The Spark Institute
SHAPING AMERICA'S RETIREMENT


Technical Questions and Answers

403(b) Plans Information Sharing -
Minimum and Comprehensive Data Elements
(Vers. 1.04, June 30, 2009),

Best Practices for Remittance and Census Data Elements
Vers. RC 1.0 (June 30, 2009) Becomes Obsolete on Feb. 1, 2013
and Will be Replaced by Vers. RC 2.0 (May 31, 2012)

Best Practices for Multiple Vendor 403(b) Plans
Form 5500 Aggregation
(Vers. F5500-2.0, September 13, 2010)

(Last Updated - May 31, 2012)

THE MOST CURRENT VERSION OF THE BEST PRACTICES AND THEIR RELATED Q&As ARE LOCATED AT THE LINKS BELOW:

INFORMATION SHARING DATA ELEMENTS
INFORMATION SHARING DATA ELEMENTS Q&As

BEST PRACTICES FOR REMITTANCE AND CENSUS DATA ELEMENTS (Version RC 1.0) - Obsolete on February 1, 2013
BEST PRACTICES FOR REMITTANCE AND CENSUS DATA ELEMENTS (Version RC 2.0) - Effective as of February 1, 2013
REMITTANCE AND CENSUS DATA ELEMENTS Q&As

BEST PRACTICES FOR FORM 5500 AGGREGATION
BEST PRACTICES FOR FORM 5500 AGGREGATION Q&As

The SPARK Institute maintains and updates this site periodically with answers to questions regarding the Best Practices. We encourage anyone in the 403(b) plans community that has technical questions about these documents to submit them to us at data-elements.questions@sparkinstitute.org. Please include information for us to be able to contact you if necessary when you submit your questions. Questions submitted to us will be reviewed by the panel, and answered through this Q&A site to the extent possible. Please note that we are unable to answer legal questions or provide guidance with respect to company or plan specific issues and situations.

ORGANIZATIONS THAT ARE ADHERING TO THE BEST PRACTICES ARE ENCOURAGED TO CHECK THIS SITE PERIODICALLY FOR UPDATES AND RESPONSES TO ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS. NON-SPARK INSTITUTE MEMBERS THAT WOULD LIKE TO RECEIVE PERIODIC UPDATES ABOUT THE BEST PRACTICES SHOULD PROVIDE THEIR CONTACT INFORMATION TO LARRY GOLDBRUM AT: larry@sparkinstitute.org.

THIS MATERIAL HAS NOT BEEN REVIEWED, APPROVED, OR AUTHORIZED BY THE TREASURY DEPARTMENT OR THE INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE AS MEETING THE REQUIREMENTS OF ANY APPLICABLE RULES OR REGULATIONS. THE SPARK INSTITUTE DOES NOT PROVIDE LEGAL ADVICE. USERS OF THIS MATERIAL SHOULD CONSULT WITH THEIR LEGAL COUNSEL BEFORE RELYING ON IT.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Please note that Questions 1 through 52, and Technical Issues 1 through 4, that were posted before December 31, 2008 have been archived and are available here.

Question 53: The "File Layout" section of Version 1.03 of the Best Practices (Part 1, Section A, 1) states that "[t]he extract file should be an ASCII file that is pipe "|" delimited, with no spaces between the data element and pipe at either end." Should the first data field be enclosed with the PIPE character or not?

Answer 53: Please refer to the discussion of "Coding PIPE Delimited Data" on the SPARK Institute's website located here. Examples are shown for when the first data field has a value to be reported and when the first data field is NULL because no data is being reported. (February 3, 2009)

Question 54: Are the "Header" and "Trailer" supposed to use a pipe delimited format as is the case for other fields under the Best Practices?

Answer 54: Yes. Pipe delimited should be used for the Header and Trailer records. (February 3, 2009)

Question 55: How should loan component data be reported under Part II, Section G of the Best Practices if a participant has more than 99 loans?

Answer 55: Loans 1-98 should be reported using the set of loan component data for each loan in accordance with the guidelines in the Best Practices. For Loans 99 and above, the 99th set of loan component data should be used to summarize the loan information of the remaining loans. Please refer to Part II Section G of the Best Practices for additional details. (February 3, 2009)

Question 56: Method of Reporting Loan Data - Under Version 1.03 of the Best Practices and according to Technical Question and Answer 16 on The SPARK Institute website, it appears that "M" is only a valid selection for the "Method of Reporting Loan Data" when there are no loans, otherwise, "C" and the associated components are required. Is that a correct understanding of the Best Practices?

Answer 56: Yes. (February 3, 2009)

Question 57: Part II, Section D in Version 1.03 of the Best Practices relating to "Reporting Hardship Amount Available Data" allows for two reporting methods, i.e., "M" or "C". Another vendor has advised us that they will only accept reporting method "C" and the associated Hardship Components. Is the option for reporting the maximum hardship available (i.e., method "M") still valid or are changes pending to the Best Practices to parallel the ones for loans which will require the components reporting method?

Answer 57: The Best Practices state that hardship data may be reported using either the "M" method (Maximum Hardship Amount Available") or the "C" method (Hardship Amounts are reported in component fields and the Aggregator would perform the calculation to arrive at the Maximum Hardship Amount Available through simple addition and subtraction). Certain vendors may elect to take a more restrictive view regarding how they will report or accept information. (February 3, 2009)

Question 58: How should the contributions reported in the "Account Inception-to-Date EE Contributions" and "Account Inception-to-Date 15 Year Catch-Up Contributions" in Part II, Section B be reported, gross or net (of any related charges, fees or subsequent withdrawal amounts)?

Answer 58: The "Account Inception-to-Date EE Contributions" and "Account Inception-to-Date 15 Year Catch-Up Contributions" in Part II, Section B should be reported as gross amounts (i.e., not reduced by any related charges, fees or subsequent withdrawal amounts). (February 3, 2009)

Question 59: If the "Highest Outstanding Loan Balance 12-Months" data (Part II, Section G) is not available for each loan but is available at a summary level, can an additional record be added at the end of these fields with the summary loan information?

Answer 59: No. The Best Practices already provide a mechanism for reporting loan data in summary form within the component loan fields. Although the Best Practices state that the recommended reporting method is to report individual loans, the flexibility for summary reporting has already been built in. If a vendor is unable to report data on individual loans, the vendor can leverage the summary loan reporting methodology that is already provided for. (February 3, 2009)

Question 60: Please clarify what is intended to be included in certain employee cash value fields in Part II, Section A of the Best Practices.

Part A: "EE Deferral Cash Value" - Should the amount reported in this field be the total of all deferral amounts made only or should it also include earnings?

Part B: "Rollover EE Pre-Tax Cash Value" - Should the amount reported in this field include all rollover/transfer values?

Answer 60, Part A: The "EE Deferral Cash Value" field represents the current value of Employee Pre-Tax investment source(s). The amount reported in this field should include the cumulative amount of money into and out of the specific investment source(s) and the associated earnings. Please see Question and Answer 6 for additional information. (March 6, 2009)

Answer 60, Part B: The "Rollover EE Pre-Tax Cash Value" field represents the current value of Employee Pre-Tax Rollover investment source(s). The amount reported in this field should include the cumulative amount of money into and out of the specific investment source(s) and any associated earnings. Please see Question and Answer 6 for additional information. (March 6, 2009)

Question 61: Is the distribution data defined in Part IV of the Best Practices limited strictly to 403(b) plans or would it also include this data from any accounts of associated non-403(b) plans (i.e., 401(a), 401(k), 457)?

Answer 61: The distribution data defined in Part IV of the Best Practices applies to 403(b) plans as well as any associated plans of the type defined in the Best Practices (i.e., 401(a), 401(k), 457). (March 6, 2009)

Question 62: Should Distribution Amounts that are reported under the Best Practices appear as negative or positive numbers?

Answer 62: Even though a Distribution Amount may be represented as a negative number in the vendor's administrative system (because it is a withdrawal), positive numbers should be used when reporting the Distribution Amount in the Best Practices format unless a reversal of a Distribution is being reported. If the information reported represents a reversed Distribution, then the Distribution Amount should be reported as a negative number (i.e., with a minus character in the first position). Please refer to the document, "How to Code PIPE Delimited Data" available here if you have any questions concerning the following examples. (March 6, 2009; revised January 4, 2010)

The following "Distributions Made" record reports a $50 distribution made by TPA1234

|12345|12345|123456789|||03|20090121|50.00||TPA1234

Decoded Data Element Values:
  1. Aggregator Plan ID = NULL
    NOTE:  when the first data element is NULL, and the second data element has a value, the record begins with a single PIPE as the PIPE signals the end of a data element and the beginning of the next data element. Also note that no PIPE appears at the end of a record because no data element follows.
  2. Employer Plan ID = 12345
  3. Vendor Plan ID = 12345
  4. Employee SSN = 123-45-6789
  5. Employee Account Number = NULL
  6. Vendor Transaction Number = NULL
  7. Distribution Type = 03 (In-Service Withdrawal)
  8. Distribution Date = 01/21/09
  9. Distribution Amount = $50.00
  10. Distribution Reason = NULL
  11. Vendor Source ID = TPA1234

The following record reports that a $50 Distribution was reversed

|12345|12345|123456789|||03|20090123|-50.00||TPA1234

Decoded Data Element Values:
  1. Aggregator Plan ID = NULL
  2. Employer Plan ID = 12345
  3. Vendor Plan ID = 12345
  4. Employee SSN = 123-45-6789
  5. Employee Account Number = NULL
  6. Vendor Transaction Number = NULL
  7. Distribution Type = 03 (In-Service Withdrawal)
  8. Distribution Date = 1/23/09
  9. Distribution Amount is a minus $50 indicating a reversal
  10. Distribution Reason = NULL
  11. Vendor Source ID = TPA1234

January 4. 2010 Revision - The "Distribution Reason" code was changed to "NULL" to conform to Version 1.04 of the Best Practices.

Question 63: There appears to be a discrepancy between the "Vendor Source ID" field which is identified as an optional field under Part II, A of the Best Practices and the same data field which is identified as a required field under Part IV, A of the Best Practices? Please clarify whether the "Vendor Source ID" field is optional or required.

Answer 63: The "Vendor Source ID" field is intended to be an optional field in Part II and IV. This oversight will be corrected in a future version but should be treated as optional now. (March 24, 2009)

Question 64: Are the seven "Cash Value Amount" fields in Part II, Section A supposed to add up to the total cash value of the account (either Gross or Net, as specified)?

Answer 64: The seven cash value fields (i.e., Employer Cash Value, EE Deferral Cash Value, Rollover EE Pre-Tax Cash Value, Rollover EE Post-Tax Cash Value, Rollover Roth Cash Value, EE Post-Tax Cash Value, Roth Cash Value) in Part II, Section A of the current version of the Best Practices (Version 1.03) should add up to the total cash value of the participant's account (either Gross or Net, as specified). Please note that the "403(b)(7) Employer Cash Value" would not be included in the calculation above because a different calculation applies under 403(b)(7) rules. Please click here for examples regarding reporting loan amount available data. (March 24, 2009)

Question 65: The examples provided on The SPARK Institute website for reporting the "Maximum Loan Amount Eligible" utilize 50% of the total cash value to arrive at this amount. Why doesn't the calculation also consider the $50,000 limit so that the maximum amount is either 50% of the total cash value or $50,000, whichever is less?

Answer 65: The examples do not mention the $50,000 limit because the total cash value amount was less than $100,000 so it had no impact. The $50,000 limit should otherwise be taken into account as appropriate. Click here for examples regarding reporting loan amount available data. (March 24, 2009)

Question 66: How should the "Total Hardship Amount Available" be reported in Part II, Section D of the Best Practices in connection with a plan that allows post 12/31/88 employer contributions to be included in the hardship amount that is available?

Answer 66: The situation identified in this question is not a common occurrence. The Best Practices do not include a separate component field for post 12/31/88 employer contributions. However, this situation can be addressed under the current Best Practices. Part II, Section D of the Best Practices provides two optional methods for reporting the "Total Hardship Amount Available."

The first method is to report the aggregate amount in the "Total Hardship Amount Available" field in Part II, Section D. The reporting party can calculate this amount as necessary to address the specific needs of each plan, and include post 12/31/88 employer contributions in the aggregate amount it reports.

The second method is to report certain individual component fields in Section II, D which include the following:

  1. 12/31/88 Cash Value-EE;
  2. 12/31/88 Cash Value-ER (if available for hardship);
  3. Post 12/31/88 Contributions EE;
  4. Post 12/31/88 Withdrawals.

Depending on how these component fields apply to the plan, the amount can be calculated by adding the components "a, b and c," and subtracting component "d." However, because the Best Practices do not include a separate component field for post 12/31/88 employer contributions, in order to use this option the reporting party can modify component "b" and report the "Employer Cash Value" that is defined in Part II, Section A of the Best Practices, provided that doing so produces the correct result under the circumstance.

Since this situation is uncommon, The SPARK Institute believes that the optional methods that are already available negate the need to make changes to the Best Practices that could require widespread programming modifications by everyone that is currently using them. We will consider further modifications with respect to this issue in connection with future releases of the Best Practices. (January 4, 2010)

Question 67: The comments for the "Maximum Loan Amount Eligible-Vendor" field under Part II, Section G of Version 1.04 of the Best Practices state that the amount is "subject to all IRC, Plan, Product, or Fund rules" but should not be reduced by outstanding loans. When reporting this field should the $50,000 maximum loan rule under IRC Section 72(p) be considered? The examples provided on The SPARK Institute website only show the calculation to be 50% of the current value. Should the exception to the 50% loan limit for loans of $10,000 or less (IRC Section 72(p)(2)(A)(ii)) be considered when reporting the "Maximum Loan Amount Eligible-Vendor" field?

Answer 67: The $50,000 maximum loan rule under IRC Section 72(p) should be considered when reporting the Maximum Loan Amount Eligible-Vendor field. The comments for Maximum Loan Amount Eligible-Vendor field states that the "Maximum Loan Amount Eligible should not exceed the IRS Maximum limit of $50K. If it does, report the value as $50K." In regards to the exception to the 50% limit, if the reporting party will issue a loan of $10K or less without regard to the 50% rule then it should report the maximum amount available based on the method it follows for determining the amount. For example, assuming the account balance at issue is $16K. If the reporting party will issue a loan for $10K because it will issue loans for under $10K without regard to the 50% rule then it should report $10K. However, if the reporting party will apply the 50% rule in this situation then it should report $8Kor 50% of the account balance. (January 4, 2010)

Question 68-A: Part II, Section F of Version 1.04 of the Best Practices is called "Non-Emergency Withdrawal Data (In Service Withdrawals)" and contains additional comments that were not in prior Version 1.03. Please clarify the intention of completing the "In Service Available Cash Value" field. Is this field completed with only 12/31/88 employee pre-tax voluntary amounts if the plan type is 403(b)(1)?

Question 68-B: What should be reported when the plan type is not a 403(b)(1)?

Question 68-C: What should be reported when the account has no 12/31/88 balance?

Answer 68-A: The reporting party should report all money available for in service withdrawals prior to taking a hardship distribution regardless of the source of the monies. The Best Practices do not restrict the sources of monies to be included in the "In Service Available Cash Value" field in Part II, Section F. (January 4, 2010)

Answer 68-B: The In Service Available Cash Value field is intended to be cumulative and includes all money available for in service distributions regardless of the source of the money. (January 4, 2010)

Answer 68-C: If the account does not have any sources of assets available for in service withdrawals then the In Service Available Cash Value field should be reported as "0.00." (January 4, 2010)

Question 69: What Distribution Type should be used when the participant has a 403(b) plan-to-plan transfer under Part IV, Section A of version 1.04 of the Best Practices? Please clarify whether Item 5 in the opening text for Part IV of Version 1.04 of the Best Practices which states that "'Transfers should be classified as a Distribution Type '01' - (Contract) Exchange" includes a 403(b) plan-to-plan transfer."

Answer 69:The Distribution Type classification may vary among vendors and aggregators. Therefore, the Distribution Type that will be used should be agreed to, as needed, by the reporting and receiving parties. The more common Distribution Types that may be used for Plan to Plan transfers are "‘01' - (Contract) Exchange," "‘03'- In Service Withdrawal," or "'06 - Separation from Service." If the reporting party has an established practice for how it classifies Plan to plan transfers it should notify the receiving party. The Best Practices do not require reporting parties to customize the classification of transfer distribution types for each receiving party so that the reporting parties can follow a single approach. This issue will be addressed more specifically in a future release of the Best Practices. (January 4, 2010)

Question 70: How should penalty free distributions made under the Heroes Earnings and Assistance Relief Tax Act of 2008 ("HEART Act") to people called into active military service be coded in the "Distribution Type" field under Part IV, Section A of Version 1.04 of the Best Practices?

Answer 70: HEART Act distributions should be coded as a "Distribution Type 03 - In Service Withdrawal," as permitted under the terms of the plan. (January 4, 2010)

Question 71: In Part II, Section G of the Version 1.04 of the Best Practices, does the Loan Status Definition "D" for Defaulted include both defaults and offset loans, or offset loans only?

Answer 71: Loan Status Definition "D" includes both. The Best Practices treat an offset loan as a defaulted loan for reporting purposes. The offset loan is considered a subclass within the overall defaulted loan class. (January 4, 2010)

Question 72: Situation #3 for using the "Defaulted" Loan Status Definition under Part II, Section G of Version 1.04 of the Best Practices states that "The participant retires or otherwise severs employment and does either repay the loan in full or continue to make payments following the separation from employment." Should this item read "...severs employment and does NOT either repay or..."

Answer 72: The word "not" was inadvertently omitted, and will be corrected in a future release. The correct text is ""The participant retires or otherwise severs employment and does NOT either repay the loan in full or continue to make payments following the separation from employment." (January 4, 2010)

Question 73-A: What Loan Status Definition should be used under Part II, Section G of Version 1.04 of the Best Practices with respect to an outstanding loan that is actively being repaid to the plan by a participant who is no longer employed by the employer (e.g., a terminated participant makes payments outside of payroll deduction)?

Question 73-B: When such loan is paid in full what Loan Status Definition should be used?

Question 73-C: How does Condition #1 under the "Active" Loan Status Definition in Part II, Section G of Version 1.04 of the Best Practices which states that "The participant who has a loan, is a participant in the plan" affect this?

Answer 73-A: The loan should be classified as "A" - Active regardless of the participant's employment status while it is being repaid. (January 4, 2010)

Answer 73-B: The loan should be classified as "P" - Paid when it is repaid in full. (January 4, 2010)

Answer 73-C: The Conditions for the Active Loan Status Definition describe the most common situations in order to provide a general definition. In most cases terminated participants do not or are not permitted to continue to repay plan loans. However, as noted above if a terminated participant is actively repaying the plan loan the loan should be classified as "A" - Active. (January 4, 2010)

Question 74: The file naming standard has the file extension as .txt. We send files out compressed/zipped and the IT industry standard is to have the last extension as .gz to indicate to the recipient that the file is compressed. Can we send the file as .txt.gz? If the response is to not allow .gz, then can/should we still compress the files? What are others doing?

Answer 74: Most firms that compress files have been using a TXT. ZIP not TXT.gz. However, there are many formats that can be used and it is ultimately up to the affected parties to decide what they will provide and accept. (January 4, 2010)

Question 75: How do you identify the changes that are made between different versions of the Best Practices?

Answer 75: Every version of the Best Practices includes a Version Control Log in an Appendix that identifies the changes that have been made. (January 28, 2010)

Question 76: Can the information in Parts II and Part IV of Version 1.04 of the Best Practices for Information Sharing be used to compute the actual amount available to a participant for a future distribution(s)?

Answer 76: No. The information in the Best Practices was not designed specifically to facilitate the computation of the amount a participant may be entitled to for a distribution (other than the amount available for a loan). To determine distribution amounts, a number of factors, including the defaulted loan amount, vesting and product rules and riders for each vendor, would need to be considered. Additionally, it should be noted that Part II data is intended to be used to report a defaulted loan, as Part IV data is only reported for 12 months after the loan has been defaulted. (May 7, 2010)

Question 77: The Best Practice for defaulted loans does not specifically require that component data be provided for defaulted loans for more than 12 months. However, some plans allow a participant to take a loan even if the participant has defaulted on a prior loan. Will the Best Practices be modified to require this information?

Answer 77: The best practice is to provide loan data for all loans with activity or an outstanding balance in the prior 12 months. Additionally, it is part of the best practice to include component data if you have it available, regardless of how old the activity is. (August 25, 2010)

Question 78: How can participant termination date information be transmitted under the file layouts in the Best Practices?

Answer 78: The current version of the Best Practices does not specifically provide a data field for transmitting participant termination date information. However, in order to accommodate this request The SPARK Institute has decided to use field "Filler 1" under Part II, G (Loan Amount Available Data) to facilitate sharing termination date information between providers, if available. The field will be in a date format as follows MM/DD/YYYY. We note that this is an optional field. The effective date for this change is October 1, 2010, but affected parties can agree to use it before that date. (August 25, 2010)

Question 79: How can certain product codes or product identifiers be transmitted between parties who wish to do so using the file layouts in the Best Practices?

Answer 79: The SPARK Institute received specific requests from certain groups to facilitate sharing certain product codes and identifiers. The SPARK Institute has decided to accommodate this request in order to promote greater adherence to the Best Practices by certain groups. Therefore, field "Filler 2" under Part II, G (Loan Amount Available Data) will be used to transmit product codes. The field will be an alphanumeric format with 11 characters. Any and all product codes that will be used in this field and a key for decoding the values must be defined and provided by the product provider. We note that this is an optional field. The effective date for this change is October 1, 2010, but affected parties can agree to use it before that date. (August 25, 2010)

Question 80: How should participants who no longer have an account balance (i.e., a zero account balance) be reported under the Best Practices? How long should information regarding these participants be reported under the Best Practices?

Answer 80: Please refer to Part I, Section A, 5 of the Best Practices. "The investment Provider should continue to report the record for a rolling 12 months." This timeframe is from the date of last activity on the account. (August 25, 2010)

Question 81: How can Part II files under the Best Practices be used to report daily changes in activity only instead of sending a full file of data on a daily basis?

Answer 81: Generally, the Best Practices anticipate the transmission of a full data file under Part II. The SPARK Institute has learned that some Aggregators accept daily Part II files as either a change only file or as "full file." Affected parties can agree among themselves to transmit and accept partial Part II files as change only files. The SPARK Institute recommends that the parties transmit and accept at least one full Part II file switching their protocol and usage of Part II files. (August 25, 2010)

Question 82: How should plans with multiple employers be reported so that information related to a specific employer can be identified? For instance, how would multiple institutions be identified in an ORP plan?

Answer 82: The "Aggregator Plan ID" field under Part II Section A should be used to differentiate Locations/Divisions within a plan or employer. Each Aggregator should provide the Aggregator Plan ID to the party that will transmit the data. (August 25, 2010)

Question 83: If a Provider is unable to provide a breakout of information regarding cash values, regardless of the type of cash value, what other option is there to include a total account balance? This is a problem for vendors that don't have the capability (because of systems constraints) to accept the default of including this information in the Employer Cash Value.

Answer 83: For an account containing multiple contribution sources that can not be broken out, the data should be placed in the most restrictive source for the plan being reported. If no contribution source is more restrictive than others for a plan, the entire value should be reported in the 403(b)(7) Employer Cash Value in Part II Section A. (August 25, 2010)

Question 84: Part II, Sections D & G of the Best Practices requires that hardship transactions be reported for 12 months following the transaction date and loans be reported until they are closed. How long should Part IV data, other transactions, be reported?

Answer 84: Part IV records should be reported for a rolling 12 months following the date of the original transaction. (August 25, 2010)

Question 85: Part I, Section A, 3 of the Best Practices states that "all fields, including NULL fields must be provided." Does this mean that all fields should contain some value, even if it is null? Specifically, for a company that does not offer loans, 403(b)(7), Roth or other features, how should these fields be reported in the Best Practice file format?

Answer 85: When sending data, all fields should be reported. Fields without values should default to null or zero ("0", "0.0", "0.00" …). Specifically, the Loan Components with a value of 'M' and Number of Loan Components of zero you need to put values or nulls in the Loan Summary section you do NOT need to put nulls or pipes in the components since the components section is variable. Future releases will clarify Part I to say except in the case of Loan Components with an 'M' value. If you were passing "C" then you would need to put nulls or values for all the components records up to the number of Loan Components sent. (August 25, 2010)

Question 86: Part I, Sections A, 12 and 13 indicate that all numeric fields should have two digits to the right of the decimal; however several numeric fields in the examples indicate using a single "0" digit. Are the two digits to the right of the decimal only applicable for currency/dollar figure numbers and not all numeric fields?

Answer 86: Numeric fields should have two digits to the right of the decimal only in those numeric fields that are specifically defined with a decimal point in the maximum length section. (August 25, 2010)

Question 87: Has The SPARK Institute identified any data security, privacy or data transmission standards or best practices?

Answer 87: These issues are company specific and vary based on each companies own policies, procedures, resources and capabilities. The SPARK Institute has not established any standards on these matters, except with respect to data transmission. The preferred best practices standard for data transmission is "secure FTP-PGP." We recognize that other transmission methods are available but the preferred method was determined to be the one that is likely to be acceptable to most affected parties. (August 25, 2010)

Question 88: Does The SPARK Institute consider using a combination of electronic and paper based transmission of data to be an acceptable means of adhering to the Best Practices?

Answer 88: No. The SPARK Institute encourages all companies that are attempting to adhere to the Best Practices to transmit data electronically only and not to use a combination of electronic and paper based transmissions as a matter of course. Electronic transmission is necessary in order to leverage the full benefits and efficiencies of the Best Practices. (August 25, 2010)

Question 89: Part IV of the Best Practices deals with Distributions Made by Vendors. Version 1.04 defines the 'Distribution Amount' field as the 'gross amount of the distribution made'. Can you explain what this means as opposed to 'net amount'? Can you give general examples of what might be included in the 'gross amount' total of a distribution transaction over and above the amount actually distributed to the participant?

Answer 89: Gross amount is the amount being removed from the retirement account. The net amount is generally considered what the participant receives. The difference can be a number of items including: surrender charges, transaction charges, taxes. As such a $500 withdrawal that incurs a 3% CDSC and 20% withholding would net the participant less than $400 but under Part IV of the Best Practices, $500 should be reported as the amount withdrawn. (August 25, 2010)

Question 90: Part IV of the Best Practices deals with Distributions Made by Vendors. Version 1.04 standards states that transactions that represent 'Account Fees' should not be included in the SPARK Part IV file. Can you provide some general examples of the kind of 403(b) or 457 account fees that are to be excluded from the file?

Answer 90: Examples of the account fees noted in the Best Practices include, but are not limited to, account-based charges such as a $25 annual account fee, and asset-based charges such as a 25 basis points fund level wrap fee, and TPA fees that are deducted directly from an account. (August 25, 2010)

Question 91: Are The SPARK Institute Best Practices being used for the purpose of 1099 distributions (permanent) or for both loans (temporary) and distributions (permanent) to determine how much money is available in an account for future distributions?

Answer 91: This is not the intended purpose of The SPARK Institute Best Practices. While much of the data required to make such a determination is available in this file format, we urge anyone using this data for such purposes to take extra care to ensure that the data sent and received is mutually understood and accurate/complete for making such determinations. (August 25, 2010)

Question 92: When the file contains an EE Cash Value (greater than 0) for prior to 12/31/86, and a value greater than 0 for EE Cash Value, does that mean we need to add them together to get the true EE balance of the account?

Answer 92: No. Under Part II Section A, the EE Deferral Cash Value is the entire employee deferral cash value. The Part II Section C 12/31/86 EE Cash Value is a subset of this value. (August 25, 2010)

Question 93: Under Part II, Section G of the Best Practices when reporting the "Maximum Loan Amount Eligible-Vendor," should we deduct current outstanding loan balances?

Answer 93: No. As noted in the comments section for that field the amount reported should not be reduced for any outstanding loan balance (i.e., for active and defaulted loans). (August 25, 2010)

Question 94: Under Part II, Section G of the Best Practices for the "Loan Default Indicator" field, our company uses the IRS guidelines stating that any "contract" issued after 1/1/2004, with an outstanding defaulted loan, will populate a "Y" in this field. The Best Practices refer to any "loan" issued after 1/1/2004. Can you confirm that the reference was intended to be to the "contract?"

Answer 94: Yes, The reference is intended to be to the "contract." (August 25, 2010)

Question 95: Our company's interpretation of the Best Practices is that we can choose whether to report a loan that was defaulted, but is now paid off, as either defaulted or paid off. What is the industry standard in these cases?

Answer 95: As defined in Part II, Section G, defaulted loans should be reported under the Best Practices for a minimum of a rolling 12 months. Additionally, if the data is available longer, defaulted loan information should continue to be reported as long as such data is available. If the repayment of a defaulted loan will make the participant eligible for a future loan, the status of such reported loan can be changed from "D"efaulted to "P"aid. (August 25, 2010)

Question 96: Should a vendor only be reporting loans during the prior 12 months? So if a loan was taken in 2006 and repaid fully in 2008 should this be reported on the SPARK file as a "P" for paid or should this loan be omitted from the information file?

Answer 96: As defined in Part II Section G, loans should be reported under the Best Practices for a minimum of a rolling 12 months. Additionally, if the data is available longer, loan information should continue to be reported as long as such data is available. (August 25, 2010)

Question 97: In Version 1.04 of the Best Practices (updated February 14, 2011), what should be reported for the "Remaining Loan Balance Component" in Part II, Section G, Field 13?

Answer 97: The principal and all interest outstanding as of the valuation date should be included in the amount reported. Stated another way, report the amount that the individual would have to pay as of the valuation date to pay off the loan in full. Specifically, interest or fees that may be charged in the future should NOT be included in the amount reported in this field. (June 8, 2011)

Questions Specific to Best Practices for Remittance
and Census Data Elements Version RC 1.0

Question 1: Under the Best Practices for Multiple Vendor Plans Remittance and Census Data Elements Version RC 1.0 ("Remittance Best Practices RC1.0"), if employer contributions can not be broken out into specific sources, can an "Employer-All" source be added to facilitate transmission?

Answer 1:  On May 31, 2012, The SPARK Institute issued Version RC 2.0 of the Best Practices, which includes values for common Contribution Source Codes in Appendix A.  As noted in the footnote to the Appendix, alternative or additional codes may be agreed to between each sender and recipient. (Updated May 31, 2012)

QUESTIONS SPECIFIC TO BEST PRACTICES FOR MULTIPLE VENDOR
403(b) PLANS-FORM 5500 AGGREGATION VERSION F5500-2.0

Question 1: Does the Form 5500 Best Practice apply to Form 5500-SF?

Answer 1: The Best Practices apply to all Form 5500 filings. The format provides more than enough information for the Form 5500-SF. By using a single comprehensive file format, vendors do not need to worry about determining total plan size and eligibility for the Form 5500-SF prior to creating plan extracts. (November 18, 2010)