CASE OF THE WEEK – “Disregarded Entities,” 403(b)s and 457s

By Jenny Kiffmeyer, J.D – The Retirement Learning Center

“Disregarded Entities,” 403(b)s and 457s

ERISA consultants at the Retirement Learning Center (RLC) Resource Desk regularly receive calls from financial advisors on a broad array of technical topics related to IRAs, qualified retirement plans and other types of retirement savings and income plans, including nonqualified plans, stock options, and Social Security and Medicare.  We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business.

A recent call with a financial advisor from Boston is representative of a common inquiry related to tax-exempt entities. The advisor asked: “How are subsidiaries and affiliates of an employer eligible to sponsor a 403(b) plan treated for plan participation purposes?”

Highlights of the Discussion

Generally, in order to offer an IRC §403(b) plan, the sponsor must be an “eligible employer” [e.g., a public school, church, or IRC §501(c)(3) organization as defined under Treasury Regulation (Treas. Reg) §1.403(b)-2(b)(8)(i)]. If the eligible 403(b) sponsor has a subsidiary or other affiliate; it, too, must be an eligible employer, in and of itself, in order to allow its employees to participate in the 403(b) plan [Treas. Reg. §1.403(b)-2(b)(8)(ii)].  There is an exception, however, for “disregarded entities” under Treas. Reg. §301.7701-3(b)(ii), including certain limited liability companies (LLCs) as explained in Chief Counsel Memorandum 201634021.1 Memoranda are not formal guidance, but they do provide insight into how the IRS interprets and applies its rules and regulations.

An LLC with a single owner may elect to be classified as either an association by filing Form 8832, Entity Classification Election or to be disregarded as an entity separate from its owner pursuant to Treas. Reg. §301.7701-3(b)(ii). If an entity is a disregarded entity, its activities are treated as those of a sole proprietorship, branch, or division of the owner under Treas. Reg. §301.7701-2(a). Consequently, a disregarded entity is treated as a branch or division of the 403(b) plan sponsor and not as a subsidiary or affiliate. Therefore, the employees of a disregarded entity are treated as employees of the entity sponsoring the 403(b), and must be allowed to make elective deferrals in order to satisfy the universal availability rule under Treas. Reg. § 1.403(b)-5(b).

The IRS applies similar reasoning to a governmental or tax-exempt, single-member LLC with a disregarded entity that sponsors a 457(b) plan. The disregarded entity is treated as a branch or division of the governmental or tax-exempt organization, so the employees of the disregarded entity are treated as employees of the governmental or tax-exempt organization and may, but are not required to, participate in the 457(b) plan.

Conclusion

In most cases, if a 403(b) sponsor has a subsidiary or other affiliate; it, too, must be an eligible employer, on its own, in order to allow its employees to participate in the 403(b) plan. There is an exception for certain disregarded entities. Employees of a disregarded entity are treated as employees of the entity sponsoring the 403(b), and must be allowed to make elective deferrals in order to satisfy the universal availability rule.

1 Note:  General Counsel Memoranda are prepared by Chief Counsel attorneys and are intended primarily for IRS internal use. They are similar to standard attorney opinions and indicate the reasoning behind revenue rulings, private letter rulings, and technical advice memoranda.

Pattern

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