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Offering a 401(k)? Know Your Fiduciary Responsibility

Offering your employees a retirement plan is about more than helping them achieve a comfortable retirement; it's also about following regulations to ensure that your business is protected from liability. Fiduciary responsibility is one concept you'll need to understand before you offer a plan to your employees.
Fiduciary responsibility when offering 401(k)

According to the Small Business Association, Americans will typically live almost 20 years past what has traditionally been considered retirement age, which, together with the decline of corporate pensions, make offering a 401(k) plan attractive to employees and potential employees. By offering your workers the chance to take advantage of compound interest through a 401(k), you'll help them work toward a more comfortable retirement. But before you offer your employees a retirement plan, it's important to understand the concept of fiduciary responsibility. Let's explore what that means, and how to help ensure that you'll be able to meet your responsibilities.

According to the IRS, a fiduciary is "a person who owes a duty of care and trust to another and must act primarily for the benefit of the other in a particular activity". With regard to retirement plans, the fiduciary is responsible for looking out for your employee's best interest when it comes to their retirement savings.

Once you offer your employees a retirement plan, you either become the fiduciary or you'll need to hire someone to take over the fiduciary responsibilities.

So, What is Fiduciary Responsibility?

The essential elements of fiduciary responsibility are outlined by the Department of Labor and the IRS:

  • A written plan that describes the benefit structure and guides day-to-day operations
  • A trust to hold the plan's assets
  • A record-keeping system to track the flow of monies going to and from the retirement plan
  • Documents to provide plan information to employees participating in the plan and to the government
  • Acting solely in the interest of the participants and their beneficiaries;
  • Acting for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to workers participating in the plan and their beneficiaries, and defraying reasonable expenses of the plan
  • Carrying out duties with the care, skill, prudence, and diligence of a person familiar with the matters
  • Following the plan documents
  • Diversifying plan investments

Your Potential Liability

Fiduciary responsibility also comes with liability. If an organization cannot adhere to the basic rules of fiduciary responsibility, an organization can become liable for losses to the plan. Organizations can also be held accountable for any assets gained through improper implementation of the plan. For these reasons it becomes incredibly important to establish a strong plan, meticulously document the process you've established, and continue to check in frequently to ensure the accuracy of your reporting.

Hiring a Service Provider May Be a Great Option

When you've outsourced the management of your fiduciary responsibilities or hired internally for the position, you've taking the first step in your plan and process and must abide by the regulations. A third party company can help discuss plans and concerns your organization may have while determining the appropriate retirement plan for your employees. Issues you may need to solve include meeting an implementation deadline, or understanding exactly what key plan documents are needed to get the ball rolling.

Setting up a retirement account can be a wonderful option for your employees who are interested in participating. It doesn't have to be complicated to set up and manage a 401(k) plan, and you don't have to be a financial advisor to offer the appropriate retirement help for employees. With assistance from the right service provider, you can find your business right on track to meet its fiduciary responsibilities.


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* This content is for educational purposes only, is not intended to provide specific legal advice, and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice of a qualified attorney or other professional. The information may not reflect the most current legal developments, may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date.

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