SECURE 2.0 and new state mandates concerning retirement plans have meant big changes for employers over the last few years. One key result is new retirement plan adoption. An April 2023 Pew report shows that, on a state-by-state basis, the average share of new employer-sponsored plans is higher after states' requirements went into effect and the state-sponsored IRA began enrolling workers. Since SECURE 2.0 was signed into law in December 2022, according to internal data, Human Interest has seen nearly 70% growth in customers looking to sponsor retirement plans, almost half of which were first-time plans. Cerulli Associates anticipates a surge in 401(k) plans to continue, projecting more than 900,000 by 2028, or roughly 230,000 more than there were in 2022. This rapid growth is great news: It means greater access to end-of-career options for so many Americans.

However, research among the businesses that Human Interest supports shows that complying with legislation consistently ranks as a top concern for plan sponsors. Wading into the world of plan sponsorship means learning new rules from the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to ensure compliance. And like the IRS with taxes, the DOL conducts regular audits of retirement plans. It does so through the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA). According to the EBSA's annual fact sheets, the 5-year average for funds recovered by EBSA investigations which includes audits of 401(k) plans is $573.5 million (FY2019-FY2023). In each of those years, more than 65% of investigations included some type of corrective action or monetary return.

Labor advocates should celebrate this work on EBSA's part. The monetary returns reflect hard-working Americans getting their earnings recovered. In the FY2023 report, the EBSA team notes that "many workers in lower-paying positions may go from job to job, which often results in losing track of retirement savings accounts. In addition, companies that go out of business or are bought out may have accounts that also get lost in the shuffle." Audits and corrective action particularly help those who may need their retirement benefits the most. Still, being the subject of an audit or investigation can induce some heartburn for the business owner, plan sponsor or the HR team responsible for responding to EBSA's requests.

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