Retirement plan record retention rules are found in both the Department of Labor (DOL) Regulations and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). In addition, there are statutes of limitation relating to almost every administrative aspect of a retirement plan. However, despite this, it is quite uncommon for plan sponsors to have a record retention policy in place. When in doubt, plan sponsors should keep documents longer than required. It is also a good idea to establish a written record retention statement, especially if relying on electronic records and destroying the original paper records.
Retirement plan documents must be kept throughout the life of the plan as they are necessary for calculating a participant’s benefits. This means all retirement plan documents, amendments, interim amendments, restatements, loan policies, QDRO policies, etc., must be retained, starting with the inception of the retirement plan, even after they have been superseded. Each document should also be appropriately adopted, signed, and dated. In addition, plan sponsors may want to have the following documents readily available in the event of an IRS and/or DOL audit or examination:
- Summary Plan Description (SPD)
- Modifications to the Summary Retirement Plan Description (Summary of Material Modifications)
- Corporate Actions – minutes, agendas, handouts from meetings, etc.
- Service agreements with service providers
- Fidelity bonds
- Fee disclosures required under ERISA § 408(b)(2)
ERISA provides that the following retirement plan documents must be retained for at least six years from the date the Form 5500 filing is due:
- Form 5500 and related schedules
- Forms 8955 SSA, 5330, 1096 and 1099R
- Summary Annual Reports (SARs)
- Audited financial statements
- Administrative reports, including the annual census data, contribution calculations, and retirement plan testing
- All participant notices, such as safe harbor, auto-enrollment, QDIAs, participant fee disclosures and black-out notices
The following participant-level documents must be retained indefinitely through the life of the plan and at least seven years after a plan is terminated:
- Date of hire, rehire, and termination
- Participant eligibility date
- Participant compensation
- Participant participation and/or deferral election form
- Contribution election forms
- Participant’s designated beneficiary form
- Records of any distribution requested and/or received by the participant
- Rollover requests
- Qualified Domestic Relations Orders
- Retirement plan loan documentation
- Records sufficient to permit benefits due to be determined
Ultimately, it is the plan sponsor’s responsibility to maintain the retirement plan’s complete records. Plan sponsors should ensure they have access to all relevant documents and should store the documents on their network with a secure backup copy. This is especially important if a lawsuit were to arise (documents can help in a defense against a suit), if a government agency requests certain documents, and/or if there is a change in third-party administrators. Maintaining complete records of the retirement plan from the outset, and throughout the life of the plan will make things much easier for the plan sponsor and everyone involved.
Please contact us if you have questions about the information outlined above, our seasoned and experienced employee benefit plan professionals are here to help. You can also learn more about our Employee Benefit Plan Audit services by visiting our website.