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Be Careful Not to “Float” into an ERISA Violation

November 30, 2012 ( – Sponsors of ERISA-governed retirement plans need to review the definition of “float.”

By PS | November 30, 2012
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“Float” is: 

  1. An ice cube bobbing in water or soda   
  2. Root beer (or another favorite soda) poured over ice cream   
  3. Service provider compensation from overnight investment of certain amounts held under a defined contribution plan 
  4. All of the above 


The answer is (d).  However, which one of these three can raise important Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) plan issues?  The answer to that question, of course, is (c).  It is a topic that the Department of Labor (DOL) has addressed multiple times in recent years.  And it can be relevant to ERISA 403(b) plans as well as other ERISA defined contribution plans.    

Not all plan investment arrangements involve float income; some invest in non-interest bearing accounts to avoid potential plan issues.  For those arrangements that do include float income, it is an important issue, as evidenced by DOL guidance on the subject as well as some recent court decisions, and one large court award in particular.