The Frugal Fiduciary Small Business 401(k) Blog
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Providers of Multiple-Employer 401(k) Plans (MEPs) – a form of 401(k) plan co-sponsored by two or more unrelated employers - have had a rough time in the courts in recent months. Three providers - ADP, Pentegra, and TriNet - have been accused of charging excessive 401(k) fees, while two others – Insperity and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) - have paid out tens of millions of dollars in restitution. Because providers usually market MEPs as a lower-cost alternative to single-employer 401(k) plans, these lawsuits can seem surprising. I’m not surprised one bit.
On December 20, 2019, the President signed the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 into law. This year-end spending package included the most extensive retirement plan legislation in over a decade - the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act. After the SECURE Act was passed by the House, I judged the bill a mixed bag of good, bad, and ugly – the good representing welcome reform, the bad representing undue complexity, and the ugly representing handouts to the financial industry. That view has not changed now that the bill is law.
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According to AARP, Americans are 15 times more likely to save for retirement when they are covered by a workplace retirement plan. However, while most large businesses – companies with more than 100 employees – sponsor a retirement plan, 51 to 71 percent of small businesses don’t. Causing many small business owners to steer clear of 401(k) plans, in my view, is a perception that plan sponsorship is too expensive, time-consuming, and/or fraught with liability – in short, not worth the trouble. To help overcome this perception – and close the small business coverage gap – I think we need more straightforward and transparent 401(k) plans.
According to AARP, Americans are 15 times more likely to save for retirement when they can do so by payroll deduction through a 401(k) or other workplace retirement plan. However, while most large businesses – companies with more than 100 employees – sponsor a retirement plan, 51 to 71 percent of small businesses don’t. In recent years, Multiple Employers Plans (MEPs) have been floated as a way to close this small business coverage gap. I disagree for a simple reason - MEPs fail to address the specific reasons why small businesses don’t offer a retirement plan today. I think single-employer 401(k) plans modeled after the Federal Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) paired with tax credits would do a better job.
On August 31, President Trump signed an Executive Order on Strengthening Retirement Security in America. In the order, the President made it the “policy of the Federal Government to expand access to workplace retirement plans for American workers.” While I fully support the policy – not enough workers are covered by a workplace retirement plan – I don’t think the order’s proposals will motivate more employers to offer a retirement plan. Other changes would be more effective.
A couple of weeks back, I found a Multiple-Employer 401(k) Plan (MEP) marketing piece by State Street Global Advisors (SSGA) that copied (without attribution) a 401(k) plan fiduciary hierarchy I had created for a blog. The piece claimed employers could fully outsource their plan’s hierarchy – and any personal liability for failing to meet its fiduciary responsibilities – to a MEP 401(k) provider. The problem? While outsourcing the 401(k) hierarchy is possible, outsourcing its liability is not.