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403(b) Plan Fix-It Guide - Your 403(b) plan doesn’t limit the total employer and employee contributions to not exceed the IRC Section 415(c) limits

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5) Your 403(b) plan doesn’t limit the total employer and employee contributions to not exceed the IRC Section 415(c) limits.

 

Determine types of contributions allowed in the plan and total employee and employer contributions per participant. Compare with the current year’s dollar limit.

 

Transfer excess to a separate 403(c) account or distribute to the affected participants. Understand that it’s the employer’s responsibility to limit contributions and issue correct W-2s. With vendors, establish procedures to limit contributions. Educate employees. Conduct year-end review of employer and employee contributions and compare with current legal limits.

403(b) plans are subject to several contribution limits. A plan that includes employer and employee after- tax contributions, as well as employee elective deferrals is subject to limits under both IRC Sections 402(g) (discussed in Mistake #7) and 415(c).

  • Employee elective deferrals may not exceed the 402(g) limits
  • Total employer contributions, employee after-tax contributions and employee elective deferrals may not exceed the limits under 415(c). For 2014, the total employer and employee contributions (including the 15-year catch-up discussed in Mistake #6) cannot exceed the lesser of $52,000 or 100% of includible compensation. The dollar limitation is increased by cost-of-living adjustments in later years.

How to find the mistake:

First, you’ll need to determine what types of contributions are allowed to the 403(b) plan. For a plan that only allows employee elective deferral contributions:

  • Review the elective deferral amounts for each participant.
  • Determine if the total elective deferrals made by each participant exceeds the lesser of:
    • The limit under 402(g) ($17,500 in 2014), or
    • 100% of their compensation, or
    • The dollar limitation under 415 ($52,000 for 2014).

Note that even with catch-up, elective deferral amounts can never exceed 100% of an employee’s compensation.

If a plan includes employee elective deferrals and employer contributions, the 415(c) limit calculation becomes more complicated:

  • Contributions for each participant may not exceed the 415(c) limitations (lesser of: $52,000 (for 2014) or 100% of the participant’s compensation).
  • For each participant, determine the total of all contributions made to the plan, including employee elective deferrals, employee after-tax, matching, and other employer contributions.
  • Make a list of each employee with the employee’s compensation, employee contributions and employer contributions.
  • If any employee’s total employee and employer contributions (excluding age 50 catch-up) has exceeded 100% of the employee’s compensation or $52,000, you may have a mistake that must be corrected.

Example:
Pat, age 50, who has worked as a teacher in the ABC School District for 15 years, is newly eligible for the 15-years-of-service catch-up benefit and has eligible compensation of $70,000 for 2014. Pat is eligible for ABC’s 403(b) plan. What are Pat’s maximum employee and employer contributions for 2014?

  • Pat’s 415(c) limit for 2014 is the lesser of 100% of his includible compensation or $52,000 (the 415(c) dollar limitation for 2014).
  • Pat’s maximum employee elective deferrals are $26,000 ($17,500 (2014 402(g) limit) + $3,000 (15-years-of-service catch-up) + $5,500 (2014 age 50 catch-up)).
  • If the above maximum employee contributions are made then the maximum employer contribution is $31,500.
    • This figure is calculated by starting with the 415(c) limitation - the lesser of 100% of compensation ($70,000) or $52,000. Then you subtract the total elective deferrals, excluding the age 50 catch-up contributions ($26,000 – 5,500), which equals $20,500. Accordingly, $52,000 - $20,500 = $31,500.

  • Contribution limits under a 457(b) plan are determined separately from 402(g) and 415. If ABC offered a 457(b) plan to its employees for 2014, Pat could defer an additional $17,500 to the 457(b) without exceeding the limits.

How to fix the mistake:

Corrective action:
Correction of a mistake to limit contributions to the 415(c) limit requires that the excess amount, adjusted for earnings, either be transferred to a separate account that complies with IRC Section 403(c), or be distributed to the participant by the end of the year in which the excess occurred. In either case, the excess is includable in the participant’s gross income (to the extent the amount is nonforfeitable).

Example 1:
Charity X sponsors a 403(b) plan for its employees. At the end of 2013, 75 employees are eligible plan participants. The plan allows both employee elective deferrals and employer contributions. The 403(b) plan allows for elective deferrals to be deposited into a special after-tax Roth account.  For the 2011 year, Tom exceeded the 415 limits.

Tom’s 415 limit is based on the following:

  • Compensation = $60,000
  • Pre-tax elective deferral = $15,000
  • After-tax Roth elective deferral = $500
  • Nonelective employer contribution = $36,500

415 Calculation:

Tom’s total contributions ($15,000 + 500 + 36,500) = $52,000
Tom’s 415(c) limit (Lesser of $60,000 or $49,000 (2011 dollar limitation)) = $49,000
Tom’s 415 excess = $3,000

If the excess is neither transferred to a separate 403(c) account, nor distributed to the participant by the end of the year in which the excess occurred, the error can be corrected under EPCRS.

Example 2:
School District Y sponsors a 403(b) plan for its employees. At the end of 2013, the number of current and former plan participants is 275. The plan provides nonelective employer contributions, matching contributions and elective deferrals. Matching contributions are equal to 100% of elective deferrals up to 4%. For the 2007 year, two participants exceeded the limits under IRC 415(c). Tuttle had 415 compensation of $60,000 and Ursula had 415 compensation of $20,000.

       Tuttle        Ursula
Elective deferrals  $  5,000 $    8,000
Nonelective employer contributions  $39,300 $  13,100
Matching contributions  $  2,400 $       800
Total contributions $46,700 $  21,900
415(c) limit, 100% of compensation or $45,000 $45,000  $  20,000
415(c) excess $  1,700 $    1,900

    
If the excess is neither transferred to a separate 403(c) account, nor distributed to the participant by the end of the year in which the excess occurred, the error can be corrected under EPCRS.

Correction programs available:

Self-Correction Program:
Charity X and School District Y may correct their mistakes in 2014 under SCP if they determine they have the proper practices and procedures in place to operate a compliant plan and the mistake is insignificant.

Charity X uses Revenue Procedure 2013-12 to distribute $3,000 to Tom. The ordering of the distributions is based on Revenue Procedure 2013-12 section 6.06 and the safe harbor example in Appendix A.08. Therefore:

  • Distribute $500 adjusted for earnings from Tom’s Roth account.
  • Distribute $2,500 adjusted for earnings from Tom’s pre-tax elective deferral account.

School District Y uses Revenue Procedure 2013-12 to return the excess of $1,700 to Tuttle, based on the ordering in section 6.06 and the safe harbor example in Appendix A section .08. Therefore, $1,700, adjusted for earnings, is distributed from Tuttle’s elective deferral account. Correction of Ursula’s $1,900 415 excess will require this amount to be distributed to Ursula from her elective deferral account, adjusted for earnings.

In addition, School District Y and Charity X must change their administrative procedures to ensure that 415 excesses don’t occur in future years.

Voluntary Correction Program:
Charity X and School Distrust Y may also choose to correct their mistake under VCP by completing a submission based on Revenue Procedure 2013-12.

The fee for Charity X’s VCP submission (based on 75 plan participants) is $2,500.

The fee for School District Y’s VCP submission (based on 275 plan participants) is $5,000.

Both Charity X and School District Y should make their VCP submissions using the model document in Appendix C - Part I and include Forms 8950 and 8951.

Audit Closing Agreement Program:
Under Audit CAP, correction is the same as described above. Charity X or School District Y and the IRS enter into a closing agreement outlining the corrective action and negotiate a sanction based on the maximum payment amount.

How to avoid the mistake:

The employer has responsibility for making certain the plan doesn’t exceed the 415(c) limits and must work with its 403(b) vendors to limit the total contributions provided to an individual plan participant. If the employer knows how much the participant deferred, the employer can make a calculation to keep the total employee and employer contributions within the 415 limits. Tracking this mistake may be as simple as listing plan participants, together with their compensation, all deferrals to all plans of the employer and all employer contributions. Compare the total deferrals and employer contributions to the participant’s compensation and the 415 limit for that year.

403(b) Plan Fix-It Guide
EPCRS Overview
403(b) Plan Fix-It Guide (.pdf)
403(b) Plan Checklist (.pdf)
Additional Resources

IRS.gov / Retirement Plans / Correcting Plan Errors / Fix-It Guides / Potential Mistake

Page Last Reviewed or Updated: 05-Jun-2014