The $1.4 trillion spending package enacted on December 20, 2019, included the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act. The SECURE Act represents the most sweeping set of changes to retirement legislation in more than a decade.
Despite the unfortunate impact on some beneficiaries of retirement accounts previously discussed, many of the provisions offer enhanced opportunities for individuals and small business owners.
All provisions take effect on or after January 1, 2020, unless otherwise noted.
Benefits to Individuals
On the plus side, the SECURE Act includes several provisions designed to benefit American workers and retirees.
- Taxpayers who choose to work beyond traditional retirement age will be able to contribute to traditional IRAs beyond age 70½.
- Retirees will no longer have to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from traditional IRAs and retirement plans by April 1 following the year in which they turn 70½. The new law generally requires RMDs to begin by April 1 following the year in which they turn age 72.
- Part-time workers age 21 and older who log at least 500 hours in three consecutive years generally must be allowed to participate in company retirement plans offering a qualified cash or deferred arrangement. The previous requirement was 1,000 hours and one year of service. (The new rule applies to plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2021.)
- Workers will begin to receive annual statements from their employers estimating how much their retirement plan assets are worth, expressed as monthly income received over a lifetime. This should help workers better gauge progress toward meeting their retirement-income goals.
- New laws make it easier for employers to offer lifetime income annuities within retirement plans. Such products can help workers plan for a predictable stream of income in retirement. In addition, lifetime income investments or annuities held within a plan that discontinues such investments can be directly transferred to another retirement plan, avoiding potential surrender charges and fees that may otherwise apply.
- Individuals can now take penalty-free early withdrawals of up to $5,000 from their qualified plans and IRAs due to the birth or adoption of a child. (Regular income taxes will still apply, so new parents may want to proceed with caution.)
- 529 account assets can now be used to pay for student loan repayments ($10,000 lifetime maximum) and costs associated with registered apprenticeships.
Benefits to Employers
The SECURE Act also provides assistance to employers striving to provide quality retirement savings opportunities to their workers. Among the changes are the following:
- The tax credit that small businesses can take for starting a new retirement plan has increased. The new rule allows employers to take a credit equal to the greater of (1) $500 or (2) the lesser of (a) $250 times the number of non-highly compensated eligible employees or (b) $5,000. The credit applies for up to three years.
- A new tax credit of up to $500 is available for employers with no more than 100 employees that launch a SIMPLE IRA or 401(k) plan with automatic enrollment. The credit applies for three years.
- Employers now have easier access to join multiple employer plans (MEPs) regardless of industry, geographic location, or affiliation. “Open MEPs,” as they have become known, offer economies of scale, allowing small employers access to the types of pricing models and other benefits typically reserved for large organizations. The legislation also provides that the failure of one employer in an MEP to meet plan requirements will not cause others to fail, and that plan assets in the failed plan will be transferred to another. (This rule is effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2021.)
- Auto-enrollment safe harbor plans may automatically increase participant contributions until they reach 15% of salary. The previous ceiling was 10%.