Form 5500: A Filing Guide for Employers

Form 5500 (Benefit Plan Annual Reports) Explained

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Every employee benefit plan, including welfare and retirement plans, must be reported each year to federal government agencies to make sure the plan is complying with the law. The most important of these reports is the annual report on Form 5500. 

What Is Form 5500, and Who Must File It? 

Form 5500, the annual report form for all employee benefit plans, is required by the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

The form includes the following information about the previous year:

  • Changes in the number of participants and beneficiaries
  • Financial activities
  • Funding and insurance information

The form must be filed electronically through the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). The report is filed by a benefit plan administrator, a person or service responsible for day-to-day administration). The report must also be given to plan participants and beneficiaries who ask for it, along with other plan documents and reports. 

Retirement or pension benefit plans must be filed through Form 5500 even if they are not “tax qualified” by the IRS. This includes profit-sharing plans, stock bonus plans, money purchase plans, 401(k) plans, and others.  Welfare benefit plans must also be filed through Form 5500, including medical, dental, and life insurance, apprenticeship and training, scholarship funds, severance pay, disability, and more. 

Some types of retirement and welfare plans are exempt from filing Form 5500. See pages 3-4 of the Instructions for Form 5500 for these exceptions. 

Form 5500 Versions

There are two additional versions of Form 5500 for special circumstances:  

  • Form 5500-SF is the short-form annual return/report for small employee benefit plans with fewer than 100 participants at the beginning of the plan year. 
  • Form 5500-EZ is for one-participant retirement plans (a business owner/partner and spouse) or for foreign plans.  

You can use this Form 5500 Version Selection Tool from the DOL to find the right form for your situation.

When and How Do I File Form 5500? 

Form 5500 must be filed by the last day of the seventh calendar month after the end of the plan year. For example, if your company’s retirement plan year ends December 31, 2021, you must file Form 5500 by July 31, 2022.

Forms 5500 and 5500-SF must be filed electronically using ERISA’s EFAST2 system, which gives you two options:

  1. The EFAST2 web-based IFILE system
  2. An EFAST2-approved vendor (which may charge a fee)

Before filing, you must register an account with the EFAST2 system. 

If you are filing Form 5500-EZ, you must also use the EFAST2 system—with one exception. If, during the current year, you file fewer than 250 returns of any type with the IRS, you may file Form 5500-EZ on paper. These returns include W-2 forms, 1099-R forms, and income, employment, and excise tax returns.

As of January 1, 2021, a one-participant plan or a foreign plan can file Form 5500-EZ electronically using the EFAST2 system or on paper with the IRS. However, you cannot do the same with Form 5500-SF. 

Requesting an Extension for Form 5500

You may get a one-time extension of up to 2 ½ months by filing IRS Form 5558 with the IRS. If  you file the extension request on the proper form, on or before the due date, the request is automatically approved. 

Send the extension request to:

The Department of the Treasury
Internal Revenue Service Center
Ogden, UT 84201-0045

Alternatively, you may request an extension through one of the IRS-designated private delivery services

How Do I Complete Form 5500? 

Here are the parts of Form 5500. All of the information is for a specific plan year:

Part I: Annual Report Identification Information includes the type of the plan.

Part II: Basic Plan Information includes:

  • The name of the plan 
  • Information about the plan sponsor (usually an employer) and the plan administrator 
  • The number of participants, retirees, and beneficiaries at the beginning and end of the year
  • Plan-funding arrangements
  • Schedules included with the form

Here are some of the main schedules for Form 5500:

  • Schedule A: Insurance information, including contract coverage, fees, and commissions (provided by the plan’s insurance company)
  • Schedule C: Service provider information for someone receiving only eligible indirect compensation (Don’t confuse this schedule with Schedule C for sole proprietor tax reporting.)
  • Schedule G: Financial transactions, including loans or fixed income obligations that are in default or classified as uncollectible
  • Schedule H: Financial information, including assets and liabilities at the beginning and end of the year and an income/expense statement for the year, with some compliance questions and an accountant’s opinion
  • Schedule I: Financial information for small plans, including summaries of plan assets and liabilities, income, expenses, and transfers for the plan year, with a list of compliance questions
  • Schedule R: Retirement plan information, including information about distributions (payments of benefits), funding, and single-employer- and multiemployer-defined benefit pension plans

You can use the IFILE free online software to complete Form 5500 and then electronically sign and submit it through EFAST2. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What if I need to make a change after I file the form? 

You can refile the form and check the box on Line B in Part I after you receive a notice that EFAST2 received your submission. 

What if I miss a filing deadline? 

ERISA penalizes plans for incomplete reports, inaccurate reports, not filing on time, and not requesting an extension. For example, an administrative penalty of up to $2,233 is imposed for each day a plan administrator fails or refuses to file a complete and accurate report. 

If you haven’t filed your Form 5500 on time, you may qualify for the DOL’s Delinquent Filer Voluntary Compliance Program (DFVCP). This allows late filers to pay a calculated penalty and make the payment electronically, but it isn’t available to one-participant plans.

What are “tax qualified” plans? 

A “tax qualified” plan meets IRS requirements that allow the employer to deduct contributions made to the plan for employees. Employees participating in a qualified plan (like a 401(k), for example) may elect to defer the tax on their plan contributions for tax purposes. The IRS has specific—and complicated—requirements for qualification

 Where can I get more information and help with this form? 

The DOL and IRS have more detailed information on all ERISA reports. If you have hired a plan administrator, they should be able to complete this form. If you’re doing it on your own, get help from a benefit plan service provider.