Compliance

Hurricane Harvey Victims Get Relief from Regulators

The relief includes relaxed rules for hardships and loans and relaxed deadlines for filings and disclosures.

By Rebecca Moore editors@strategic-i.com | August 31, 2017
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The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that defined contribution (DC) employer-sponsored retirement plans can make loans and hardship distributions to victims of Hurricane Harvey and members of their families.

Participants in 401(k) plans, employees of public schools and tax-exempt organizations with 403(b) tax-sheltered annuities, as well as state and local government employees with 457(b) deferred-compensation plans may be eligible to take advantage of these streamlined loan procedures and liberalized hardship distribution rules. Though individual retirement account (IRA) participants are barred from taking out loans, they may be eligible to receive distributions under liberalized procedures.

Retirement plans can provide this relief to employees and certain members of their families who live or work in disaster area localities affected by Hurricane Harvey and designated for individual assistance by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Currently, parts of Texas qualify for individual assistance. For a complete list of eligible counties, visit https://www.fema.gov/disasters. To qualify for this relief, hardship withdrawals must be made by January 31, 2018.

The IRS is also relaxing procedural and administrative rules that normally apply to retirement plan loans and hardship distributions. As a result, eligible retirement plan participants will be able to access their money more quickly with a minimum of red tape. In addition, the six-month ban on 401(k) and 403(b) contributions that normally affects employees who take hardship distributions will not apply.

This broad-based relief means that a retirement plan can allow a victim of Hurricane Harvey to take a hardship distribution or borrow up to the specified statutory limits from the victim’s retirement plan. It also means that a person who lives outside the disaster area can take out a retirement plan loan or hardship distribution and use it to assist a son, daughter, parent, grandparent or other dependent who lived or worked in the disaster area.

Plans will be allowed to make loans or hardship distributions before the plan is formally amended to provide for such features. In addition, the plan can ignore the reasons that normally apply to hardship distributions, thus allowing them, for example, to be used for food and shelter. If a plan requires certain documentation before a distribution is made, the plan can relax this requirement as described in Announcement 2017-11.

The IRS emphasized that the tax treatment of loans and distributions remains unchanged.

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