Form 5500 Filing: Who, When, How?

Who Must File Form 5500?
All retirement plans subject to ERISA must file Form 5500, regardless of the amount of plan assets. IRA-based plans such as SEPs and SIMPLEs- are excluded, as are owner-only plans with assets under $250,000. The asset level at which owner-only plans must file a 5500 series form was increased from $100,000 to $250,000 under the Pension Protection Act of 2006.

Simplified Reporting for Small Plans
A new, shorter version of Form 5500, known as Form 5500-SF, was introduced in 2009. Plans must meet certain criteria to file this short form. Specifically, such a plan:
1. Must have fewer than 100 participants.
2. Must be a single-employer plan.
3. Must contain investments that are easy to value such as mutual funds, publicly traded stocks, and cash.
4. Cannot invest in employer securities.
5. Must not be subject to outside independent audit requirements.
Plans failing to meet all of the above criteria must file their return on the unabridged version of Form 5500.

When is the 5500 Due?
In general, the return must be filed no later than the last day of the 7th month following plan year-end, e.g. July 31 for calendar-year plans. Plan sponsors may request a 2 ½ month extension by filing Form 5558, delaying the due date to October 15. No additional extensions are granted.

How is the 5500 Filed?
As of 2009, plan sponsors are required to file 5500 forms electronically. Plan sponsors must first register on the DOL website,, receive a unique personal identification number (PIN), and then submit their annual 5500 over the DOL website, using their unique PIN. Immediately after registering on the DOL website, plan sponsor should receive an email from the DOL containing their PIN. Those responsible for filing multiple 5500 forms, for example, a business with both a Defined Benefit plan and Defined Contribution plan, can use a single PIN for multiple filings.

What if Plan Sponsor Fails to File a Return?
Failure to comply with the filing requirements exposes plan sponsors to significant penalties ranging from a DOL-imposed penalty of up to $1,000 per day, without a maximum, to imprisonment for up to one year for willful violations. The Internal Revenue Code imposes a separate penalty of $25 per day for noncompliance with the IRS filing requirements, with a maximum of $15,000 per return. If a plan is subject to the filing requirements of both the DOL and the IRS, both penalties can be imposed.

What Should I do if a Plan is Out of Compliance?
Failure to file Form 5500 is a common mistake, especially with small businesses. Unfortunately, the issue does not go away on its own. Regulators easily uncover this issue when plans process distributions or begin their termination processes. Because the severity of fines increases over time, the best interest of the client is served by addressing the issue as soon as it is discovered.
To encourage compliance, the DOL established a Delinquent Filer Voluntary Compliance Program (DFVCP), which allows small plan late filers to pay a reduced penalty of $10 per day capped at $750 per year. Retirement Services has been successful in helping plan sponsors that failed to file a plan return through the DFVCP process. With the DOL and IRS increasing small plan audit activity over the last few years, the cost for complying with the 5500 filing requirement is small in light of the potential penalties.

First Allied Retirement Services developed a variety of tools, reports, and materials to assist you in effective communication about these and other important retirement topics. The rules are complex and to succeed you need to either become an expert or align yourself with the right partner. We are available to be an extension of your team. Retirement Services consultants are ready to partner with you in presenting solutions to your clients and prospects. But we don’t stop there; we help you implement and maintain the plan in partnership with nationally recognized record keeping vendors to offer a complete plan solution. You can reach us at (888) 926-0600 or via email to