PBGC Coverage May No Longer Apply to Puerto Rico-Only Qualified Retirement Plans

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By Nancy S. Gerrie, Esq. and Jeffrey M. Holdvogt, Esq.

McDermott Will & Emery, Chicago, IL

Employers that sponsor defined benefit qualified retirement plans benefiting only Puerto Rico employees should be aware that Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) coverage may no longer apply. Last year, the PBGC withdrew old prior opinion letters (Opinion Letters 77-172 and 85-19) regarding PBGC coverage in Puerto Rico and Guam. Those opinion letters articulated the PBGC's position at that time, that Title IV of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) (providing for PBGC coverage), may apply to defined benefit plans covering only Puerto Rico participants if the Puerto Rico plan is either qualified under §401(a) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code or has been operated in practice in accordance with the requirements of I.R.C. §401(a) for at least the five preceding years. Earlier this year, in remarks made at an enrolled actuaries meeting, PBGC officials stated that, going forward, PBGC will determine that a plan is not covered under Title IV of ERISA if (1) the plan's trust is created or organized outside of the United States (e.g., Puerto Rico) and (2) no election under ERISA §1022(i)(2) has been made. As a result, it appears the new PBGC position is that Puerto Rico-only qualified plans generally are not covered under Title IV of ERISA (although dual-qualified plans with Puerto Rico participants are covered).  Since few Puerto Rico plans have made an election under ERISA §1022(i)(2) due to the strict U.S. laws applicable to such arrangements, this new PBGC position will affect a number of Puerto Rico-only defined benefit plans. PBGC officials also stated that if the PBGC determines that a plan is not covered under Title IV of ERISA, it may refund up to six years of premiums. 

Employers with Puerto Rico-only defined benefit plans should consider whether PBGC coverage of their plan is still possible or desired. If not, a refund of PBGC premiums should be sought.

For more information, in the Tax Management Portfolios, see Gonzalez, 324 T.M., International Pension Planning — Puerto Rico.

© 2014 McDermott Will & Emery.