Compliance

Plans in Louisiana Flood Zone Given Hardship Withdrawal Flexibility

The IRS has moved to allow plan participants impacted directly by historic flooding in Louisiana to utilize retirement savings in the recovery effort.  

By John Manganaro editors@plansponsor.com | August 30, 2016

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that 401(k)s and similar employer-sponsored retirement plans can make loans and hardship distributions to Louisiana flood victims and members of their families.

Participants in 401(k) plans, employees of public schools and tax-exempt organizations with 403(b) tax-sheltered annuities, as well as state and local government employees with 457(b) deferred-compensation plans, may be eligible to take advantage of these streamlined loan procedures and liberalized hardship distribution rules. Though individual retirement account (IRA) owners are generally barred from taking out loans, IRS says “they may be eligible to receive distributions under liberalized procedures.”

Retirement plans can provide this relief to employees and certain members of their families who live or work in the disaster area. To qualify for this relief, hardship withdrawals must be made by January 17, 2017.

The IRS is also relaxing procedural and administrative rules that normally apply to retirement plan loans and hardship distributions. As a result, eligible retirement plan participants will be able to access their money more quickly with a minimum of red tape. In addition, the six-month ban on 401(k) and 403(b) contributions that normally affects employees who take hardship distributions will not apply.

“This broad-based relief means that a retirement plan can allow a Louisiana flood victim to take a hardship distribution or borrow up to the specified statutory limits from the victim’s retirement plan,” IRS says. “It also means that a person who lives outside the disaster area can take out a retirement plan loan or hardship distribution and use it to assist a son, daughter, parent, grandparent or other dependent who lived or worked in the disaster area.”

Plans will be allowed to make loans or hardship distributions before the plan is formally amended to provide for such features. In addition, the plan can ignore the reasons that normally apply to hardship distributions, thus allowing them, for example, to be used for food and shelter. If a plan requires certain documentation before a distribution is made, the plan can relax this requirement as described in the announcement.

Ordinarily, retirement plan loan proceeds are tax-free if they are repaid over a period of five years or less.  Under current law, hardship distributions are generally taxable. Also, a 10% early-withdrawal tax usually applies.

Further details are in Announcement 2016-30, posted on IRS.gov.

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