In late November, House Ways & Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) unveiled a package of tax extenders and technical corrections to last year’s landmark tax reform legislation. Included in the bill is a pension provision that will make it easier for manufacturers to offer competitive retirement benefits to their employees.
When companies transition from a traditional defined benefit (DB) pension plan to a defined contribution (DC) 401(k) plan, many businesses grandfather longer service employees into the existing DB pension and offer the new 401(k) only to new employees. This allows existing employees to remain in their long-standing pension plan as they near retirement.
This approach, called a “soft freeze,” allows companies to provide competitive retirement benefits to all employees, regardless of their tenure. However, over time these plans can trigger IRS nondiscrimination rules as the employees in the DB plan continue to increase in both time served and compensation relative to the newer employees in the DC plan. This can lead to companies being forced to institute a “hard freeze” on the plan, meaning that employees miss out on their prime years of benefit accruals.
Chairman Brady’s legislation provides an alternative solution that would modify the nondiscrimination rules to allow plan sponsors to protect grandfathered employees when transitioning from a DB to a DC plan structure. Provided that the plan does not violate any nondiscrimination rules when it is set up and no significant changes are made going forward (other than changes in employees’ employment status and/or compensation), it would not violate nondiscrimination rules as the longer service DB employees advance through their career.
This targeted reform would prevent companies from unintentionally violating the nondiscrimination rules, allowing manufacturers to compensate employees competitively and attract talent in a tightening job market. The NAM signed a coalition letter supporting this change, which is modeled after bipartisan legislation introduced by Reps. Pat Tiberi (R-OH) and Richard Neal (D-MA) and Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Ben Cardin (D-MD). The NAM will continue to advocate for this important reform as the tax bill moves through Congress.