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2019 is here and with it is has come a change in the method by which contributions may be made to the Nazarene 403(b) Retirement Savings Plan accounts of ministers and other church employees. That change was prompted by Fidelity Investments in the summer of 2016 with the announcement that they would no longer accept checks as a means of payment as of January 1, 2019. Fidelity is our provider of recordkeeping services for the 403(b) plan.

The 2016 announcement prompted a flurry of activity on the part of Pensions and Benefits USA as we began to plan and develop a system that would work for all concerned, including Nazarene church employers and employees, and Fidelity. The process led to affiliation with a company called Stewardship Technologies of Mount Vernon, Ohio. They created a system that interfaces with all participants. That system, Online 403(b) Contributions, has been up and running for more than a year now via the home page of pbusa.org.

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Benefits Services technicians Randy Wilkinson and Janet Morgan have assisted scores
of church treasurers and administrators in making the transition to Online 403(b) Contributions.

For the past nine months, P&B representatives have spent countless hours on the phone with church treasurers and administrators, answering questions, directing them to training resources, and walking them through the process that would enable their churches to maintain the retirement saving accounts of their employees without missing a beat.

“Understanding and trying to anticipate all of the requirements that our employers would need to make this transition successful has been a challenge,” said Roger Creeden, P&B administrative director. “We have over 5,000 employers, so we needed a system that could accommodate institutions with as few as 1 employee to more than 200.”

The transition has gone smoothly for the most part, but some pastors and treasurers have been frustrated that the old check payment system is ending. David J. Moore, senior vice president for Fidelity’s tax-exempt market, who works closely with P&B, said Fidelity’s decision was never intended to create frustration for anyone: “Unfortunately, the system that generated the paper contribution remittance form was no longer compatible with other applications within our operating environment. While we were concerned about the potential disruption any change would have on our client base, we also knew that introducing technology would enhance the contribution remittance process.”

“The feedback has been very positive with many citing ease of use, fewer processing errors, and information security as their main reasons for embracing the switch.”

Moore added that Nazarenes were not the only tax-exempt entity affected by the transition: “The change affected nearly two-thousand groups, including four, very large, multiple-employer church plan clients. All told, we were tasked with migrating eight-thousand end users from the paper-based system to an online process. The change was not always easy, and we had to do some hand-holding along the way. But the feedback has been very positive with many citing ease of use, fewer processing errors, and information security as their main reasons for embracing the switch.”

“Old habits die hard,” said Keith Hindman, P&B benefits supervisor. “Contributions to P&B retirement savings plans dating back to 1963 were paid by check, which continued when the program was moved to Fidelity in 2000. That method ended with the beginning of 2019.”

Hindman added that prior to the creation of the electronic funds transfer (EFT) system some 1,400 to 1,500 employers were active in the Nazarene retirement plan. As of January 1, more than 1,200 entities had signed up for Online 403(b) Contributions, and almost 900 had begun making contributions to accounts.

So what will happen if churches continue to send retirement payments by mail? Hindman says Fidelity has indicated they will return to the sender any checks received after January 1, along with instructions on making the switch to Online 403(b) Contributions.

Speaking of instructions, Hindman says the best resource available to tutor treasurers or administrators in how to use the system is a pair of videos at pbusa.org. If after viewing them, someone still needs assistance, they may phone P&B at 888-888-4656, and a rep will guide them through the process.

“Change is never easy,” said Don Walter, director of P&B. “The process has been difficult at times, but we do appreciate our employers partnering with us to make this conversion. We believe this system will provide significant long-term advantages for participating employers, such as secure transfers of money, on-time contributions, easy to create recurring payments, and compliance with Federal contribution guidelines.”

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