IRS Guidance

IRS FAQs Confirm July 15, 2020, Deadline to Make 2019 IRA, HSA, and Certain Employer Retirement Plan Contributions

The IRS has updated the frequently-asked-question (FAQ) information at its website, confirming that IRA, HSA, and certain retirement plan contributions otherwise due by April 15, 2020, can be made as late as July 15, 2020. This aligns with the three-month tax return filing deadline extension the IRS announced in Notice 2020-18, issued on March 20, 2020.

While Notice 2020-18 addressed the three-month tax return deadline extension, it did not address contribution deadlines that generally align with the year’s tax filing deadline. Nor did Notice 2020-18 cite other guidance—such as natural disaster declarations—that are sometimes relied on to confirm extension of contribution deadlines.

The posting of these new FAQ items, #17, #20, and #21, give the guidance that has been awaited. IRA and HSA contributions for 2019, and employers wanting to make retirement plan contributions aligned with a business tax filing deadline of April 15, 2020, have an extended deadline of July 15, 2020, to make these contributions.


Washington Pulse: Congress and the IRS Provide Separate COVID-19 Guidance that Addresses Payment for Diagnosis and Treatment

The U.S. government has delivered two pieces of welcome relief in the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. First, the President has signed legislation that requires healthcare insurance providers to cover COVID-19 testing without charging the patient. Second, the IRS has indicated that high deductible health plans (HDHPs) will retain their qualified status even if they cover the cost of COVID-19 testing and treatment before the satisfaction of the plan deductible. This will enable individuals with health savings accounts (HSAs) to continue to make tax-deductible contributions.


Legislative Relief for COVID-19 Testing

President Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the Act) on March 18, 2020, to address the many disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. One of the primary concerns addressed in this bill is the fear that those exposed to the virus might hesitate to be tested for the disease if they have to pay for such testing out of pocket. To encourage testing, the Act requires group and individual health insurance plans to provide coverage for two items.

  • Diagnostic testing products. This refers to federally approved products that detect the COVID-19 virus.
  • Items and services that are associated with the use of such a diagnostic product. Simply put, this requires health insurance plans to cover the costs of
    1. the office visit (even if virtual),
    2. any materials or services needed to determine whether testing is needed, and
    3. administering the test.

Health insurance plans must provide this coverage with no cost sharing (e.g., no deductibles, copayments, or coinsurance) and with no prior authorization. The statute gives joint enforcement authority to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Treasury, and each of these departments has the authority to issue guidance to implement these provisions.


IRS Relaxes HDHP Rules

To help facilitate the nation’s response to the COVID-19 virus, the IRS issued Notice 2020-15 on March 11. This guidance provides a green light for insurers offering HSA-compatible HDHPs to cover the cost of the COVID-19 diagnostic testing and associated treatment without application of a deductible or other cost sharing. The IRS notes that doing so will not disqualify the HDHP, so individuals covered by these plans may continue to contribute to their HSAs.

Normally, individuals can make HSA contributions only if they maintain HSA-compatible HDHPs. This means that the HDHP must meet certain requirements such as minimum deductibles and maximum out-of-pocket expenses. In general, individuals must not also be covered by a non-HDHP.

The concern that the cost of COVID-19 testing could be a barrier to seeking medical care during this outbreak led the IRS to relax current rules. The IRS states in Notice 2020-15, that

Due to the nature of this public health emergency, and to avoid administrative delays or financial disincentives that might otherwise impede testing for and treatment of COVID-19 for participants in HDHPs, this notice provides that all medical care services received and items purchased associated with testing for and treatment of COVID-19 that are provided by a health plan without a deductible, or with a deductible below the minimum annual deductible otherwise required . . . for an HDHP, will be disregarded for purposes of determining the status of the plan as an HDHP.

This easing of the existing HSA-compatible HDHP rules should be a welcome relief for many individuals who may be affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.


The Interaction of Legislative Relief and Notice 2020-15

IRS Notice 2020-15 states that an HDHP  that covers the cost of COVID-19 testing or treatment will still be considered an HSA-compatible HDHP—and eligible HSA owners will still be able to make tax-deductible contributions. The new federal statute, on the other hand, requires health plans to cover COVID-19 testing expenses, but not treatment expenses.

Individuals participating in HDHPs or any other type of health plan should consult the insurer regarding their costs associated with COVID-19 testing and treatment, including the potential application of any deductible or cost sharing. Watch Latest News for further developments regarding the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on both health and welfare and retirement arrangements.


Click here for a printable version of this edition of the Washington Pulse.

IRS Provides Guidance on HSAs and Associated HDHPs, and Coverage of COVID-19 Testing

The IRS has issued Notice 2020-15, addressing requests made to the agency for health savings account (HSA)-related guidance as the nation responds to the challenges of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak in the U.S. and worldwide.

The IRS was asked for confirmation that a high deductible health plan (HDHP) associated with an HSA could cover the cost of COVID-19 patient testing with no deductible—or a lower deductible—first being paid, and still remain an HSA-eligible health plan. An HDHP must generally meet certain plan deductible requirements in order for an individual to make HSA contributions. There are certain exceptions that allow health plan coverage without satisfying the plan deductible. One of these is for preventive care costs. There has been uncertainty as to whether COVID-19 testing would be considered preventive care.

In Notice 2020-15, the IRS states, “Until further guidance is issued, a health plan that otherwise satisfies the requirements to be a high deductible health plan (HDHP) under section 223(c)(2)(A) of the Internal Revenue Code (Code) will not fail to be an HDHP under section 223(c)(2)(A) merely because the health plan provides health benefits associated with testing for and treatment of COVID-19 without a deductible, or with a deductible below the minimum deductible (self only or family) for an HDHP. Therefore, an individual covered by the HDHP will not be disqualified from being an eligible individual under section 223(c)(1) who may make tax-favored contributions to a health savings account (HSA).”

IRS Fact Sheet and Website Posting Highlight SECURE Act Changes, Appear to Clarify Issues

The IRS issued news release IR-2020-50, which contains links to several resources that describe changes contained in the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, an element of the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act (FCAA), 2020, signed into law in December 2019. Included is IRS Fact Sheet FS-2020-04, a web page entitled “New law helps people save for retirement; other retroactive changes impact many taxpayers,” as well as links to the latest versions of IRS Publications 590-A, Contributions to Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs), and 590-B, Distributions from Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs).

The FS-2020-04 recaps SECURE Act changes that many are already familiar with, but also provides clarity where there was some uncertainty.


Traditional IRA Contributions at Any Age

Persons age 70½ and older may now make contributions to Traditional IRAs for 2020 and later tax years, not including contributions for the 2019 tax year made in 2020.


New RMD Age 72, Not 70½

Prior to the SECURE Act, age 70½ was the age to begin required minimum distributions (RMDs) from non-Roth IRAs and (with some exceptions) employer retirement plans. Now, persons who turn age 70½ in 2020 and later years need not begin RMDs until reaching age 72. Those reaching age 70½ in 2019 or a prior year cannot delay RMDs to age 72.


Qualified Birth or Adoption Penalty Exception

Taxable distributions from IRAs and employer plans before age 59½ are generally subject to a 10 percent excise tax, with limited exceptions. The SECURE Act provides a new exception to the excise tax for a qualified birth or adoption distribution. Up to $5,000 may be distributed from an IRA or employer plan—or both in combination—for the birth or adoption of a child. Such distributions may be recontributed. FS-2020-04 language makes it appear that such recontributions may be made at any time to an IRA or employer plan, and will be treated as rollovers no matter how long after the time of distribution.


More Rapid Payouts for Nonspouse Beneficiaries

Prior to the SECURE Act, all nonspouse primary beneficiaries of IRA or employer-sponsored retirement plan balances had the ability to stretch payouts over their own lifetime. For IRA owner or plan participant deaths in 2019 or earlier years, this option remains in place. But for deaths in 2020 and later years, most nonspouse beneficiaries must deplete the inherited account within 10 years. Exceptions (those still allowed to pay out over their lifetime) include the disabled, those chronically ill, those no more than 10 years younger than the decedent, and minor children. Minor children must begin the 10-year payout period upon reaching the age of majority.


The SECURE Act statutes and FS-2020-04 do not specify an age of majority, which may vary from state to state. However, under the heading, “Retirement Topics—Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs),” at the IRS website, the IRS identifies a uniform age of 18 when this 10-year distribution period must begin. It’s important to note that IRS website postings generally do not provide the same level of reliance as official guidance.


529 Plan Changes

The SECURE Act also created two new qualified—thus, tax-free—withdrawals from qualified tuition programs, also known as 529 plans. This change is retroactive to 2019. Amounts withdrawn from 529 plans may be used to pay for expenses of certain registered and certified apprenticeship programs. Also, up to $10,000—a lifetime limit—may be withdrawn and used to pay student loan principal or interest of the 529 plan’s designated beneficiary or the designated beneficiary’s sibling.

IRS Issues Tax-Related Deadline Relief for Tennessee Storm Victims

The IRS has issued news release TN-2020-01, announcing an extension of time to complete certain time-sensitive tax-related acts as a result of tornadoes, storms, straight-line winds, and flooding events in Tennessee. At this time, the only area to which the relief applies is Davidson, Putnam, and Wilson Counties. Certain tax-related acts with deadlines falling on or after March 3, 2020, and before July 15, 2020, are extended through July 15, 2020.

TN-2020-01 specifically notes that this extension applies to IRA contributions, as well as to the numerous time-sensitive acts described in Treasury Regulation 301.7508A-1(c)(1). These acts include completion of rollovers or recharacterizations, correction of certain excess contributions, making plan loan payments, filing Form 5500, and certain other acts under this regulation.

This relief applies specifically to residents of the identified area, to those whose businesses or records necessary to meet a covered deadline are located there, and to certain relief workers providing assistance following the disaster events. Any individual visiting a covered disaster area who is injured or killed as a result of the events is also entitled to deadline relief.

Affected taxpayers who reside, or have a business located, outside the covered disaster area are required to call the IRS disaster hotline at 1-866-562-5227 to request relief.

IRS Issues 2020 Cumulative List for Pre-Approved DB Plan Documents

The IRS has issued Notice 2020-14, in which the IRS provides the 2020 Cumulative List of Changes in plan qualification requirements that must be reflected in pre-approved defined benefit (DB) pension plan documents.

The 2020 Cumulative List enumerates specific items that the IRS has identified for review when determining whether a DB plan that is filing for an opinion letter has been properly updated. The IRS notes that the 2020 Cumulative List includes statutory changes enacted and regulatory provisions issued between October 1, 2012, and December 1, 2019.

GAO Says IRS Could Better Help IRA Owners with Unconventional Assets Avoid Compliance Problems

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has published a study of IRAs that include so-called “unconventional” investments, examples being real estate, virtual currency, precious metals, etc. The study focused on both the guidance that is available to owners of such IRA investments, and the IRS’ effectiveness in enforcing compliance when unconventional assets are held in IRAs. The GAO concluded that the IRS could do a better job on both fronts, as evidenced by the study’s title: IRS Could Better Inform Taxpayers about and Detect Noncompliance Related to Unconventional Assets.

Investing in unconventional assets within an IRA can present compliance challenges.  Challenges include potential investor conflicts of interest, which lead to IRA-disqualifying prohibited transactions, and determining such assets’ value, the reporting of which is an annual, ongoing responsibility for IRA trustees and custodians. Compliance issues also include specifically barred investments, and income generated within some investments that is taxable on a current-year basis.

The following GAO conclusions are worthy of special note.

  • IRS-provided information on unconventional assets in IRAs is generally limited to the agency’s Publication 590-A, Contributions to Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs), and Publication 590-B, Distributions from Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs), and is sparse in these publications. The GAO recommends more robust IRS resources, potentially to include web-based specialized information on such investments and their compliance requirements.
  • The GAO noted that “fragmented responsibility among IRS divisions creates challenges for examiners who need to share expertise and collaborate on IRA enforcement.” The IRS contended in its response to the GAO that limited information on unconventional assets now reported on information returns (IRS Form 5498, IRA Contribution Information) may be inadequate for audit selection in enforcement actions.

The IRS noted that roughly 2 million IRAs reported having such unconventional assets in 2016 (the latest tax year data available). Of these—as reported on IRS Form 5498—only about three-fourths provided valuations for these assets.

Reporting Relief Provided in Light of SECURE Act’s RMD Age Change

The IRS has issued Notice 2020-6, guidance that addresses required minimum distribution (RMD) reporting by IRA custodians, trustees, and issuers. The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, contained within the broader Further Consolidated Appropriations Act (FCAA), 2020, altered the age when IRA owners must begin taking mandatory annual distributions, or RMDs. Under a provision of the SECURE Act, those who reach age 70½ in 2020 or a later year can delay beginning RMDs until age 72. Those who reached age 70½ in 2019 or earlier years must continue taking annual RMDs.

IRA custodians, trustees, and issuers are required to inform IRA owners by January 31 if an RMD is required to be taken by them for that year. Because of the timing of the FCAA’s enactment in December of 2019, IRA processing and reporting systems may still be programmed to inform account owners turning 70½ in 2020 that an RMD is required to be taken for this year. This information would be incorrect, as these individuals are not required to begin receiving RMDs from their IRAs until they reach age 72. This would constitute a reporting failure by the IRA custodian, trustee, or issuer.

Notice 2020-6 informs these financial organizations that they will be granted relief for such reporting errors, if—by April 15, 2020—they inform affected IRA owners that no RMD is due for 2020. For IRA owners turning age 70½ in 2020, an IRA custodian, trustee, or issuer reporting information to the IRS on the 2019 Form 5498, IRA Contribution Information, should not include a check in Box 11, Check if RMD for 2020, or make entries in Boxes 12a, RMD date, or 12b, RMD amount.

The IRS further notes that it is “considering what additional guidance should be provided … including guidance for plan administrators, payors and distributees if a distribution to a plan participant or IRA owner who will attain age 70½ in 2020 was treated as an RMD.”

Not addressed in this guidance is whether an IRA owner (or plan participant) who receives such a distribution would be granted an extended period of time—beyond 60 days—to complete a rollover of the distributed amount back into a tax-qualified savings arrangement.

IRS Updates Determination Letter and VCP Submission Information

The IRS has issued Revenue Procedure (Rev. Proc.) 2020-4, which updates 2019 guidance on determination letter and Voluntary Correction Program (VCP) submission procedures. Changes from the prior year Rev. Proc. 2019-4 include the following.

Section 3.04 is revised to state that a determination letter issued regarding the qualified status of a retirement plan will include a determination on the exempt status of any related trust or custodial accounts (does not include an adopting employer of a pre-approved plan).

Section 3.06(2) is revised to change an “Appeals Office” reference in Rev. Proc. 2019-4 to now read “Internal Revenue Service Office of Appeals (Independent Office of Appeals),” with corresponding changes made throughout Rev. Proc. 2020-4.

Section 6.02 is revised to provide a list of applicable documents that should be submitted to enable the Service to more efficiently process determination letter requests.

Section 8.02 notes that determination letter requests for certain hybrid (defined contribution and defined benefit) plans will be accepted through August 31, 2020, and certain individually designed merged plans on an ongoing basis.

Section 9.07 removes a former cautionary statement that a favorable determination for a plan executing a de-risking of its pension obligations by lump sum distribution does not constitute a determination of federal tax consequences.

Sections 30.07 and 31.03 are revised to note that user fees under VCP must be paid electronically using, and that the Service no longer accepts paper VCP submissions.

Section 31 is revised to update mailing addresses.

IRS Proposes No Change for 2020 Retirement Plan Periodic Payment Withholding

The IRS has issued Notice 2020-3, guidance in which the Service is proposing no change for 2020 in a procedure for determining tax withholding on periodic distributions from pensions, annuities, and “certain other deferred income.”

Withholding on nonperiodic or on-demand distributions is generally applied at a 10 percent rate (other than retirement plan-eligible rollover distributions subject to mandatory 20 percent withholding), and can also be waived. Periodic—generally annuitized—payments have withholding applied according to IRS wage withholding tables, with recipients electing the number of withholding allowances or waiving withholding. However, when a withholding election is not made (on IRS Form W-4P), the current default assumption for the 2019 tax year is for the payor to apply withholding as if the recipient is married and has claimed three (3) withholding allowances.

The IRS is proposing in this guidance to retain this assumption for the 2020 tax year for those who make no withholding election for such periodic distributions, but is receiving public comments on this proposal through February 17, 2020.