Pension Plan Terminations

Effectiveness of Excise Tax in Recovering Tax Benefits in Asset Reversions Gao ID: HRD-90-126 July 13, 1990

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO evaluated the 15-percent excise tax levied on employers who recover excess pension assets by terminating overfunded pension plans, which is known as asset reversion.

GAO found that: (1) 15-percent excise taxes failed to fully recapture tax benefits from any asset reversions; (2) the excise tax rate sufficient to offset tax benefits ranged from 17 to 59 percent; (3) in 55 cases, the excise tax rate needed to recover pension tax benefits averaged about 37 percent, with a median rate of 39 percent; (4) corporate profit tax liability varied depending on income origin; (5) under the tax cost, pension plans that obtained much of their income from sources that received the least favorable treatment tended to have the highest offsetting excise tax rates, but plans that derived substantial portions of their income from sources that received the most favorable treatment tended to have the lowest offsetting excise tax rates; and (6) the rate of return excess assets earned and the amount of time excess assets were tax sheltered in the pension trust influenced the precise excise tax rates required to offset benefits.


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