What is a Safe Harbor IRA?
ANSWER: Safe Harbor IRA is a specialized individual retirement account (IRA), established when a qualified retirement savings plan elects to “force out” their small-balance (<$7,000) participants, after they’ve separated employment. Former employees with greater than $7,000 are not subject to force-out provisions, and can stay in plan. Not all plans have provisions to force out ex-employees with less than $7,000. Plans that elect to periodically force out these participants 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 Safe Harbor IRAs
- 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 Safe Harbor IRA.
- In 2004, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued final rules describing the automatic rollover safe harbor for plan fiduciaries tasked with choosing Safe Harbor IRA providers, as well as the initial IRA investments. The DOL’s rules applied to distributions made on or after March 28, 2005.
- In 2022, Section 304 of the SECURE 2.0 Act increased the mandatory distribution limit from $5,000 to $7,000, effective for distributions made after 12/31/23.
How Do Safe Harbor IRAs Work?
- Plans that have adopted “automatic rollover” or force-out provisions will typically select a Safe Harbor IRA provider – which can be their current recordkeeper or a third-party Safe Harbor IRA provider (ex. – Retirement Clearinghouse).
- Periodically, plans will determine the participants who are eligible for force-out – specifically, those former employees who have balances less than $7,000. On behalf of the plan, the plan’s recordkeeper or Safe Harbor IRA provider will notify the eligible participants about the pending force-out, providing them with the required disclosures, and giving them instructions and adequate time to take control of their situation prior to force-out. 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 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 Safe Harbor IRA accountholder.
- Once in the new Safe Harbor IRA, the former participant’s savings are automatically invested in a default investment vehicle, designed to protect principal. The new Safe Harbor IRA accountholder is typically mailed a Welcome Kit, and is invited to take charge of their retirement savings in any manner they see fit.
- When a qualified defined contribution plan is terminated, all unresponsive participants – regardless of balance – can be automatically rolled over into a Safe Harbor IRA.
More Information on Safe Harbor IRAs
Auto Rollover Program
Auto Rollover IRA
Automatic IRA Rollover
Retirement Clearinghouse’s Safe Harbor IRA Service
We believe that RCH's automatic rollover service delivers the best Safe Harbor IRA in the market today. RCH is the only provider proven to reduce cash outs, to offer Safe Harbor IRA accountholders 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 Safe Harbor IRA provider, we encourage plan sponsors to consider the following criteria:
- Cashout rates: The percentage of Safe Harbor IRA-eligible participants that cash out their retirement savings completely, prior to moving to a Safe Harbor IRA. RCH is the only provider proven to reduce cashouts rates by over 50%, vs. industry averages for automatic rollover balances (26% v. 55%).
- Commitment to account consolidation: RCH has a demonstrated commitment, ability and track record in consolidating retirement savings balances. Most Safe Harbor IRA service providers prefer that 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 Safe Harbor 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 Safe Harbor IRA accountholders.
- Progressive distribution fee structure: RCH employs an algorithm that lowers the distribution fee as the Safe Harbor 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 Safe Harbor IRA 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 RCH's automatic rollover service as delivering the most fiduciary-friendly Safe Harbor IRA offering in the industry.