The Internal Revenue Service is mulling a new Enrolled Retirement Plan Agent (ERPA) designation to allow retirement plan professionals who are not approved to represent employers before the IRS to communicate with the IRS regarding retirement plan matters. In announcing the new designation, the American Society of Pension Professionals & Actuaries (ASPPA) said in a statement that the ERPA designation “may effect changes in the professional credentialing and management decisions of individuals and firms within the industry,” adding that “new challenges and opportunities may arise for organizations to customize their credential and education programs in response to the changing environment.” ASPPA and the National Institute of Pension Administrators (NIPA) are jointly conducting an online survey to see how the ERPA designation may affect firms. ASPPA and NIPA said they plan to use the comments to “consider the impact of ERPA and further improvements to our credential and education programs.”

Contrary to popular belief, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.’s deficit is improving. The American Benefits Council (ABC) reported in mid-November that the PBGC’s deficit for 2006 fell to $18.1 billion, a $4.7 billion improvement from 2005. Lynn Dudley, ABC’s VP of retirement policy, says the drop comes as no surprise to ABC “in light of last year’s rising interest rates and investment market returns that assisted in strengthening defined benefit plans’ funded levels.” She says the PBGC’s “current assets can cover pension payments coming due for a number of years into the future, and our exposure to additional losses has declined,” adding that “the vast majority of DB plans are well-funded and the PBGC is stable.”

Eaton Vance has introduced a Supplemental Retirement Account (SRA) that’s designed to bridge the savings gap outside of qualified plans. The SRA is a Web-based program that allows for systematic savings for those consumers who’ve met the annual contribution limits through IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and 457 plans. The SRA investments are made in a diversified portfolio of tax-managed equity and tax-exempt municipal income mutual funds selected by the program participant, and are maintained and reported as a single consolidated account, according to Eaton Vance. Because SRA investments are held in a taxable account, Eaton Vance says, tax management strategies are used in managing the underlying mutual funds to minimize investor taxes. An initial investment of $20,000 along with a commitment to make systematic investments of at least $500 per month are required to open an SRA, Eaton Vance says (www.supplementalretirementaccount.com).

BISYS has launched an HSA Service Center, a Web-based tool allowing financial institutions to potentially expand their market presence by providing consumers with education on HSAs, “what-if” calculations, as well as the ability to generate signature-ready documents for HSAs. In a release announcing the center, Steve Christenson, VP of BISYS Retirement Services, says “at its core, health savings accounts operate in a nearly parallel structure as the IRA when one considers the documentation and reporting requirements.” At the end of 2005, BISYS notes that approximately 1.2 million HSAs were opened through financial institutions. By the end of 2005, HSAs, which are “transactional in nature,” BISYS says, had accumulated more than $2 billion in assets, with the average balance somewhere around $1,667. Projections put HSAs at 8 million accounts and $48 billion in assets by 2010, BISYS says, with the average account balance rising to $7,763.