your multi-year strategy requires key leadership engagement and effective change management. C-suite leaders understand the importance of this preparation but are often challenged to find the time required for the typical strategic planning approach. To overcome this, a compressed planning session, like Findley’s Rapid MapTM session, can be used to form the basis of the strategic plan and build consensus around the priorities and action items.

A trained facilitator addresses important issues connected to the plan termination process in a systematic and focused manner. The Rapid MapTM approach is a proven technique used to:

  • Reach decisions on strategic objectives in a compressed timeframe. In the course of one afternoon, the process can be used to develop and prioritize objectives related to the plan’s readiness to terminate.
  • Build consensus among the many stakeholders. Internally, this group of stakeholders is likely to include key members of your executive, finance, and HR teams. Externally, it also may involve your investment advisors, annuity consultants, actuaries, third party benefit administrators, and ERISA legal counsel.
  • Outline key communications priorities. There are many required communications that must be sent over the course of the plan termination. It is important to discuss a communication strategy that includes the timing, target audiences, key messages to be delivered, who will deliver those messages, and the communication channels you will use.

The trained facilitator will lead a prioritizing activity to define and map out the top goals and objectives that become part of your strategic plan. Action steps are then refined in the last phase.

Start Your Trip:

Create, Implement, and Monitor Your Multi-Year Strategic Plan

In this final phase, project leaders manage the multi-year milestones and implement the change management strategy developed in the planning session. Once the strategic plan is set, a detailed change management project plan defines each year’s implementation steps and timing. Monitoring actual vs. forecast experience begins immediately and continues throughout the course of the multi-year strategic plan. The interactive forecast modeling tool established in the first phase becomes a key tool for ongoing monitoring of financial readiness to terminate, and will also indicate if economic conditions are causing time horizon changes.

While waiting for the plan to be financially ready to terminate, use the time to tackle other objectives identified during the planning session. This might include research into historical data sources, finalization of any benefits that are not already certified, and locating lost participants. You may also need to engage an annuity consultant or identify a partner to outsource some or all of the administrative functions to handle the expected increase in volume.

Plan termination communications can also be tackled during this time. Effective communications will make sure participants are well-informed about their decisions while helping to anticipate and alleviate concerns. Be sure to leverage the opportunity to tailor the messaging and layout of the required notices to be consistent with your company or benefit program branding.

In Perspective

Once the plan termination has begun, the steps in the process are defined by several governmental agencies, and each step has specific timing requirements that make all of the steps interrelated. So, once you start, you need to be ready to progress through the steps at a regular pace.

To make the plan termination process run predictably, smoothly, and most efficiently, the best approach is to assess your readiness well ahead of time and have a strategic plan and process in place.

Questions? For additional information about developing or enhancing your strategic plan, contact the Findley consultant you normally work with, or Colleen Lowmiller at, 216.875.1913.

Posted January 15, 2019

Reminders of What’s New for Plan Sponsors in 2019

Retirement and health and welfare plan sponsors have a relatively short list of employee benefit changes that begin on or around January 1, 2019. However, some changes were announced so long ago that they could be easily forgotten; here’s a refresher.

For Sponsors of Disability Welfare Plans and Retirement Plans that Provide Disability Benefits


New claims procedures regulations for disability benefits claims, after multiple delays, have finally been set. The Department of Labor (DOL) requires that the new procedures apply to disability claims that arise after April 1, 2018. The rules generally give disability benefit claimants the same level of procedural protections that group health benefit claimants have after the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Its aim is to protect disability claimants from conflicts of interest; ensure claimants have an opportunity to respond to evidence and reasoning behind adverse determinations; and increase transparency in claims processing.

What Do Plan Sponsors Need to Do

For most plan sponsors, ERISA claims procedures are described in their summary plan descriptions. That means that the new disability benefit claims procedures require a summary of material modifications. Certain other plan sponsors will want to consider amending their plans to provide that the disability determination under their plan is made by a third party, such as the Social Security Administration or their long-term disability benefits insurer. Plan sponsors are advised to adopt any necessary amendments on or before the last day of the plan year that includes April 2, 2018. For calendar year plans, the amendment deadline is December 31, 2018.

For Sponsors of Retirement Plans

Hardship Withdrawals


Both the December 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) and the February 2018 Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) made important changes to hardship withdrawals, which can be provided in 401(k), 403(b), and 457(b) retirement plans. The TCJA change made hardship withdrawals more difficult to get for casualty losses, because the damage or loss must be attributable to a federally declared disaster. For more information see our article here. BBA changes generally make hardship withdrawals much more attractive and easier to administer by eliminating certain hurdles for plan participants.

What Changed for Plan Participants

Plan participants no longer need to take the maximum available loan under the plan before requesting a hardship withdrawal for plan years beginning in 2018 (January 1, 2018 for calendar years). Effective on the first day of the applicable plan year beginning in 2019 (January 1, 2019 for calendar year plans), BBA eliminated the rule requiring that employees who take a hardship distribution must cease making salary deferrals for six months. In addition, BBA created a new source of funds for hardship withdrawals— any interest earned on salary deferrals. These hardship withdrawal changes are described here.

What Do Plan Sponsors Need to Do

The TCJA change to hardship withdrawals is an administrative one that impacts internal procedures.  However, BBA changes to hardship withdrawals are likely to require a plan amendment to be adopted on or before the end of the 2019 plan year (December 31, 2019 for calendar year plans), and a summary of material modifications to be issued soon thereafter.

402(f) Special Tax Notices


On September 18, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued updated model notices to satisfy the requirements of Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 402(f). The modifications are the result of the TCJA, which extended the time within which a participant can roll over the amount of a plan loan offset to effect a tax-free rollover of the loan offset amount. The new extended period applies to accrued loan amounts that are offset from a participant’s account balance at either plan termination or the termination of employment. A detailed description of these changes and links to the new model notices can be found here.

Defined Benefit Plan Restatements

In March 2018, the IRS released Announcement 2018-15, stating that it intends to issue opinion and advisory letters for preapproved master and prototype (M&P) and volume submitter (VS) defined benefit plans that were restated for plan qualification requirements listed in the 2012 Cumulative List. An employer that wants to use a preapproved document to restate its defined benefit plan will be required to adopt the plan document on or before April 30, 2020.

403(b) Plan Restatements

The deadline to restate preapproved 403(b) M&P and VS plans is March 31, 2020, according to Revenue Procedure 2017-18. 403(b) plans can be sponsored by a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization (including a cooperative hospital service organization defined under Code Section 501(c)), a church or church-related organization, and a government entity (but only for its public school employees). For more detailed information, see our article here.

VCP Applications

On September 28, 2018, the IRS issued Revenue Procedure 2018-52, which provides that beginning April 1, 2019, the IRS will accept only electronic submissions to its Voluntary Compliance Program (VCP) under the Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (EPCRS). The new procedure modifies and supersedes Revenue Procedure 2016-51, which most recently set forth the EPCRS, a comprehensive system for correcting documentary and operational defects in qualified retirement plans. Revenue Procedure 2018-52 provides a 3-month transition period beginning January 1, 2019, during which the IRS will accept either paper or electronic VCP submissions.

2019 Plan Limits

In Notice 2018-83, the IRS issued the cost-of-living adjusted limits for tax-qualified plans. A number of these limits were increased from 2018 levels. For a detailed listing of these limits, see our article here.

For Sponsors of Health Plans

The IRS issued Revenue Procedure 2018-34 in May 2018, which sets the 2019 affordability threshold for the ACA employer mandate at 9.86 percent. Coverage is affordable only if the employee’s contribution or share of the premium for the lowest cost, self-only coverage for which he or she is eligible does not exceed a certain percentage of the employee’s household income (starting at 9.5 percent in 2014, and adjusted for inflation). See our detailed article here.

For Sponsors of High Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs)

In May 2018, the IRS announced in Revenue Procedure 2018-30 the 2019 limits for contributions to Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and definitional limits for HDHPs. These inflation adjustments are provided for under applicable law. For a more detailed description of the increases, see our article here.

What Do Plan Sponsors Need to Do

Plan sponsors should review their employee benefit plans to determine if any of them are affected by the changes listed above.


Please contact the Findley consultant you regularly work with or Sheila Ninneman at or 216.875.1927.

Posted November 12, 2018

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Government Pension Plans in Focus: Is the Plan Actuarially Sound?

If stakeholders in a government entity’s pension plan were told that the plan is actuarially sound, they would probably believe that a simple, clear definition of actuarial soundness is known and understood by all actuaries and that every actuary would agree that the plan is in good financial shape. But a word or phrase can have different meanings depending on the context, and actuarially sound is no exception. This article examines how the simple phrase “actuarially sound” can be a source of confusion for government entity stakeholders, and it provides more specific questions to follow the first critical follow-up question: In what context?

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Using Actuarial Experience in Managing a Public Pension Plan

For government pension plan sponsors, regular analysis of the plan’s experience is a vital tool in the ongoing financial management of the plan. The experience analysis not only provides monitoring of recent trends, it is the basis for determining the forward-looking assumptions used in the actuarial valuations that measure the plan’s liabilities, funded status, accounting expense, and recommended contributions.

Regular experience analysis identifies emerging trends among the plan’s participants, the plan’s investment performance, and the current economic environment. We’ve seen the following general trends in recent years:

  • During the Great Recession (2008-2010), plan participants’ retirement patterns shifted to later retirement, particularly when there were changes in benefits or coverage under a post-retirement health benefits plan. Participant retirements are returning to historical patterns as the economy improves.
  • Participants are living longer in retirement, but not as much as originally expected. Government workers in public safety positions have not seen the increases in life span that employees in other government roles have experienced (e.g., teachers or general employees). A participant’s income level prior to retirement appears to be a better predictor of life expectancy than job role.
  • Low inflation has changed expectations for future investment performance; many investment advisors believe that the current environment is the ‘new normal’ for long-term inflation.

Monitoring changes in demographic, investment and economic trends is important, because the actuarial model should use the best estimates of future experience (the actuarial assumptions) to ensure integrity in the plan’s financial measurements. All stakeholders of a government entity rely on these measurements, but perhaps the most important is the individual taxpayer. The allocation of plan costs should be fair to current and future generations of taxpayers—which means that the actuarial assumptions used in determining the financial measurements should be the best estimates of expected future events.

The Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA), the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB), and the actuarial profession have each issued standards regarding appropriate actuarial assumptions.   The GFOA has also published its recommendations on practices to enhance the reliability of the actuarial valuation; among these are regularly analyzing actuarial gains and losses and periodically performing actuarial experience studies.

How Should Plan Sponsors Monitor Actuarial Experience?

The GFOA recommends analyzing actuarial gains and losses with every valuation cycle, typically annually. The details of the experience analysis should reflect the plan’s specific circumstances, with economic and demographic factors analyzed separately, and the experience of more significant assumptions highlighted.

Experience monitoring over shorter periods provides real-time information on emerging trends; continuing the analysis over multiple years adds more value by identifying longer-term trends in pension plan experience. The value of a long-term approach can be seen in the research article ”How Did State/Local Plans Become Underfunded” by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. This article details the actuarial experience in the Georgia Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) over a 12-year period and illustrates how actuarial experience ultimately affected the Georgia TRS.[i]

When Should a Formal Experience Study Be Performed?

Ongoing experience analysis may suggest the need for a more in-depth, formal experience study. The experience study can then be the basis for decisions to modify the plan’s actuarial assumptions. An experience study looks at all of the demographic, investment and economic factors that make up the total experience for the plan. Also, the experience study reviews experience over a longer period (typically three to five years).

Some plan sponsors perform an actuarial experience study regularly while others perform studies as circumstances arise, such as after significant plan events, changes within the government entity, or changes in the economy.

Using the Experience Study in Setting Assumptions

The plan sponsor, guided by their actuary, uses an experience study as a key reference point in making assumptions regarding future experience. Each assumption chosen should reflect a combining of recent experience, experience over a longer period of time, as well as expectations for the future. The actuarial experience study can be used to blend the plan’s experience with national experience tables from the Society of Actuaries, or indicate which national experience tables are most appropriate.

In Perspective

Successful financial management of a public pension plan is a recurring process of financial forecasting based on the best available information. Ongoing experience analysis and experience studies gives the plan sponsor and actuary the needed information to best ensure the integrity of plan financial measurements. The bottom line: this process results in less volatile contributions in the short-term, and provides greater generational equity among taxpayers for the long-term.

Questions to Ask Your Actuary


Questions? For additional information about experience analysis and experience studies, contact the Findley consultant you normally work with, or Brad Fisher at, 615.665.5316.

[i] Alicia H. Munnell, Jean-Pierre Aubry, and Mark Cafarelli, “How Did State/Local Plans Become Underfunded?” State and Local Pension Plans 42 (Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, January 2015)., accessed June 20, 2018.

Posted October 23, 2018

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