Single Employer Defined Benefit Plans - Changing Plan Years


The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) changed many items for single-employer defined benefit plans and provided significant funding relief by allowing plans to use a 25-year average interest rate. At the same time, MAP-21 increased the annual Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) premium each year beginning in 2013.

Recently, the IRS has received questions from practitioners and pension plan sponsors asking if and how single employer defined benefit pension plan sponsors may change a plan year to delay the effect of MAP-21 PBGC premium increases for a plan.

Sponsors have asked if a change in plan year for this purpose is eligible for automatic approval under Revenue Procedure 87-27. The revenue procedure notes that an automatic IRS approval for a change in plan year isn't granted if the change would "…delay the time when the plan would otherwise have been required to conform to the requirements of any statute, regulation or published position of the Service." "Any statute" includes a statute changing PBGC premiums, not just statutes that change provisions of the Internal Revenue Code. Because of this, automatic approval is not available for a change in plan year if it delays the effect of PBGC premium increases. This is true even if the delay is just a side effect of the change and not the plan sponsor's primary reason for changing the plan year.

Sponsors have also suggested that a change in plan year is eligible for automatic approval because the MAP-21 effective date has passed and future increases in PBGC rates are just phase-ins. However, under Rev. Proc. 87-27, automatic approval isn't allowed for any change in plan year that delays the effect of a statute, whether that delay is only for one year or several years in the future, such as the phase-in of PBGC premium increases.

If a change in plan year is not eligible for automatic approval, plan sponsors may file for approval using IRS Form 5308, Request for Change in Plan/Trust Year PDF. However, when we review requests for approval to change the plan year, we look for a business reason for making the change – not a change just to achieve a certain result. For example, if the plan sponsor wants to align a plan year with its fiscal year, or collect data on a calendar year rather than a fiscal year basis, we'd consider granting approval for the change (taking the plan's facts and circumstances into account) even if the change in plan year delays an effective date.

A plan sponsor thinking of changing a plan year should keep in mind the effects of this decision. In most cases, changing the plan year means making other changes such as:

  • moving the plan's annual actuarial valuation date (which may require system changes and changes to internal procedures for collecting data), and
  • shifting the timeframe for coordinating with the plan's actuary, auditor, trustee, and other providers.

Changing a plan year also increases the risk that the plan sponsor may miss a key deadline (for example, for contributions, notices, and reporting) because these deadlines change when the plan year changes.

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