Everything You Need to Know about a Form 5500
What is Form 5500? If you’d like to get a general idea of what it takes to file a Form 5500 for a 401(k) plan, here are the top five things you need to know.
As you can imagine, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of Labor (DOL) like to keep tabs on employee benefit plans to make sure everything is running smoothly and there are no signs of impropriety. One of the ways they do that is with Form 5500.
You may be wondering: What is Form 5500? Well, Form 5500—otherwise known as the Annual Return/Report of Employee Benefit Plan—discloses details about the financial condition, investments, and operations of the plan. Not only for retirement plans, the IRS Form 5500 must be filed by the employer or plan administrator of any pension or welfare benefit plan covered by ERISA, including 401(k) plans, pension plans, medical plans, dental plans, and life insurance plans, among others.
If you’re a Betterment client, you don’t need to worry about many of these Form 5500 details because we do the heavy lifting for you. But if you’d like to get a general idea of what it takes to file a Form 5500 for a 401(k) plan, here are the top five things you need to know.
1. There are three different versions of Form 5500—each with its own unique requirements.
Betterment drafts a signature-ready Form 5500 on your behalf. But if you were to do it yourself, you would select from one of the following form types based on your plan type:
- Form 5500-EZ – If you have a one-participant 401(k) plan —also known as a “solo 401(k) plan”—that only covers you (and your spouse if applicable), you can file this form.
- Have a solo 401(k) plan with less than $250,000 in plan assets as of the last day of the plan year? No need to file a Form 5500-EZ (or any Form 5500 at all). Lucky you!
- Form 5500-SF– If you have a small 401(k) plan—which is defined as a plan that covers fewer than 100 participants on the first day of the plan year—you can file a simplified version of the Form 5500 if it also meets the following requirements:
- It satisfies the independent audit waiver requirements established by the DOL.
- It is 100% invested in eligible plan assets—such as mutual funds and variable annuities—with determinable fair values.
- It doesn’t hold employer securities.
- Form 5500– If you have a large 401(k) plan—which is defined as a plan that covers more than 100 participants—or a small 401(k) plan that doesn’t meet the Form 5500-EZ or Form 5500-SF filing requirements, you must file a long-form Form 5500.
Unlike Form 5500-EZ and Form 5500-SF, Form 5500 is not a single-form return. Instead, you must file the form along with specific schedules and attachments, including:
- Schedule A — Insurance information
- Schedule C — Service provider information
- Schedule D — Participating plan information
- Schedule G — Financial transaction schedules
- Schedule H or I — Financial information (Schedule I for small plan)
- Schedule R — Retirement plan information
- Independent Audit
Certain forms or attachments may not be required for your plan.
Is your plan on the cusp of being a small (or large) plan?
If your plan has between 80 and 120 participants on the first day of the plan year, you can benefit from the 80-120 Rule. The rule states that you can file the Form 5500 in the same category (i.e., small or large plan) as the prior year’s return. That’s good news, because it makes it possible for large retirement plans with between 100 and 120 participants to classify themselves as “small plans” and avoid the time and expense of completing the independent audit report.
2. You must file the Form 5500 by a certain due date (or file for an extension).
You must file your plan’s Form 5500 by the last day of the seventh month following the end of the plan year. For example, if your plan year ends on December 31, you should file your Form 5500 by July 31 of the following year to avoid late fees and penalties.
If you’re a Betterment client, you’ll receive your signature-ready Form 5500 with ample time to submit it. Plus, we’ll communicate with you frequently to ensure you hit the deadline.
But if you need a little extra time, you can file for an extension using Form 5558—but you have to do it by the original deadline for the Form 5500. The extension affords you another two and a half months to file your form. (Using the prior example, that would give you until October 15 to get your form in order.)
What if you happen to miss the Form 5500 filing deadline?
If you miss the filing deadline, you’ll be subject to penalties from both the IRS and the DOL:
- The IRS penalty for late filing is $25 per day, up to a maximum of $15,000.
- The DOL penalty for late filing can run up to $1,100 per day, with no maximum.
There are also additional penalties for plan sponsors that willfully decline to file.
That said, through the DOL’s Delinquent Filer Voluntary Compliance Program (DFVCP), plan sponsors can avoid higher civil penalty assessments by satisfying the program’s requirements.
Under this special program, the maximum penalty for a single late Form 5500 is $750 for small 401(k) plans and $2,000 for large 401(k) plans. The DFVCP also includes a “per plan” cap, which limits the penalty to $1,500 for small plans and $4,000 for large plans regardless of the number of late Form 5500s filed at the same time.
3. The Form 5500 filing process is done electronically in most cases.
For your ease and convenience, Form 5500 and Form 5500-SF must be filed electronically using the DOL’s EFAST2 processing system. EFAST2 is accessible through the agency’s website or via vendors that integrate with the system. To ensure you can file your Form 5500 quickly, accurately, and securely, Betterment facilitates the filing for you.
However, Form 5500-EZ can only be filed using a paper form. If you would prefer to file electronically, you can file Form 5500-SF instead (only answering the Form 5500-EZ questions). Whether you file electronically or via hard copy, remember to keep a signed copy of your Form 5500 and all of its schedules on file.
Once you file Form 5500, your work isn’t quite done. You must also provide your employees with a Summary Annual Report (SAR), which describes the value of your plan’s assets, any administrative costs, and other details from your Form 5500 return. The SAR is due to participants within nine months after the end of the plan year. (If you file an extension for your Form 5500, the SAR deadline also extends to December 15.)
For example, if your plan year ends on December 31 and you submitted your Form 5500 by July 31, you would need to deliver the SAR to your plan participants by September 30. While you can provide it as a hard copy or digitally, you’ll need participants’ prior consent to send it digitally. In addition, participants may request a copy of the plan’s full Form 5500 return at any time. As a public document, it’s accessible to anyone via the DOL website.
4. It’s easy to make mistakes on the Form 5500 (but we help you avoid them).
As with any bureaucratic form, mistakes are common and may cause issues for your plan or your organization. Mistakes may include:
- Errors of omission such as forgetting to indicate the number of plan participants
- Errors of timing such as indicating a plan has been terminated because a resolution has been filed, yet there are still assets in the plan
- Errors of accuracy involving plan characteristic codes and reconciling financial information
- Errors of misinterpretation or lack of information such as whether there have been any accidental excess contributions above the federal limits or failure to report any missed contributions or late deposits
Want to avoid making errors on your Form 5500? By completing the form on your behalf, all you need to do is review, sign, and submit—it’s as simple (and error-free) as that.
If you’re considering doing it yourself, be on the lookout for these common errors (which could trigger an audit from the IRS):
5. Betterment drafts a signature-ready Form 5500 for you, including related schedules
When it comes to Form 5500, Betterment does nearly all the work for you. Specifically, we:
- Prepare a signature-ready Form 5500 that has all the necessary information and related schedules
- Remind you of the submission deadline so you file it on time
- Guide you on how to file the Form 5500 (it only takes a few clicks) and make sure it’s accepted by the DOL
- Provide you with an SAR that’s ready for you to distribute to your participants