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July 7, 2008

Here are the Web's best new links about compliance and cost aspects of plan operation, design and policy.


Today's sponsor is Employee Benefits Institute of America (EBIA)

(Click on company name or banner to learn more.)
Banner ad for Employee Benefits Institute of America (EBIA)

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[Guidance Overview] Webcast: Retirement Plan Pitfalls, July 8, 2008
Excerpt: "Don't wait until the IRS knocks on your client's doors to help them find, fix and avoid common retirement plan mistakes. Attend this program where you will learn how to use the IRS Fix-It Guides to identify and correct frequently encountered errors the IRS sees in retirement plans. In addition, the IRS will provide tips you can share with your clients on how these mistakes can be avoided in the future. Use IRS Fix-it Guides to keep your clients out of trouble." (Internal Revenue Service)


[Guidance Overview] Hewitt Federal Legislation Quick Guide Updated July 2, 2008, for Retirement Plans (PDF)
6 pages. This Federal Legislation Quick Guide provides short updates on federal legislation that is currently under active consideration by Congress or has recently been enacted into law regarding retirement plans. (Hewitt Associates)


[Guidance Overview] Safe Harbor 401(k) Plan FAQS
The Q and As provide information on plan administration and communication. (McKay Hochman Co., Inc.)


[Guidance Overview] The ABCs of Controlled Group Rules' Impact on Qualified Plan Rules
Excerpt: "The controlled group rules were adopted as part of the coverage and the nondiscrimination rules to insure that the plan(s) maintained by an employer do not discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees. The rules provide guidance in connection with the definition of the employer for purposes of the plan(s) maintained by the employer." (McKay Hochman Co., Inc.)


National Association of State Retirement Administrators Supports Amending PPA's Cap on Interest Credits for Public Plans (PDF)
Page 1 of 8 pages. Excerpt: "[NASRA] supports legislation that would allow public plans to set their own interest crediting rates. This provision was recently included in H.R. 6382. Although bill was dropped on June 26, there is hope that it will be brought up again when Congress returns from its July recess." (Gabriel Roeder Smith & Company)


Pension Funds Boosted by Oil Commodity Investment
Excerpt: "Soaring fuel prices that are burning a hole in the wallets of consumers are not only benefiting oil companies and Middle Eastern producers. They are also lighting up the investment returns of pensions funds, which millions of ordinary Americans are counting on for their retirement." (The Washington Post; free registration required)


NCPA Analysis of Republican and Democrat Candidates' Social Security Reform Proposals
Chart. (National Center for Policy Analysis)


Retirees Need A Financial Roadmap
Excerpt: "A recent Thrivent Financial survey of retirees and pre-retirees revealed that most were clueless about how much money they will need in retirement and many were off base with their actual spending in retirement." (The National Underwriter Company; free registration or paid subscription required)


Twelve Observations on Target Date Funds (PDF)
5 pages. Excerpt: "A participant in a target date fund, whether through a default or by their own choice, is entrusting the plan sponsor to determine what is the best investment solution on their behalf. This is a serious responsibility; most plan sponsors are still coming to terms with what that means, and best practices are still in the process of being defined." (Russell Investments)


When Credit Gets Tight, a 401(k) Loan Becomes Tempting
Excerpt: "This year, word got out about a Visa debit card aimed at people who wanted to borrow money from their 401(k) accounts. With plastic in hand, they could withdraw the funds from an A.T.M. or spend them at any merchant that accepted Visa, just as they could with a regular bank debit card. The response from normally placid retirement experts was fury so passionate that it actually made you laugh." (The New York Times; free registration required)


Work Past Retirement Age? Avoid Pitfalls and Penalties
Excerpt: "[Sen.] Kohl's bill - the Incentives for Older Workers Act - would address both the pension and Social Security issues. It would prohibit pension plans from penalizing individuals for continuing to work on a reduced schedule, and it would revise the Social Security benefit reduction to $1 for every $3 earned before the NRA." (NewsDay)


New Funds Can Provide Payments in Retirement
Excerpt: "[Managed-payout mutual funds] aim to provide regular income payments through a professionally managed, diversified portfolio." (The Dallas Morning News)


There Are 300 Target Date Funds - Not All Are Alike
Excerpt: "Variables that must be considered include: the track record of the overall fund group, the stability of management, the method of allocating assets, a fund's expenses and the characteristics of the individual mutual funds that make up the target date fund's portfolio. 'Their asset allocations differ as well as the glide paths,' says Morningstar analyst Greg Carlson. 'Some funds are more aggressive early on, while others may be more aggressive in later years.' Carlson says that funds use similar methods to allocate assets. They consider the mean variance approach, based on the correlation among investments, expected rates of return, economic trends and stock and bond fundamentals." (Financial Advisor)


Do State Pension Officials Have Something to Hide?
Excerpt: "The senior investment officer at the Virginia Retirement System was apparently so terrified at having to disclose performance information for the fund's $3.3 billion in private equity investments that he asked his staff to box up every quarterly and annual report they received from general partners and ship them back. . . . His fear: that Virginia's freedom of information law might force him to reveal results to the fund's 580,000 retirees and the public. Not anymore. VRS got the law changed to exempt all private equity funds from disclosing returns." (Forbes.com)


Professor Says Fund Companies Encourage Us to Save Too Much
Excerpt: "From an office overlooking Storrow Drive, the 57-year-old Boston University economics professor has become one of the country's toughest critics of mutual fund companies and other financial firms. They urge consumers to save too much money, buy too much insurance, and otherwise make poor choices that enrich the industry, Kotlikoff argues in his latest book, 'Spend 'til the End,' published last month by Simon & Schuster." (The Boston Globe)


In Tough Times, Make Your 401(k) a Priority
Excerpt: "Even by eliminating all discretionary spending, you may still have a cash flow problem. If you conclude that you cannot afford to keep up with your 401(k) and pay the bills, there are ways to reduce contributions without throwing your retirement out the window." (The Baltimore Sun)


PBGC Amends Appeals Procedures
Excerpt: "The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) announced it is publishing a final rule amending its regulation on Rules for Administrative Review of Agency Decisions to clarify that the agency's Appeals Board may refer certain categories of appeals to other PBGC departments for a written response." (PLANSPONSOR.com; free registration required)


Union and Philadelphia Newspapers Come to Terms on Pension Merger
Excerpt: "The largest union of two Philadelphia newspapers has come to terms with management over the merger of two pension plans. According to the Associated Press, the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia has agreed to end a lawsuit brought over the proposed merger of the pension plans. That lawsuit had charged that one of the plans was severely underfunded and that the merger would endanger the health of the second . . . ." (PLANSPONSOR.com; free registration required)


[Opinion] The Politics of Reforming Fee Disclosure in Qualified Retirement Plans (PDF)
5 pages. Excerpt: "[Washington Politicians] failed to enact any meaningful reform of fee disclosures for qualified retirement plans in this session of Congress. Passage of H.R. 3185 in the U.S. House of Representatives has been placed on hold for now to await probable reintroduction of the bill in the new Congress next year. This bill provides that the costs of retirement plans must be disclosed at two primary levels: disclosures from service providers to plan sponsors and disclosures from plan sponsors to plan participants." (Morningstar)


[Opinion] Do You Have a Retirement Parachute? Australia Provides Model for a Better Retirement System
Excerpt: "Neither your employer nor the mutual-fund company that manages your money is required to note that, if you're not covered by a defined-benefit plan, your 401(k) should equal at least 10 times your salary right before retirement." (Barron's)


[Opinion] Congress Might Make It Easier for People to Dip Into Their 401(k)s
Excerpt: "Instead of a quick-fix, Congress should be looking for a long-term solution to the mortgage crisis – one that today's homeowners won't regret 20 years down the road." (Pension Rights Center)



Sponsored by: The SPARK Institute

(Click on company name or banner to learn more.)
Banner ad for The SPARK Institute

The SPARK Institute 403(b) Plans Issues & Answers Forums

New rules that go into effect in 2009 will require major changes to 403(b) plans. The SPARK Institute 403(b) Plans Issues and Answers Forums are must-attend meetings for anyone responsible for 403(b) plans at K-12 schools, universities, hospitals, non-profits, TPAs and financial advisors. Sessions will cover fiduciary concerns, plan documents, preparing for 2009 and beyond, information sharing best practices, working with vendors and much more.

(Please visit our sponsors. We try to make sure their products and services will be of interest to you. Thanks! --Editor)

Links to Items on Executive Comp, Benefits in General

[Guidance Overview] HEART Act Provides Benefits for Employees on Active Military Duty
Excerpt: "The HEART Act amends primarily the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (the Code) to provide certain benefits for military personnel and their beneficiaries, including enhanced retirement and welfare benefits." (McDermott Will & Emery)


[Guidance Overview] Hewitt Federal Legislation Quick Guide Updated July 2, 2008, on Human Resources & Employment Law (PDF)
9 pages. This Federal Legislation Quick Guide provides short updates on federal legislation that is currently under active consideration by Congress or has recently been enacted into law regarding human resources and employment law. (Hewitt Associates)


Apple Hit with New Backdating Lawsuit
Excerpt: "Two shareholders of computermaker Apple have sued chief executive Steve Jobs and other company officials for not disclosing the company's stock option backdating practices." (PLANSPONSOR.com; free registration required)


GASB Begins Project Examining Possible Changes to Benefit Accounting and Reporting Standards (PDF)
Page 2 of 8 pages. Excerpt: "On April 24, 2008, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) revised its 2008 Technical Plan, adding a new 'Postemployment Benefit Accounting and Financial Reporting' project. The overall goal of the project is to consider improvements to accounting and financial reporting standards for state and local government pension and other postemployment benefits (OPEB) . . . ." (Gabriel Roeder Smith & Company)


Employers Offering Telecommuting to Cut Office Real Estate Costs
Excerpt: "Traditionally, employers have offered telecommuting as a perk to retain key talent, Hand says. But during the past several months, companies are citing it as a way to reduce real estate costs, observers say. The fact that it might also help employees save on gasoline costs is apparently not uppermost in their minds, but it couldn't hurt." (Workforce Management; free registration required)


Employee Benefits Like Flex-Time and Showers for Cyclists Can Save Gas – and More
Excerpt: "Birmingham [Alabama] is just one of many cities, counties, and states turning to 'flex-time' to help employees cope with $4-a-gallon gas. It's not a new concept, but if public and private employers made adjustable schedules more widely available – along with telecommuting, mass-transit benefits, and bike facilities – the payoff would go far beyond fuel-cost relief." (The Christian Science Monitor)


Countrywide Workers Worried About Losing Severance Pay
Excerpt: "The 'Countrywide Change of Control Severance Plan', posted on the company's internal website, says [new owner, Bank of America Corp,] has the power to decide whether it wants to pay severance benefits to an employee who turns down a new position, even if it contains significant changes in compensation or job location, the paper said." (Reuters)


Self-Insured Plans Gaining Popularity
Excerpt: "The reason: They don't require employers to pay a tax on monthly insurance premiums and they allow companies to customize their benefits rather than pay for more general coverage packages . . . ." (Detroit Free Press)


Utah State Workers Move to Four-Day Week
Excerpt: "Many state workers in Utah are moving to a four-day work week next month in an effort to 'conserve energy, save money, improve our air quality, and enhance customer service.'" (PLANSPONSOR.com; free registration required)


[Opinion] 5 Myths About the Bust That Will Follow the Boom(ers)
Excerpt: "The warnings have rumbled for decades: Just wait till the baby boomers retire. If you think there are strains on Social Security and Medicare now, brace yourselves for the implosion as the boomers start heading out to pasture. With the first of that generation now doing just that, we should be seeing the dust cloud soon, right? Actually, if you've bought into the . . . myths about the bust the baby boom is supposed to usher in, you may be surprised." (The Washington Post; free registration required)


[Opinion] Changes in Jobs, Benefits, Housing, Health Coverage, Retirement Savings Play Crucial Roles in Families' Economic Stability
Excerpt: "ERISA's congressional authors intended the law to protect employee benefits. We know this because they said so right in the law's preamble. But over the last generation, the Supreme Court and increasingly conservative federal appeals courts have rendered a series of decisions involving ERISA that have made it easier for employers and their agents to deny benefits to workers and their families." (Los Angeles Times)




Newly Posted Events
(Post Yours!)

Health Savings Accounts - What the Latest IRS Guidance Means
Nationwide on July 16, 2008
presented by Thompson Interactive, A Division of Thompson Publishing Group

Hot Summer Guidance for HSAs: What's in the "Grab-Bag"?
Nationwide on July 31, 2008
presented by Employee Benefits Institute of America (EBIA)/Thomson Tax & Accounting

Retirement Plan Pitfalls - Webcast
Nationwide on July 8, 2008
presented by Internal Revenue Service (IRS)



Newly Posted Press Releases
(Post Yours!)

Secretary of Labor's July 4th Message: Protecting Workers' Retirement and Financial Freedom
U.S. Department of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA)

IRS’s July Tax Talk Today: “Retirement Plan Pitfalls”
Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

IRS Approves EGTRRA Documents for ASCi's Plan Document Management System
ASC (Actuarial Systems Corporation)



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Pension Administrator
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Employee Benefits Administration
for Primary Consulting, Inc.
in ANY STATE

Senior Group Benefits Underwriter
for Keenan & Associates
in CA

Managing Director - Retirement Services-St. Louis, MO
for MassMutual Financial Group
in MO

Compliance Manager - Retirement Operations
for T. Rowe Price
in MD

Executive Assistant
for SageView Advisory Group
in CA




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