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Voluntary Plan Termination


Voluntary Plan Termination refers to the decision made by a company to end their employee benefit plan, such as a pension or retirement plan. It can occur when a company is restructuring, going out of business, or for other financial reasons. Prior to termination, the company has to ensure all obligations are met, including payouts to entitled plan participants.


The phonetics of the keyword “Voluntary Plan Termination” is: – Voluntary: /vɒl·ən·ter·i/- Plan: /plæn/- Termination: /tɝː.mɪˈneɪ.ʃən/

Key Takeaways

  1. Vesting Requirements: In a voluntary plan termination, all benefits of participants are 100% vested, including those who wouldn’t normally be vested at the time of termination. This ensures that all employees enrolled in the plan at the time of termination will receive the full amount they are entitled to.
  2. Unpredictable Contingent Event Benefits: Any unpredictable contingent event benefits (also known as shutdown benefits) are secured before any further settlement steps. These are benefits that are triggered by specific, unforeseen events, such as a business closure or significant layoffs.
  3. Asset Distribution: Once all participants are fully vested and any unpredictable contingent event benefits are secured, plan assets are distributed. First, distribute to those participants with guaranteed benefits by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, then to those participants with non-guaranteed benefits. Any remaining assets after settling all liabilities can then be recaptured by the employer or used to provide additional benefits for participants.


Voluntary Plan Termination is an important concept in business and finance as it refers to when a company consciously decides to end its employee benefit plan, such as a pension or health plan. This step is taken when a company is restructuring, facing financial difficulties, or changing its compensation strategy. The termination has significant implications for both the company and the employees. For the company, it may free up necessary funds and reduce long-term liabilities, while for employees, it may mean loss of expected benefits. Further, the process is regulated by laws and specific procedures must be followed to protect the rights of the employees, thus underlining its significance in the corporate world.


Voluntary plan termination is a strategic decision driven by the purpose to wind up a company’s pension plan for various reasons, always keeping in mind the company’s financial stability or strategic goals. Companies may choose to terminate their pension plans because of financial pressures or because they have found alternative means to fund employees’ retirement, like 401(k) plans. Furthermore, it could be part of a restructuring process or when moving towards bankruptcy; companies may cast off their pension liabilities through this process to cut costs or stay afloat.The mechanism of voluntary plan termination primarily serves to protect the rights of beneficiaries when a company faces financial difficulties or decides to allocate its resources differently. Upon termination, the participants typically receive the vested benefits as per the terms of the plan in some form such as annuities or lump sum amounts. By providing an orderly process for terminating plans, voluntary plan termination helps to ensure that the rights and benefits of employees and retirees are honored, and liabilities properly settled, thus assisting companies navigate through tough financial waters.


1. Sears Holdings Corp: In 2018, the retail giant moved to terminate its pension plan amidst financial difficulties and bankruptcy. The termination plan affected about 90,000 employees, and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation agreed to take responsibility for it. 2. Delta Airlines: In 2006, as part of its cost-cutting measures during bankruptcy, Delta terminated its pilots’ defined-benefit pension plans, which were voluntary. The move affected thousands of current and former pilots. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation took over responsibility for the plan.3. Bethlehem Steel: In 2001, The Bethlehem Steel Corporation, voluntarily terminated its pension plan during bankruptcy proceedings. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation assumed responsibility for the estimated $4.3 billion in pension benefits for approximately 95,000 workers and retirees.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is Voluntary Plan Termination?

Voluntary Plan Termination refers to the decision by a company to voluntarily end their employee benefit plan such as a pension or 401k. This shut down is usually done in accordance with specific regulated guidelines.

Why would a company opt for a Voluntary Plan Termination?

A company may choose to go for a Voluntary Plan Termination due to various reasons such as financial strain or a change in business model. For instance, the administrative costs of maintaining the plan could be prohibitively high.

What happens to vested benefits in a Voluntary Plan Termination?

In a Voluntary Plan Termination, all vested benefits are typically either paid out to the plan participants or rolled into another qualified retirement plan.

Are there any government regulations regarding Voluntary Plan Termination?

Yes, the U.S. Department of Labor and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) have specific regulations that must be followed when voluntarily terminating a plan.

What is the role of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) in a Voluntary Plan Termination?

The PBGC was created to ensure participants do not lose their pension benefits. In case of a voluntary termination, the PBGC guarantees that participants will receive their benefits, albeit up to a certain limit.

What are the tax implications of a Voluntary Plan Termination?

Any payout from the plan could potentially be subject to income tax. It’s important that the recipients consult with a tax professional to understand the potential tax implications.

Can a company reinstate a plan after a Voluntary Plan Termination?

Yes, it is possible. However, it must be done under stringent IRS regulations and there may be tax implications. A company should consult with a professional before reinstating a terminated plan.

Is a company required to notify employees of a Voluntary Plan Termination?

Yes, federal law requires the plan administrator to notify all plan participants and beneficiaries about the plan termination.

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