Maintaining Your Plan

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MAN: I adopted a retirement plan for a lot of reasons.

I want to attract and keep the kinds of employees that I need to be successful in this competitive business.

I want to prepare for the years when I'll probably want to play more golf than work.

And I want to help my employees save for their own retirement years.

The tax advantages of having a retirement plan were sure attractive, too.

I knew that I'd need to do more than sign the paperwork to set up the plan, but sometimes I feel awfully unsure about what it is that I need to be doing now.

Mistakes in operating it could cost my employees and me a lot of money and hassle.

What should I be doing to keep this plan and all our hopes for a comfortable retirement on track?

And what happens if I make a mistake?

WOMAN: Setting up a retirement plan is a big step for any employer.

It shows a commitment to the future well-being of the employer and/or employees.

It makes good business sense.

The tax breaks are substantial.

Jeopardizing those tax benefits by not following the law is something most employers do not want to do.

What does the employer sponsor of a retirement plan need to do to keep their plan healthy?

GRANT: You know, keeping a retirement plan in good shape is a little like maintaining your car.

Regular maintenance, fixing small problems before they become big expensive problems ensures that you can depend on your car when you need it to get you where you're going.

The last thing you want to deal with when you're on your way to a vacation is a major breakdown.

The retirement plan you adopted also needs regular attention and care to keep it operating well.

A program of internal controls, oversight, and periodic review is essential, and the business owner is the one most responsible for the plan's good health.

WOMAN: It's easier to keep a plan in compliance than bring a neglected program back into shape.

Why should an employer spend precious time and money on maintaining their retirement plan?

GRANT: The law governing retirement plans is complex, and that law changes frequently -- about 10 major changes in the last 25 years.

WOMAN: You can't just set a plan up and assume that it will operate the same way indefinitely.

Will there be a lot of changes to the law in the future?

GRANT: If the past is predictive, that's probably so.

Some of those future changes may liberalize benefits or limits or make plan administration easier.

Business owners should stay on top of the changes.

For better or worse, they will want to adjust their plan to reflect the new rules.

Also, business circumstances may change in ways that require adjustments in how the plan operates.

If a business has a 401(k) plan, changes in the workforce or its salary-deferral patterns will have an impact on how much the management team can defer.

WOMAN: Understanding how your plan works and when changes may be needed are responsibilities of the plan sponsor.

GRANT: Sponsorship of a retirement plan for any business is a serious responsibility, with a potential for significant legal and financial liability.

WOMAN: Your own role as a fiduciary requires a great deal of care and diligence to ensure that these important benefits are there when you and your employees are ready to retire.

That's a lot of responsibility, so there are lots of reasons to keep your eye on the ball with your retirement plan.

Just what needs to be done to maintain a retirement plan?

GRANT: Well, there are two broad areas of maintenance.

The first has to do with the written aspects of the plan.

Many types of retirement plans, especially those referred to as "qualified plans," like a 401(k) or a defined benefit plan, have written documents that must be kept up-to-date with changes in the law.

WOMAN: So, you need to know when and what to change, and employers should make sure the plan document is up-to-date.

GRANT: Also, you want to ensure that plan participants get what's promised to them by the terms of the plan and that benefit and contribution limits aren't exceeded.

Different kinds of retirement plans are covered by different legal requirements.

WOMAN: In what other ways is the government involved in retirement plans?

GRANT: Various government agencies, including the IRS, the Department of Labor, and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, have a responsibility to ensure that plans are operated within the rules and that participants get the benefits they're entitled to.

So these agencies monitor plan operations.

WOMAN: So, a one-size-fits-all program for keeping a retirement plan in good running order isn't really possible.

How does a business owner find out what he or she should be doing?

We talk to Joyce Kahn, Manager of the Employee Plans Voluntary Compliance Programs.

KAHN: Your tax advisor may have expertise in this area or know someone who does.

Attorneys, accountants, and actuaries who specialize in retirement-program planning and operation can be a wonderful source of information and assistance.

They can help you determine what needs to be monitored and how to do it.

WOMAN: Third-party plan administrators may also be a good source of information and services.

Both the IRS and Department of Labor have Websites that are chock-full of information on plan requirements.

KAHN: The IRS has material on its Website that's designed to alert employers to new plan requirements and opportunities.

Both IRS and the Department of Labor have publications that may help you understand the requirements of the law.

WOMAN: The IRS has a free electronic newsletter that will help keep you up-to-date on what's happening in the area of tax law related to retirement.

What happens if a plan sponsor makes a mistake in operating her retirement plan?

KAHN: At IRS and the Department of Labor, we understand how complicated the requirements of the law are and have programs to help you.

We know that with the best intentions, good planning, and a review, mistakes can still be made in retirement-plan operations.

Both IRS and the Department of Labor have several correction programs to help plan sponsors.

These programs are designed to encourage plan sponsors to identify and correct problems earlier rather than later.

Woman: As you look further, you'll discover more about these correction programs and how to go about using them.