How long do you have to fund a defined benefit plan?

Defined benefit plans are retirement savings vehicles that provide business owners with substantial tax-deferred contributions. But how long do you have to fund a defined benefit plan?

Unlike defined contribution plans, where the contributions are invested, defined benefit plans promise a specific benefit amount. They are designed to be permanent in nature.

But when can they be terminated? This article will discuss a timeline for funding a defined benefit plan and the factors that influence it.

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How long do you have to fund a defined benefit plan?

Defined benefit plans are meant to be permanent plans. As a result, you will generally have to fund a plan each year it is open.

Even though the plans are permanent, you don’t have to have them forever. You want long-term intent and a valid business reason for terminating a plan.

This being the case, many people say there’s a minimum of three or five years. But the IRS does not state a minimum required timeline to fund a plan. They merely stated they should have long-term intent and be open for at least several years.

We know that things can happen in the business world. Companies lose contracts and have other business problems that may require terminating the defined benefit plan. You should be fine if there is a valid business purpose. But don’t go into a plan assuming you can fund it for one year and then terminate it. It needs to be part of an ongoing funding goal.

Plan Valuation and Funding Frequency

The funding process of a defined benefit plan begins with a plan valuation. This assessment determines the plan’s funding status by comparing its assets to the projected benefit obligations. Plan sponsors must perform valuations periodically, with the most common interval being annually. These valuations help assess the funding progress and guide plan sponsors in determining the necessary contributions.

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Governments impose minimum funding requirements to ensure the long-term viability of the plan and protect the benefits of plan participants. These requirements vary across jurisdictions but typically include regulations and guidelines issued by pension regulatory bodies. The minimum funding requirements dictate the level of funding necessary to meet the plan’s obligations and provide a safety net for participants.

Actuarial Assumptions and Funding Decisions

Actuarial assumptions are vital in determining the funding required for a defined benefit plan. These assumptions encompass factors such as investment return expectations, mortality rates, salary growth rates, and retirement age patterns. Actuaries use these assumptions to project the plan’s future benefit obligations and calculate the contributions needed to meet those obligations.

Contribution Schedules

Once the actuarial calculations are complete, plan sponsors develop contribution schedules to fund the plan adequately. Contribution schedules outline the amounts and timing of the employer’s contributions to the plan.

Generally, the schedules are designed to meet the minimum funding requirements set by regulators. However, plan sponsors may contribute additional funds to improve the plan’s funding level or reduce future funding volatility.

A defined benefit plan may sometimes experience a funding shortfall, where its assets fall short of its projected benefit obligations. To address this, regulators typically allow plan sponsors to amortize the shortfall over a period ranging from five to fifteen years.

The amortization period represents the timeline within which the plan sponsor must make additional contributions to eliminate the shortfall and restore the plan’s funding status.

Regulatory Compliance and Reporting

Plan sponsors must comply with various regulatory guidelines and reporting obligations throughout the funding process. This includes filing annual reports, disclosing plan information to participants, and adhering to applicable funding regulations. Compliance helps ensure transparency, accountability, and protection for plan participants and beneficiaries.

Economic factors can significantly influence the timeline for funding a defined benefit plan. For example, a prolonged period of low investment returns may increase the funding requirements as plan assets struggle to keep pace with benefit obligations.

Economic downturns can also impact the financial health of plan sponsors, making it challenging to meet funding obligations. On the other hand, favorable economic conditions may create surplus funding, allowing plan sponsors to make strategic decisions to improve the plan’s stability or provide additional benefits.

Final thoughts

Funding a defined benefit plan requires careful planning, actuarial calculations, and compliance with regulatory guidelines. The timeline for funding a defined benefit plan can vary depending on factors such as actuarial assumptions, minimum funding requirements, economic conditions, and funding shortfalls.

By understanding and managing these factors effectively, plan sponsors can ensure the long-term financial security of their defined benefit plans, providing employees with the promised retirement benefits they deserve.

Paul Sundin

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