What Plan Sponsors Can Do to Plug 401k Leakage

What is a Default IRA?

ANSWER: A "default IRA" is generally synonymous with an Automatic Rollover or a Safe Harbor IRA, which is a specialized individual retirement account (IRA), established when a qualified retirement savings plan elects to “force out” their small-balance (<$5,000) participants, after they’ve separated employment.

  • Default IRA processes do not apply to active employee participants (any balance), or to former employees with balances greater than $5,000. Both of these groups are not subject to default IRA provisions, and can elect to stay in plan.
  • Not all plans have provisions to automatically rollover ex-employees with less than $5,000.
  • Plans that elect to periodically automatically rollover these participants to default IRAs often see a benefit in “cleaning up” their plan from a build-up of small-balance accounts. A proliferation of small balance accounts can cause administrative burdens (ex. – lost & missing participants, uncashed distribution checks, etc.) and increased plan costs.

History of the Default IRA

  • In 2001, the 107th Congress of the United States passed EGTRRA, otherwise known as the Economic Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act. EGTRRA set forth rules dictating that employer-sponsored, qualified plans could make automatic distributions to terminated employees without their consent for small balances (less than $5,000), provided that balances between $1,000 and $5,000 be automatically rolled over to a default IRA.
  • In 2004, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued final rules describing the default IRA safe harbor for plan fiduciaries tasked with choosing default IRA providers, as well as the default IRA investments. The DOL’s rules applied to distributions made on or after March 28, 2005.

How Does the Default IRA Process Work?

  • Plans that have adopted “default IRA” provisions will typically select a services provider – which can be their current recordkeeper or a third-party default IRA provider (ex. – Retirement Clearinghouse).
  • Periodically, plans will determine the participants who are default IRA-eligible – specifically, those former employees who have balances less than $5,000. On behalf of the plan, the plan’s recordkeeper or automatic rollover services provider will notify the eligible participants about the pending automatic rollover to a default IRA, providing them with the required disclosures, and giving them instructions and adequate time to take control of their situation prior to the automatic rollover. This period of time is typically 30 to 60 days.
  • If the participant takes no action, their retirement savings are automatically rolled over to a default IRA, also known as a Safe Harbor IRA. At this point, the former plan sponsor’s fiduciary responsibility to their former participant is concluded, and the former participant is now a default IRA accountholder.
  • Once in the new default IRA, the former participant’s savings are automatically invested in a default investment vehicle, designed to protect principal. The new default IRA accountholder is typically mailed a Welcome Kit, and is invited to take charge of their retirement savings in any manner they see fit.

Special Circumstances for Default IRAs

  • When a qualified defined contribution plan is being terminated, all unresponsive participants – regardless of balance – can be automatically rolled over and forced into a default IRA.

More Information on Default IRAs

Automatic Rollovers

Related Terms

Safe Harbor IRA

Auto Rollover

Auto Rollover Program

Auto Rollover IRA

Automatic IRA Rollover

Retirement Clearinghouse’s Default IRA Services

We believe that the RCH default IRA service is clearly the best in the market today. RCH is the only provider proven to reduce cash outs, to offer former participants with a beneficial monthly fee structure, and with a proven track record of consolidating former participants’ retirement savings into an active retirement plan or existing IRA.

When considering a default IRA service provider, we encourage plan sponsors to consider the following criteria:

  • Cashout rates: The percentage of default IRA-eligible participants that cash out their retirement savings completely, prior to moving to a default IRA. RCH is the only provider proven to reduce cashouts rates by over 50%, vs. industry averages for sub $5,000 balances (26% v. 55%).
  • Commitment to account consolidation: RCH has a demonstrated commitment, ability and track record in consolidating retirement savings balances. Most default IRA service providers prefer that these IRAs stay on their books as long as possible, incurring ongoing fees and offering the provider with an asset management opportunity. RCH takes the opposite approach. We believe it’s best to move retirement savings forward to an active plan or to an existing IRA.
  • A unique monthly fee structure: Because RCH actively seeks to consolidate default IRA assets with the account holders’ existing retirement accounts, RCH charges only for the time the account is open – a monthly fee – rather than an annual fee paid in advance. Using a monthly fee structure is highly-advantageous for short-term accountholders who are automatically rolled over to a default IRA.
  • Progressive distribution fee structure: RCH employs an algorithm that lowers the distribution fee as the default IRA account falls below a threshold.
  • Investment Choice: RCH offers over 30 different investment options in five different fund families from which to choose, should an accountholder wish to move their savings out of the default investment fund – with no transaction fees or lock up provisions on any investment options.
  • Customer Service: The RCH Service Center is available to accountholders Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern Time, with bi-lingual support including multiple, full-time native Spanish-speaking representatives. RCH also provides a fully-functional web portal for customer access, account maintenance and self-service.
  • Independence: RCH is independent, transparent and un-conflicted, with no hidden fees paid to third parties, and no lock-up provisions in our default investment funds.

Taken together, these attributes clearly establish the RCH default IRA service as the most fiduciary-friendly in the industry.

What Plan Sponsors Can Do to Plug 401k Leakage

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