Meeting Your 401(k) Fiduciary Responsibilities To help your business avoid any pitfalls, this guide outlines your 401(k) fiduciary responsibilities. If your company has or is considering starting a 401(k) plan, you’ve probably heard the term “fiduciary.” But what does being a fiduciary mean to you as a 401(k) plan sponsor? Simply put, it means that you’re obligated to act in the best interests of your 401(k) plan, its participants and beneficiaries. It’s serious business. If fiduciary responsibilities aren’t managed properly, your business could face legal and financial ramifications. To help you avoid any pitfalls, this guide outlines ways to understand your 401(k) fiduciary responsibilities. A brief history of the 401(k) plan and fiduciary duties When Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1978, it included the little-known provision that eventually led to the 401(k) plan. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, referred to as ERISA, is a companion federal law that contains rules designed to protect employee savings by requiring individuals and entities that manage a retirement plan, referred to as “fiduciaries,” to follow strict standards of conduct. Among other responsibilities, fiduciaries must always act with care and prudence and not engage in any conflicts of interest with regard to plan assets. When you adopt a 401(k) plan for your employees as a plan sponsor, you become an ERISA fiduciary. And in exchange for helping employees build retirement savings, you and your employees receive special tax benefits, as outlined in the Internal Revenue Code. The IRS oversees the tax rules, and the Department of Labor (DOL) provides guidance on ERISA fiduciary requirements and enforcement. As you can imagine, following these rules can sometimes feel like navigating a maze. But the good news is that an experienced 401(k) provider like Betterment can help you understand your fiduciary duties, and may even shoulder some of the responsibility for you as we’ll explain below. Key fiduciary responsibilities No matter the size of your company or 401(k) plan, every plan sponsor has fiduciary duties, broadly categorized as follows: You are considered the “named fiduciary” with overall responsibility for the plan, including selecting and monitoring plan investments. You are also considered the “plan administrator” with fiduciary authority and discretion over how the plan is operated. As a fiduciary, you must follow the high standards of conduct required by ERISA when managing your plan’s investments and when making decisions about plan operations. There are five cornerstone rules you must follow: Act in employees’ best interests—Every decision you make about your plan must be solely based on what is best for your participants and their beneficiaries. Act prudently—Prudence requires that you be knowledgeable about retirement plan investments and administration. If you do not have the expertise to handle all of these responsibilities, you will need to engage the services of those who do, such as investment managers or recordkeepers. Diversify plan investments—You must diversify investments to help reduce the risk of large losses to plan assets. Follow the plan documents—You must follow the terms of the plan document when operating your plan (unless they are inconsistent with ERISA). Pay only reasonable plan fees—Fees from plan assets must be reasonable and for services that are necessary for your plan. Detailed DOL rules outline the steps you must take to fulfill this fiduciary responsibility, which include reviewing fees on an ongoing basis, collecting and evaluating fee disclosures for investments and service provider’s revenue, and comparing (or benchmarking) fees to ensure they are reasonable. You don’t have to pay a lot to get a quality 401(k) plan Fees can really chip away at your participants’ account balances (and have a detrimental impact on their futures). So take care to ensure that the services you’re paying for are necessary for the plan and that the fees paid from plan assets are reasonable. To determine what’s reasonable you may need to benchmark the fees against those of other similar retirement plans. And if you have an existing 401(k) plan, it’s important to take note of the “ongoing” responsibility to review fees to determine their reasonableness. The industry is continually evolving and what may have been reasonable fees from one provider may no longer be the case! It’s your responsibility as a plan fiduciary to keep an eye on what’s available. Why it’s important to fulfill your fiduciary duties Put simply, it’s incredibly important that you meet your 401(k) fiduciary responsibilities. Not only are your actions critical to your employees’ futures, but there are also serious consequences if you fail to fulfill your fiduciary duties. In fact, plan participants and other plan fiduciaries have the right to sue to correct any financial wrongdoing. If the plan is mismanaged, you face a two-fold risk: Civil and criminal action (including expensive penalties) from the government and the potentially high price of rectifying the issue. Under ERISA, fiduciaries are personally liable for plan losses caused by a breach of fiduciary responsibilities and may be required to: Restore plan losses (including interest) Pay expenses relating to correction of inappropriate actions. While your fiduciary responsibilities can seem daunting, the good news is that ERISA also allows you to delegate many of your fiduciary responsibilities to 401(k) professionals like Betterment. Additional fiduciary responsibilities On top of the five cornerstone rules listed above, there are a few other things on a fiduciary’s to-do list: Deposit participant contributions in a timely manner —This may seem simple, but it’s extremely important to do it quickly and accurately. Specifically, you must deposit participants’ contributions to your plan’s trust account on the earliest date they can be reasonably segregated from general corporate assets. The timelines differ depending on your plan size: Small plan—If your plan has fewer than 100 participants, a deposit is considered timely if it’s made within seven business days from the date the contributions are withheld from employees’ wages. Large plan— If your plan has 100 participants or more, you must deposit contributions as soon as possible after you withhold the money from employees’ wages. It must be “timely,” which means typically within a few days. For all businesses, the deposit should never occur later than the 15th business day of the month after the contributions were withheld from employee wages. However, contributions should be deposited well before then. Fulfill your reporting and disclosure requirements—Under ERISA, you are required to fulfill specific reporting requirements. While the paperwork can be complicated, an experienced 401(k) provider like Betterment should be able to help to guide you through the process. It’s important to note that if required government reports—such as Form 5500—aren’t filed in a timely manner, you may be assessed financial penalties. Plus, when required disclosures—such as Safe Harbor notices—aren’t provided to participants in a timely manner, the consequences can also be severe including civil penalties, plan disqualification by the IRS, or participant lawsuits. Get help shouldering your fiduciary responsibilities For most employers, day-to-day business responsibilities leave little time for the extensive investment research, analysis, and fee benchmarking that’s required to responsibly manage a 401(k) plan. Because of this, many companies hire outside experts to take on certain fiduciary responsibilities. However, even the act of hiring 401(k) experts is a fiduciary decision! Even though you can appoint others to carry out many of your fiduciary responsibilities, you can never fully transfer or eliminate your role as an ERISA fiduciary. Take a look at the chart below to see the different fiduciary roles—and what that would mean for you as the employer: Defined in ERISA section Outside expert Employer No Fiduciary Status Disclaims any fiduciary investment responsibility Retains sole fiduciary responsibility and liability 3(21) Shares fiduciary investment responsibility in the form of investment recommendations Retains responsibility for final investment discretion 3(38) Assumes full discretionary authority for assets and investments Relieves employer of investment fiduciary responsibility (yet still needs to monitor the 3(38) provider) 3(16) Has discretionary responsibility for certain administrative aspects of the plan Relieves employer of certain plan administration responsibilities Betterment can help Betterment serves as a 3(38) investment manager for all plans that we manage and can serve as a limited 3(16) fiduciary with agreed upon administrative tasks as well. This means less work for you and your staff, so you can focus on your business. Get in touch today if you’re interested in bringing a Betterment 401(k) to your organization: email@example.com.
Pros and Cons of Illinois Secure Choice for Small Businesses Answers to frequently asked questions about the Illinois Secure Choice retirement program for small businesses. Since it was launched in 2018, the Illinois Secure Choice retirement program has helped thousands of people in Illinois save for their future. If you’re an employer in Illinois, state laws require you to offer Illinois Secure Choice if you: Effective November 1, 2023, had 5 or more employees during all four quarters of the previous calendar year Have been in operation for at least two years Do not offer an employer-sponsored retirement plan If your company has recently become eligible for Illinois Secure Choice or you’re wondering whether it’s the best choice for your employees, read on for answers to frequently asked questions. 1. Do I have to offer my employees Illinois Secure Choice? No. Illinois laws require businesses with 5 or more employees to offer retirement benefits, but you don’t have to elect Illinois Secure Choice. If you provide a 401(k) plan (or another type of employer-sponsored retirement program), you may request an exemption. 2. What is Illinois Secure Choice? Illinois Secure Choice is a Payroll Deduction IRA program—also known as an “Auto IRA” plan. Under an Auto IRA plan, you must automatically enroll your employees in the program. Specifically, the Illinois plan requires employers to automatically enroll employees at a 5% deferral rate, and contributions are invested in a Roth IRA. As an eligible employer, you must set up the payroll deduction process and remit participating employee contributions to the Secure Choice plan provider. Employees retain control over their Roth IRA and can customize their account by selecting their own contribution rate and investments—or by opting out altogether. 3. Why should I consider Illinois Secure Choice? Illinois Secure Choice is a simple, straightforward way to help your employees save for retirement. It’s administered by a private-sector financial services firm and sponsored by the State of Illinois. As an employer, your role is limited and there are no fees to offer Illinois Secure Choice. 4. Are there any downsides to Illinois Secure Choice? Yes, there are factors that may make Illinois Secure Choice less appealing than other retirement plans like 401(k) plans. Here are some important considerations: Illinois Secure Choice is a Roth IRA, which means it has income limits—If your employees earn above a certain threshold, they will not be able to participate in Illinois Secure Choice. For example, single filers with modified adjusted gross incomes of more than $144,000 in 2022 would not be eligible to contribute. However, 401(k) plans aren’t subject to the same income restrictions. Illinois Secure Choice is not subject to worker protections under ERISA—Other tax-qualified retirement savings plans—such as 401(k) plans—are subject to ERISA, a federal law that requires fiduciary oversight of retirement plans. Employees don’t receive a tax benefit for their savings in the year they make contributions—Unlike a 401(k) plan—which allows both before-tax and after-tax contributions—Illinois Secure Choice only allows after-tax (Roth) contributions. Investment earnings within a Roth IRA are tax-deferred until withdrawn and may eventually be tax-free. Contribution limits are far lower—IRA contribution limits are lower than 401(k) limits. The maximum may increase annually, based on cost-of-living adjustments (COLA), but not always. (The maximum contribution limits for IRAs stayed stagnant from 2019 through 2021 and increased slightly in 2022.) So even if employees max out their contribution to Illinois Secure Choice, they may still fall short of the amount of money they’ll likely need to achieve a financially secure retirement. No employer matching and/or profit sharing contributions—Employer contributions are a major incentive for employees to save for their future. 401(k) plans allow you the flexibility of offering employer contributions; however, Illinois Secure Choice does not. Limited investment options—Illinois Secure Choice offers a relatively limited selection of investments, which may not be appropriate for all investors. Typical 401(k) plans offer a much broader range of investment options and often additional resources such as managed accounts and personalized advice. Potentially higher fees for employees—There is no cost to employers to offer Illinois Secure Choice; however, employees do pay approximately $0.75 per year for every $100 in their account, depending upon their investments. While different 401(k) plans charge different fees, some plans have lower employee fees. Fees are a big consideration because they can erode employee savings over time. 5. Why should I consider a 401(k) plan instead of Illinois Secure Choice? For many employers —even very small businesses—a 401(k) plan may be a more attractive option for a variety of reasons. As an employer, you have greater flexibility and control over your plan service provider, investments, and features so you can tailor the plan that best meets your company’s needs and objectives. Plus, you’ll benefit from: Tax credits—Thanks to the SECURE Act 2.0, you can now receive up to $15,000 in tax credits over three years to help defray the start-up costs of your 401(k) plan. Plus, if you add an eligible automatic enrollment feature, you could earn an additional $1,500 in tax credits over three years. Also, if you plan to make employer contributions, there could be even more tax incentives. Tax deductions—If you pay for plan expenses like administrative fees, you may be able to claim them as a business tax deduction. With a 401(k) plan, your employees may also likely have greater: Choice—You can give employees, regardless of income, the choice of reducing their taxable income now by making pre-tax contributions or making after-tax contributions (or both!) Not only that, but employees can contribute to a 401(k) plan and an IRA if they wish—giving them even more opportunity to save for the future they envision. Saving power—Thanks to the higher contribution limits of a 401(k) plan, employees can save thousands of dollars more—potentially setting them up for a more secure future. Plus, if the 401(k) plan fees are lower than what an individual might have to pay with Illinois Secure Choice, that means more employee savings are available for account growth. Investment freedom—Employees may be able to access more investment options and the guidance they need to invest with confidence. Case in point: Betterment offers expert-built, globally diversified portfolios (including those focused on making a positive impact on the climate and society). Support—401(k) providers often provide a greater degree of support, such as educational resources on a wide range of topics. For example, Betterment offers personalized, “always-on” advice to help your employees reach their retirement goals and pursue overall financial wellness. Plus, we provide an integrated view of your employees’ outside assets so they can see their full financial picture—and track their progress toward all their savings goals. 6. So, what should I do? For any employer who is concerned with attracting and retaining talent in today’s market, offering a 401(k) has become a table-stakes benefit. State mandated plans are designed to help employees save for retirement, but they may lack some of the benefits that offering a 401(k) plan affords. In order to compete for talent, but also to benefit your business’s bottom line with tax savings, we recommend thinking about designing a more thoughtful retirement option that will help you and your employees in the long run. Want to talk about how? Get in touch. Betterment is not a tax advisor, and the information contained in this article is for informational purposes only.
Is Auto-Enroll Right for Your 401(k) Plan? Learn the ins and outs of this popular plan feature that streamlines the participant experience. “Maybe when I make more.” “Maybe when I pay off my student loans.” “Maybe when my horoscope tells me it’s time.” When it comes to employees enrolling in and funding their 401(k)s, there’s always a reason why now isn’t the right time. But the fact is the best time to save for retirement is right now, while time and the power of compounding growth are on their side. That’s where 401(k) automatic enrollment—or ‘auto-enroll’ for short—comes in. It gives your employees the gentle nudge they might need to start saving for retirement. Deciding whether or not to automatically enroll your employees is one of two key 401(k) plan considerations. The other is whether to go with a Traditional or Safe Harbor 401(k) plan. In this article, we’ll walk you through the ins and outs of auto-enroll including: How auto-enroll works The three (and soon to be two) types of auto-enroll Auto-enrolled, but at how much? One potential downside of auto-enroll How Betterment at Work makes ‘auto’ even easier How 401(k) auto-enroll works As the name implies, automatic enrollment lets employers automatically deduct elective deferrals from employees’ wages. Simply put, it means your employees don’t have to lift a finger to start saving for retirement. Compare that to the typical enrollment process where employees must go online, make a phone call, or submit paperwork to access their retirement plan. All those little steps take real effort, and employees who are on the fence about enrolling might not be bothered to do it. Before they know it, years have passed, and they’ve missed out on valuable time in the market that they will never get back. Or you can do them a solid and make it all automatic. If you decide to add an automatic enrollment feature to your 401(k) plan, you must notify your employees at least 30 days in advance. After you do, they have three options: Opt out. Employees can opt out of 401(k) plan participation in advance. At Betterment at Work, by the way, we make it simple for employees to do this online. Customize their contribution amount or investments. Instead of enrolling with the default automatic enrollment elections, employees can stay enrolled but choose their own contribution rate. Do nothing for now and enjoy the ride. Here we see the beauty of automatic enrollment. Employees don’t have to do anything to start investing. Once the opt-out timeframe has elapsed, they’ll automatically begin deferring a certain percentage of their pay to their 401(k). Employees are typically informed each year that they can opt out from this enrollment. As you can imagine, option C is a popular choice. Among our clients who use auto-enroll, the employee participation rate is nearly 90 percent. The three (and soon to be two) types of auto-enroll Before we go into the different flavors of auto-enroll, know that the SECURE 2.0 Act signed into law in 2022 will be simplifying things here. Currently, there are three types of auto-enroll, but beginning in 2025, all plans created Dec. 29, 2022 or later (with a few exceptions) will essentially have two options. If your plan has an effective date before that date, it’s grandfathered in and the new auto-enroll rules won’t apply to it. All three types of auto-enroll that currently exist require that employees be enrolled at preset contribution rates and have the options to opt out or change their contribution rates. That’s effectively where a Basic Automatic Contribution Arrangement (ACA) begins and ends. Two other varieties add a few more wrinkles on top of that. With an Eligible Automatic Contribution Arrangement (EACA), employees can also request a refund of deferrals within the first 90 days. Employers come to a Qualified Automatic Contribution Arrangement (QACA) by way of a Safe Harbor 401(k) plan. That means they’ve already committed to, among other things, a specific threshold of employer contributions. Safe Harbor plans that include auto-enroll must also steadily increase their employees’ contribution rates each year in what’s often referred to as automatic escalation. We offer auto-escalation at no added expense for all new plans. Here’s how all this shakes out in grid form: Basic Automatic Contribution Arrangement (ACA) Eligible Automatic Contribution Arrangement (EACA) Qualified Automatic Contribution Arrangement (QACA) Employees enrolled at preset contribution rates ✓ ✓ ✓ Employees can opt-out or change contribution rates ✓ ✓ ✓ Employees can request refunds of deferrals within first 90 days ✓ Optional Requires employer contributions (i.e. Safe Harbor) ✓ Requires annual increase in employee contribution rate (i.e. auto-escalation) up to at least 6% ✓ Beginning in 2025, the SECURE 2.0 Act essentially makes EACA the default for all 401(k)s created Dec. 29, 2022 or later, again with a few exceptions. That means for those plans, employees’ deferrals must be set between 3-10% and escalate up to 10-15%. Newly auto-enrolled participants must also have a 90-day window to request their funds back. Keep in mind that if your plan has an effective date before Dec. 29, 2022 and you want to change providers, you can take it with you rather than create a new plan. All things considered, here’s what the options will be for recently-created plans beginning in 2025: Beginning in 2025, for all plans with effective dates of Dec. 29, 2022 or later Eligible Automatic Contribution Arrangement (EACA) Qualified Automatic Contribution Arrangement (QACA) Employees enrolled at preset contribution rate ✓ ✓ Employees can opt-out or change contribution rate ✓ ✓ Employees can request refunds of deferrals within first 90 days ✓ ✓ Requires annual increase in employee contribution rate (i.e. auto-escalation) starting at 3-10%, then escalating at least 1% a year up to 10-15% ✓ ✓ Requires employer contributions (i.e. Safe Harbor) and accelerated vesting schedule ✓ Auto-enrolled, but at how much? With auto-enroll plans, you pick your employees’ default contribution rate. This begs the question: how high should you set it? A default contribution rate of 3 percent used to be the most common, but that changed recently. According to The Plan Sponsor Council of America’s 64th Annual Survey, a 6 percent rate became the most popular in 2020. And if it helps any in your decision-making, our own data shows no evidence of higher default contribution rates leading to higher numbers of opt-outs. In addition to the default contribution rate, you’re also responsible for selecting the default investments for employees’ deferrals. This is what’s referred to as a Qualified Default Investment Alternative (QDIA) – and it can help limit your investment liability. Betterment at Work covers this base for all our 401(k) clients by defaulting employee deferrals into our Core portfolio, which meets QDIA criteria for transferability and safety. One potential downside of auto-enroll Making it easier for people to invest and save for retirement is a good thing. It’s sorta our thing. And if you have a Traditional 401(k) plan, an increased participation rate makes it more likely that your plan will pass the required compliance tests. However, there’s one downside to consider, and it’s mostly a matter of perspective. If you set your default contribution rate relatively low – let’s say less than 6 percent – and don’t actively encourage employees to bump that up as much as they can, they may not get on track to retire by their desired age. Is it better than saving nothing for retirement? Absolutely. But because employees didn’t actively choose the rate, they may not be inclined to increase it on their own. Wondering how to combat this retirement saving inertia? Well, it can be partially addressed by the aforementioned auto-escalation, which steadily increases employees’ contribution rates each year. We also help by offering your employees personalized retirement advice that helps keep them on track. How Betterment at Work makes ‘auto’ even easier As a digital 401(k) plan provider, we can help your employees save for their futures with compelling plan design features like auto-enroll. Our intuitive tech and committed service also lightens your administration load in the process. And let’s not forget about auto-escalation, which we offer at no added cost to new plans. Let us handle the work of monitoring who gets escalated. If your payroll provider is one of the many we integrate with, we'll even implement the increase ourselves. Last but certainly not least, we guide your employees through their contribution rates, investment options, and more. Even if your employees were auto-enrolled in the plan, they’ll get the encouragement they need to keep moving closer to retirement.