On May 18, 2009, the Internal Revenue Service (the “IRS”) issued new proposed regulations that allow plan sponsors of Internal Revenue Code (“Code”) Section 401(k) or 403(b) safe harbor plans to reduce or suspend non-elective contributions mid-year if they are experiencing a “substantial business hardship.” Prior to the proposed regulations, a plan sponsor could suspend non-elective contributions under a safe harbor plan only by terminating the plan. The proposed regulations apply to both traditional safe harbor plans and those that qualify as “qualified automatic contribution arrangements” (QACAs), a type of automatic enrollment plan introduced under the Pension Protection Act of 2006 for plan years beginning in or after 2008. The proposed regulations mirror current regulations that allow sponsors of plans with safe harbor matching contributions to reduce or suspend such contributions mid-year.
Plan sponsors may rely on the proposed regulations immediately (i.e., effective for amendments adopted after May 18, 2009) pending issuance of final regulations. If the final regulations are more restrictive than the proposed regulations, the final regulations will only apply prospectively.