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Companies that consider nonqualified deferred compensation arrangements for their key executives often focus on how those arrangements are treated for tax purposes. But in the midst of the tax discussion, don’t lose track of the other federal law that governs these arrangements: the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

The phrase “top-hat plan” is commonly used to refer to nonqualified deferred compensation arrangements generally, and to the treatment of those arrangements under ERISA in particular. Yet, it never appears in the text of the statute.

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