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Waiver of Required Minimum Distributions: The CARES ACT Helping Your 401(K) Participants During the Coronavirus Crisis

Waiver of Required Minimum Distributions

This is the third in our series of articles on special CARES Act provisions designed to help your 401(k) participants.  In our prior articles, we discussed the temporary loan enhancement rules and coronavirus-related distributions (CRDs).  Here we discuss the temporary relief from taking required minimum distributions.

What the CARES Act Provides

For defined contribution plans (e.g., 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, and 457(b) governmental plans) and IRAs, the CARES Act provides temporary relief from the required minimum distribution (“RMD”) rules.  The following chart explains this relief in the context of plans; the rules for IRAs are much the same:

February 7, 2020 Aethlon Medical, Inc. (“AEMD”) Suspended “because of (i) concerns regarding the accuracy andadequacy of information in the marketplace since at least January 22, 2020,that appears to be disseminated by third-party promotors that are,purportedly, not affiliated with AEMD about, among other things, theviability of the company’s product to treat the coronavirus, and (ii)questions regarding recent and unusual market activity since at least January22, 2020.”
February 24, 2020 Eastgate Biotech Corp. (“ETBI”) Suspended due to publicly available information about “the company’spurported international marketing rights to an approved coronavirus treatmentto potentially combat the Wuhan Coronavirus and disclosures by the company intheir September 30, 2019 Quarterly Report regarding their issued andoutstanding shares.”
March 25, 2020 Praxsyn Corporation (“PXYN”) Suspended due to PXYN’s statements “about having, and being able toobtain, large quantities of N95 masks used to protect wearers from COVID-19in press releases issued by the Company on February 27, 2020 and March 4,2020.”
March 25, 2020 Zoom Technologies, Inc. (“Zoom”) Suspended because of possible confusion with the communicationsprovider with the similar name, “which has seen a rise in share price duringthe ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.” The suspended company also did not have anypublic financial disclosures since 2015.
April 3, 2020 No Borders, Inc. (“NBDR”) Suspended for statements “about NBDR’s products and businessactivities related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including NBDR’s COVID19specimen collection kits, an agreement to bring COVID-19 test kits to theUnited States, and NBDR’s activities related to the distribution of personal protectiveequipment.”
April 3, 2020 Sandy Steele Unlimited, Inc. (“Sandy Steele”) Suspended for “promotional activity, including e-mail stockpromotions from unknown sources directed to investors, which claim that SandySteele is an operational garment manufacturer producing various clothingitems and that it has the ability to produce protective masks that are inhigh demand due to the COVID-19 crisis. . . There are also questions about recenttrading activity in the securities of Sandy Steele including substantialconcentrated selling of Sandy Steele’s stock by offshore accounts.”
April 7, 2020 Wellness Matrix Group, Inc. (“WMGR”) Suspended for “statements WMGR made through affiliated websites and acompany consultant about selling at-home COVID-19 testing kits that had beenapproved by the FDA.”
April 7, 2020 Prestige Capital Corp. (“PGEC”) Suspended due to “concerns about investors confusing this issuer witha similarly named private company that is a manufacturer of N95 masks and thesubject of increased media attention during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”
April 7, 2020 Key Capital Corporation (“KCPC”) Suspended due to statements about the “ability to develop a COVID-19vaccine and make it available to the mass market in 3 – 6 months.”
April 8, 2020 BioELife Corp., f/k/a U.S. Lithium Corp. (“LITH”) Suspended because of statements about “a purported new ‘Coronavirus(COVID-19) Prevention Products Line.’”
April 9, 2020 Turbo Global Partners, Inc. (“TRBO”) Suspended due to statements about “the COVID-19 pandemic that werecontained in press releases issued by TRBO on March 30, 2020 and April 3,2020 concerning its (i) entry into an agreement with BeMotion, Inc. toprovide non-contact human temperature screening and facial recognitiontechnology to TRBO; and (ii) ability to ship the technology to customerswithin five days of receiving an order.”

Rollover Relief

Most plan distributions are treated as “eligible rollover distributions” and require a plan to provide participants with a notice, comply with a participant’s instructions to roll over the amount as a direct rollover, and withhold 20% of the distribution if it is not rolled over (as a direct rollover).  Under the pre-CARES Act rules, a plan is not required to provide the notice for RMDs or to withhold, and may not directly roll over the distribution to an IRA.  In addition, RMDs were not eligible to be rolled over to another plan or IRA by the recipient.  The RMD had to be taken into income in the year of distribution.

Even though the CARES Act provides a waiver of the requirement to make RMDs, it goes on to say that, if a plan makes a distribution that would otherwise have been an RMD, the plan is  not obligated to comply with the notice, participant instructions and withholding requirements that apply to non-RMD distributions.  However, a participant is able to roll over the distribution so long as he does so within the time period provided for in the Code (normally within 60 days of receipt).  The effect of these rules is that the distribution is not treated as an eligible rollover distribution at the plan level, but it is eligible for rollover at the participant level.

We realize this may seem contradictory, but the CARES Act waiver is essentially identical to a similar provision adopted in 2009 to provide relief from the Katrina Hurricane disaster.  In Notice 2009-82, the IRS indicated that distributions that would be RMDs but for the waiver would be eligible to be rolled over in the participant’s hands.  The Katrina relief included distributions that were made prior to the enactment of the WRERA waiver.

Since the provisions in WRERA and in the CARES Act are essentially identical, we believe the same treatment should be accorded distributions that are at least equal to the RMD for 2020.   (Also, in our view, a careful reading of the changes made under the CARES Act leads to this conclusion.)   Thus, there is an opportunity for an individual to do a rollover if the participant had already received a payout in 2020 before the adoption of the CARES Act on March 27 or if the participant receives such a payout after that date.  In addition, in Notice 2020-23, the IRS has already indicated that if the 60-day rollover period would have ended on or after April 1, the rollover period is extended to July 15.

To illustrate this point, consider the following example:  an individual received a payout of his RMD early in 2020 before the enactment of CARES or receives one later in 2020.  If the distribution occurred in January, he could not do a rollover because the 60-day period expired before April 1.  On the other hand, if the distribution was made in early February, so that the 60-day rollover period would have ended on or after April 1, the individual may roll over the distribution until July 15.   It is possible that a further extension of the permissible rollover date may be issued by the IRS later in the year to provide relief to individuals who received an RMD in January and to extend the rollover period beyond July 15.


The plan loan and CRD provisions of CARES, which we discussed in our prior articles, are designed to give qualified individuals* access to their money in your plan.  This is intended to assist those who have been furloughed or laid off.  The RMD delay is just the opposite.  It permits participants to avoid taking money out of the plan.  Presumably, the reason is to avoid having to liquidate funds in the plan that may have sustained significant losses in the market downturn due to the coronavirus crisis.  Those losses would be locked in if assets in the participant’s account or IRA must be liquidated to generate the cash needed for an RMD.

You should review your plan document to see whether it needs to be amended to be consistent with an administrative decision to waive RMDs for 2020.  (Keep in mind that a formal amendment would not have to be adopted until 2022.)  Further, you may want to continue making the distributions unless an eligible participant opts out, since some participants may need the money to live on.  Regardless of your decision, we suggest that you discuss the alternatives with your plan recordkeeper, plan advisor or benefits counsel.

*  Section 2202(a)(4)(A)(ii) of the CARES Act defines a “qualified individual,” as an individual “(I) who is diagnosed with the virus SARS– CoV–2 or with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID– 19) by a test approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (II) whose spouse or dependent (as defined in section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986) is diagnosed with such virus or disease by such a test, or (III) who experiences adverse financial consequences as a result of being quarantined, being furloughed or laid off or having work hours reduced due to such virus or disease, being unable to work due to lack of child care due to such virus or disease, closing or reducing hours of a business owned or operated by the individual due to such virus or disease, or other factors as determined by the Secretary of the Treasury (or the Secretary’s delegate).”  Employees may self-certify that they meet this definition.

© 2022 Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume X, Number 112

About this Author

Fred Reis Faegre Drinker Biddle Law Firm, Los Angeles, Labor and Employment Law Attorney

Fred Reish represents clients in fiduciary issues, prohibited transactions, tax-qualification and Department of Labor, Securities and Exchange Commission and FINRA examinations of retirement plans and IRA issues.

Fred works with both private and public sector entities and their plans and fiduciaries and represents plans, employers and fiduciaries before federal agencies such as the DOL and IRS. He consults with banks, trust companies, insurance companies and mutual fund management companies on 401(k) recordkeeping services, investment products and...

(310) 203-4047
Bruce Ashton, Drinker Biddle Law Firm Los Angeles, Employment Benefits Attorney

Bruce L. Ashton has more than 35 years of experience handling employee benefits matters. His practice concentrates on representing plan service providers (including RIAs, independent record-keepers, third-party administrators, broker-dealers and insurance companies) in fulfilling their obligations under ERISA. His experience includes representing public and private sector plans and their sponsors, negotiating the resolution of plan qualification issues under IRS remedial correction programs, advising and defending fiduciaries on their obligations and...

Elizabeth Olson Betsy Olson Faegre Drinker, employee benefits law lawyer

Elizabeth “Betsy” A. Olson advises plan sponsors on the design and operation of qualified retirement plans and health and welfare plans to ensure compliance with ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code. Betsy has experience drafting and negotiating service provider contracts, preparing government filings, resolving pension and health plan claims, and correcting retirement plan qualification and operational failures under the IRS correction program. She also assists with Department of Labor audits, conducts employee benefit due diligence reviews, and drafts plan documents,...

(310) 203-4038