Advance Copies of 2015 Form 5500 Available

For calendar-year benefit plans, Form 5500 is due July 31

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Dec 7, 2015

updated on 12/10/2015

Advance copies of 2015 Form 5500 and 2015 Instructions for Form 5500, for benefit plan reporting due in 2016, were released in early December 2015 by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. For smaller filers, advance short form (SF) copies of 2015 Form 5500–SF and 2015 Instructions for Form 5500–SF also were released.

These copies are for informational purposes and cannot be used to file 2015 an annual returns/reports, which are due the last day of the seventh month after the plan year ends, with an optional two-and-a-half-month extension. For plans that follow a calendar year, Form 5500 for the prior year is due on July 31, with an extension available to Oct. 15.

Filers should monitor the EFAST website for the availability of the official electronic versions of Form 5500 and Form 5500-SF.

Filing Requirements

Form 5500, Annual Return/Report of Employee Benefit Plan, including all required schedules and attachments, is used to report information concerning employee benefit plans, including retirement and savings plans (such as defined benefit pension plans, defined contribution 401(k) plans, profit-sharing and stock bonus plans) and health and welfare plans (such as medical, dental, life insurance and disability benefit plans).

Any administrator or sponsor of an employee benefit plan subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) must file information about each benefit plan every year. A small plan (generally one with fewer than 100 participants at the beginning of the plan year) may be eligible to file Form 5500-SF instead of Form 5500. An exception to the filing requirement applies to a welfare plan that covered fewer than 100 participants at the beginning of the plan year and is unfunded, fully insured, or a combination of insured and unfunded.

Employers and administrators who comply with the instructions for Form 5500 generally will satisfy the annual reporting requirements for the IRS and DOL.

What’s New

For 2015, Form 5500 includes a small number of technical changes, some of which are optional for the filing year. These modifications are listed in the Form 5500 instructions in the section “Changes to Note.”

According to Joanne C. Youn, an attorney at Caplin & Drysdale in Washington, D.C., three of the schedules to the 2015 version of Form 5500, including the short form, include new IRS compliance questions for retirement plans.

Schedules H and I now address additional issues related to the plan's financial transactions:

Whether the plan incurred unrelated business taxable income.

Whether in-service distributions were made during the plan year.

The name and phone number of the plan's trustee or custodian.

Schedule R further addresses the plan's satisfaction of certain qualification requirements under the Internal Revenue Code:

How the plan satisfies the applicable coverage and nondiscrimination tests.

Whether and when the plan has been amended for required tax law changes.

The date of the plan's last favorable determination, opinion, or advisory letter.

Whether the plan is maintained in a U.S. territory.

“Answering the new questions is optional for the 2015 plan year,” Youn wrote in an online post. “Nonetheless, reviewing and answering them now, even if only internally and informally, can serve at least two purposes for employers who sponsor retirement plans,” she noted:

The new questions can serve as a "mini-audit" which may identify issues that can be addressed either through self-correction or through a formal submission to the IRS Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System prior to any IRS-initiated enforcement action.

Although the scope of any IRS audit need not be limited to the new questions, they can nonetheless provide a guide to the types of issues that might arise on audit.

“Regardless, for the 2016 plan year, employers will need to be prepared to answer these questions that can involve detailed documentary and/or operational review,” Youn advised.

Form 5500 Deadline Extension Repealed

“Over this past summer, the Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015 included a provision that extended by a month the automatic extension that is available to Form 5500-series filers, to be effective with the filing of the 2016 returns,” noted benefits attorney Jeffrey Ashendorf, a partner in the New York City office of Ford & Harrison, in a legal alert from the firm. However, “Whether you appreciated it or not, that extension was short-lived, and has now been repealed before even taking effect.”

Included in the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act, signed into law on Dec. 4, 2015, was a provision repealing the Form 5500 filing extension that was enacted in the earlier act. “Interestingly, the repeal applies only to the extension that had been granted for Forms 5500; similar extensions that had been created for corporate, partnership, fiduciary and other tax returns remain in effect,” Ashendorf pointed out. “So, at least until someone changes their mind again, we are back to the same old Form 5500 filing deadlines. It's as if they were never changed.”

E-Filing Help

“The DOL requires that all Form 5500 reports, and any required schedules and attachments, be completed and filed electronically,” said Tiffany Downs, a partner in the Atlanta office of Ford & Harrison. “Thus, plan administrators must register for signing credentials and electronically sign all Form 5500 reports. Additionally, annual reports must be made available by plan administrators to plan participants and beneficiaries.”

All Form 5500 and Form 5500-SF annual returns and any required schedules and attachments must be completed and filed electronically using EFAST2-approved third-party software or through the DOL’s EFAST2 platform using IFILE, a free online software application provided by the government. Information on completing and filing forms electronically is available on the EFAST2 website.

Penalties for Noncompliance

IRS penalties for late filing are $25 per day up to a maximum of $15,000. DOL penalties can run up to $1,100 per day with no maximum. For willful violations, individuals face up to a $100,000 fine and/or imprisonment up to 10 years. However, “If your plan is late in filing a 5500 form, or your plan never filed a 5500 form because you were not aware that your plan had to do so, the DOL has a correction program to file late forms with reduced penalties,” Downs noted.

The Delinquent Filer Voluntary Compliance Program encourages voluntary compliance with the annual reporting requirements, for instance by giving plan administrators the opportunity to pay a reduced penalty amount and bring the plan into compliance with past filings.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow me on Twitter.

Related Analyses:

DOL Releases 2015 Form 5500 Including New IRS Compliance Questions, Caplin & Drysdale, Chartered, December 2015

Many Relieved as Form 5500 Compliance Questions Made Optional for 2015, Ascensus, December 2015

Related SHRM Article:

What is Form 5500, and where are instructions for completing it?, SHRM HR Q&As, March 2013

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