Much ado about nothing? Illinois’s new law “requiring” private retirement plan or enrollment in state plan

by Christopher Graham and Joseph Kelly.

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On his way out of office, now former Governor Quinn, with much fanfare, signed the “Illinois Secure Choice Savings Program Act”(820 ILCS 80/1 et. seq.), supposedly making Illinois the first state to require employers to either offer employees a retirement plan or enroll them in a State program. Sounds great if your an employee, right? But is it really a monumental piece of legislation as suggested when announced? Or was this just more Illinois politics?

Although the Act is the law, it isn’t effective until June 1, 2015. Even then, the Act provides that “the Program shall be implemented, and enrollment of employees shall begin, within 24 months after the effective date . . .”–so perhaps not until June 1, 2017.

There’s also an exception to that June 1, 2017 deadline, providing for “delay” of “implementation” “[i]if the [Illinois Secure Choice Savings] Board does not obtain adequate funds to implement the Program . . . .” Given the sorry state of Illinois finances, that delay is a realistic possibility, if not a likelihood.

The Board also may not implement the program “if the IRA arrangements offered under the Program fail to qualify for the favorable income tax treatment ordinarily accorded to IRAs under the Internal Revenue Code or if it is determined that the Program is an employee benefit plan and State or employer liability is established under [ERISA].” 820 ILCS 80/95. We’re not sure where things stand on resolving those issues.

If your company offers a qualified retirement plan, moreover, the new law will have no effect on your company, even if implemented. That means it’s meaningless for a huge number of employees and employers.

Assuming implementation occurs, if your company has no qualified retirement plan, but has been in business for less than two years or employed less than 25 employees at any time during the previous calendar year, your company will not be required to participate in the State program at least until the two-year and 25-employee thresholds are reached.

Once the State program–“an automatic enrollment payroll deduction IRA”–is created, a covered company will be required to auto-enroll employees, unless it then creates its own plan, such as a 401K, SEP or SIMPLE.

If your company has no qualified retirement plan and doesn’t meet the two-year and 25 employee thresholds, it will be considered a “small employer” and have the option of participating in the State program. We’re not sure why an employer would opt into the State program, rather than choose a low-cost private plan.

If your company is required to offer the State program or chooses to participate as a “small employer”, it won’t be required to contribute to any plan. Employees auto-enrolled will have a payroll deduction of 3% of their earnings earmarked for the State program; this isn’t a mandatory additional contribution by an employer. Employees also may choose to contribute more than 3%. But, if they need or prefer to have the money to use immediately, they can opt out of the State program. We wonder how many employees will prefer to opt out–especially when it’s highly likely that most, if not all employees in State-sponsored programs will be low-wage earners who may need the money just to cover everyday necessitates.

There will be Board-prepared employer and employee information packets, with background information, disclosures for employees, and information about a vendor Internet website. Employers required to participate will be required to provide information packets to employees when the program is launched and to new employees at hiring thereafter. An employee who opts out may participate later by electing to do so during an employer’s annual designated enrollment period or an earlier time if the employer allows.

If your company is required to auto-enroll an employee, but doesn’t, the company will be subject to a penalty of $250 per employee for each calendar year during which the employee neither was enrolled in the program nor opted out–and then $500 for each calendar year after the date a penalty was assessed. So, a company required to auto-enroll better do so, even if most of it’s employees opt out anyway.

It will be interesting to see how many employees really benefit from this program and how much it costs this already-financially-challenged State to administer it, assuming it even is implemented. Stay tuned.

Tags: Illinois, Secure Choice Savings Program Act, employer, private sector, mandatory retirement program, ERISA

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