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ERISA: Form 5500 Introduction

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The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) developed the Form 5500 Series for employee benefit plans to satisfy annual reporting requirements under Title I and Title IV of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).

Filing Requirements

Employer-sponsored health and welfare plans with 100 or more participants as of the beginning of the plan year, all qualified retirement plans (with some exceptions), and 403(b) plans subject to ERISA must file one of Form 5500 documents in the series through the DOL’s ERISA Filing Acceptance System II (EFAST2) system annually on the last day of the seventh month after the plan year ends.

The following plans are exempt from ERISA (therefore, Form 5500 does not apply):

  • Plans sponsored by governmental employers and certain church plans;

  • Most voluntary plans (e.g., employee-pay-all after-tax insurance plans with no employer endorsement, sponsorship, or contribution); and

  • Plans maintained solely to comply with state workers’ compensation, unemployment, and disability insurance laws, without providing additional benefits.

Plan sponsors must consider how many benefit plans (not insurance policies) have been established to determine how many Form 5500 filings are required. When an ERISA-compliant summary plan description (wrap) document incorporates all benefits into one comprehensive plan, it may file a single Form 5500 filing with all applicable schedules for all welfare plans and a separate filing for a retirement plan. Without a wrap document, separate Form 5500 filings will be required for each benefit with 100 or more participants and retirement plans.

To count the number of participants of a benefit plan, include covered employees, retirees, and primary COBRA beneficiaries, but do not include dependents. The IRS provides a chart of reporting and disclosure requirements for retirement plans in Publication 5411, Retirement Plans Reporting and Disclosure Requirements. The DOL provides a Reporting and Disclosure Guide for Employee Benefit Plans.

Forms and Schedules

The correct form and schedules required vary by plan type and size. The following are three forms in the series:

  • Form 5500 applies to plans with 100 or more participants at the beginning of the plan year and must be filed electronically

  • Form 5500-SF is a short form applicable to plans with fewer than 100 participants at the beginning of the plan year and must be filed electronically

  • Form 5500-EZ applies to one-participant plans (owner/partners and their spouses) or foreign plans and may be filed by mail or electronically

Schedules are additional forms, grouped by type, required for certain filings. Information provided to an employer will generally not be in any standardized format. To complete the information required on a schedule, it may be necessary to contact the carrier, provider, or other relevant entity to obtain the necessary information. The following are all schedules with summaries:

General schedules:

  • Schedule A (insurance information) is required for employee benefit plans provided by an insurance company or similar organization.

  • Schedule C (service provider information) is required for large plans if the service provider receives $5,000 or more in compensation or if an accountant and/or enrolled actuary has been terminated.

  • Schedule D (direct filing entity [DFE]/participating plan information) is required when plans are sponsored pooled investment arrangements identified as DFEs.

  • Schedule G (financial transactions) is required for large plans.

  • Schedule H (financial information) is required for retirement and welfare benefit plans and all DFE filings.

  • Schedule I (financial information for small plans) is required for all retirement and welfare plans for small plans not filing with Form 5500-SF.

Pension schedules:

  • Schedule R (retirement plan information) is required for defined benefit retirement plans and those subject to Code 412 or ERISA § 302.

  • Schedule MB (multi-employer defined benefit plan) is required for most multi-employer defined benefit plans and defined contribution plans.

  • Schedule SB (single-employer defined benefit plan) is required for most single-employer defined benefit plans and multi-employer defined benefit plans.

Form 5500 instructions for 2022 provide detailed information to assist in filing, including the following:

  • Any changes to forms, codes, and other relevant factors are generally included at the beginning of the document

  • A quick reference chart (pages 12-13) of schedules to use based on five categories or plans

  • Instructions for each schedule (beginning on page 22)

  • Codes for principal business activities (page 80)

The DOL website provides all forms and schedules by year.

Electronic Filing

The DOL requires Form 5500 and Form 5500-SF returns to be filed electronically through the EFAST2 using an approved EFAST2 software vendor or the IFILE free online software (refer to DOL’s quick start guide for using IFILE).

Filing an Extension

When a plan is unable to file Form 5500 by the due date, an extension of time may be obtained by filing Form 5558 on or before the original filing due date. The one-time extension provides an additional two and a half months to complete Form 5500 filing.

Correction Programs

The DOL established the voluntary fiduciary correction program (VFCP) to encourage employers to self-correct certain ERISA violations voluntarily. The program provides 19 categories of transactions and correction methods involving employee benefit plans. Employers participating in the program provide relief from certain excise taxes. The DOL provides a helpful online VFCP checklist when applying to the program.

The delinquent filer voluntary compliance program (DFVCP) encourages voluntary compliance with delinquent reporting by paying a reduced penalty amount. Participation in the program is generally limited to employers that have yet to receive written notice by the DOL of failure to file a timely annual report. The online DFVCP penalty calculator is available to calculate the payment needed to participate in the program.

Summary Annual Report

A Summary Annual Report (SAR) is a narrative statement of the Form 5500 filing under § 2520.104b-10 that must be distributed to all plan participants annually within nine months after the plan year ends. SAR distribution methods must comply with ERISA. All entities required to file Form 5500 must provide the SAR except for completely unfunded welfare plans, regardless of its size.

The SAR must contain certain information regarding funding and insurance information, basic financial information, a statement regarding rights to request a copy of the full annual report, and an offer of assistance in a non-English language. The DOL provides sample SAR forms for pension plans and welfare plans.

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