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ERISA Record Retention Requirements

If you are a plan sponsor, you may have asked the question “Which documents are required to be retained, and for how long?” Irrespective of the various document retention requirements under federal and individual state laws, two basic record retention provisions under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) exist.

Section 107 of ERISA

…states that for fiduciary plan documents, contracts and agreements, participant notices, and compliance documents, plan sponsors are required to keep records for at least six years from the date the report was filed. Such items may include but are not limited to:

  • Plan and trust documents, including the original signed plan document, adoption agreement and all plan amendments
  • IRS determination letter
  • Annuity contracts and collective bargaining agreements
  • Trust records, such as investment statements
  • Census data and payroll records
  • Form 5500 copies and audited financial statements
  • Nondiscrimination testing results
  • Plan fidelity bond

Section 209 of ERISA

…requires the employer to retain all records necessary to determine the benefit that is due (or may become due) to each participant, but there is no specific period of time provided for retention of this information. Therefore, these records should be kept for an indefinite period of time to ensure they are available upon request by the participant or in case of an audit. Such items may include but are not limited to:

  • Employee demographic information (e.g. social security number, date of birth, date of hire, date of eligibility, date of termination, etc.)
  • Participant compensation information
  • Contribution election / change form(s)
  • Loan documents
  • Participant’s designated beneficiary
  • Records of any distributions requested by the participant
  • Qualified Domestic Relations Order that assigns part or all of the participant’s account to an alternate payee

Some states permit plan sponsors to take advantage of electronic recordkeeping whereby paper records are converted to a digital/electronic format. The requirements for correct electronic reporting are as follows:

  • Electronic records are safe, secure, manageable, and properly ordered
  • Electronic copies are easily converted to paper
  • Controls are in place to make sure information is reliable, authentic and accurate
  • Records are legible and viewable on a screen format
  • No ERISA reporting and disclosure requirements are violated in the operation of the system

The original paper records may be disposed of any time after they are transferred to an electronic recordkeeping system that complies with the requirements noted above. However, the original paper records may not be discarded if the electronic record would not constitute a duplicate or substitute record under the terms of the plan and applicable federal or state law.

For more information about McKonly & Asbury’s Employee Benefit Plan services, or for questions regarding this article, please contact Stephanie Kramer, Supervisor with McKonly & Asbury, at

About the Author

Steph Kramer

Steph joined McKonly & Asbury in 2016 and is currently a Manager in the firm’s Audit & Assurance Segment. Steph audits a broad spectrum of employee benefit plans, including 401(k), 403(b), retirement, profit sharing, health and… Read more

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