Sunday, September 3, 2017

When Your Employer Bungles Your Retirement Plan Loan

I admit that I am not a fan of borrowing from an employer retirement plan, except perhaps as a next-to-last step before being evicted.

Things go wrong.

Lose your job, for example, and not only are you looking for work but you also have a tax bill on a loan you cannot pay back.

You do not even have to lose your job.

Ms. Frias participated in her company’s retirement plan. She was getting ready to go on maternity leave when she borrowed $40,000 from her 401(k). Her employer was to withhold from her paycheck (to be paid biweekly), and there was a make-up provision allowing her to correct any shortfall by the end of the following month.
COMMENT: Retirement plan proceeds are normally tax-free if repaid over a period of five years or less.
She went on leave on or around August 1st.  She was drawing on her accumulated vacation and sick time.  Sounds pretty routine.

She returned to work October 12th.

In November, she learned that her employer had failed to withhold any monies for her 401(k) loan.

She immediately wrote a $1,000 check and increased her withholding to get caught-up.

Nonetheless, at the end of the year the plan administrator (Mutual of America Life) sent her a $40,000 Form 1099R on the loan.

They however sent it to her electronically. Having no reason to expect one, she did not realize that she had even received a 1099. Goes without saying it was not on her tax return.

You know the IRS matched this up and sent her a notice.

What do you think: does she have a tax issue?

No question her employer messed up.

And that she tried to correct it.

However, the law is strict:
Although a loan may satisfy the section 72(p) requirements, “a deemed distribution occurs at the first time that the requirements … of this section are not satisfied, in form or operation.”
Her first payment was due in August, the month following the loan. If she had a deemed distribution, it would have occurred then. A distribution – even a “deemed” one – would be taxable.

There remained hope, though:
The plan administrator may provide the plan participant with an opportunity to cure the failure, and a deemed distribution does not occur unless the participant fails to pay the delinquent payment within the cure period.”
This is a nice safety valve. If the employer gives you a “cure” period, you can still avoid having the fail and its associated tax.

What was her cure period?

The end of the following month: September.

When did she write a check?

November, when she realized that there was a problem.

Too late.

She had one last long shot: a “leave of absence” exception.

Which is Code section 72(p)(2)(C), and it provides for interruption in a loan repayment schedule if one is not drawing a paycheck or not drawing enough to meet the minimum loan payment.

Her argument? She was not receiving her “regular” paycheck. She instead was drawing on her vacation and sick time bank.

Problem: she nonetheless received a check, and the Court was unwilling to part-and-parcel its source. She was collecting enough to make the loan payments.

She was hosed.

She did nothing wrong, but her employer’s negligence cost her somewhere near $15 grand in unnecessary taxes.

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