Agencies Release Advance Copies of Form 5500 for Filing in 2018

2017 plan year reporting forms have higher penalties and other changes

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Jan 4, 2018
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Advance copies of 2017 plan year Form 5500 and instructions reflect an increase in the maximum civil penalty amount assessable under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), among other changes.

Form 5500 and required schedules and attachments are used to report the financial conditions, investments and operations of employee benefit plans, including retirement and savings plans (such as defined benefit pension plans, defined contribution 401(k)-type plans, profit-sharing and stock bonus plans) and health and welfare plans (such as medical, dental, life insurance and disability benefit plans).

The U.S. Department of Labor's Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) released the advance informational copies of the 2017 Form 5500 and related instructions at the end of November 2017. For smaller filers, advance short form (SF) copies of 2017 Form 5500-Short Form (SF) and 2017 Instructions for Form 5500–SF also were released, along with supplemental materials including schedules and attachments.

"Be aware that the advance copies of the 2017 Form 5500 are for informational purposes only and cannot be used to file a 2017 Form 5500 annual return/report," said Danielle Capilla, senior vice president of compliance and operations at United Benefit Advisors (UBA), a network of independent employee benefits advisory organizations.

Official electronic versions will be available on the federal government's EFAST website in early 2018. Filers should monitor the EFAST website in January for availability of the official electronic versions, Capilla advised.

Filing Requirements

Form 5500 annual return/report filing is 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.

Filings are made using EFAST-approved software or directly through the EFAST website.

Any administrator or sponsor of an employee benefit plan subject to 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.

Some retirement plans and many welfare benefit plans with fewer than 100 participants are exempt from filing an annual return/report under certain conditions, as detailed in the section of the forms' instructions "Plans Exempt from Filing."

[SHRM members-only HR Q&As: What is Form 5500, and where are instructions for completing it?]

What's New

The instructions for plan year 2017 reporting highlight several modifications to the forms and schedules:

  • Administrative penalties raised. The maximum penalty was increased to $2,097 a day from $2,063 a day for plan administrators who fail or refuse to file a complete or accurate Form 5500 report, for penalties assessed after Jan.13, 2017, and for associated violations that occurred after Nov. 2, 2015.

    The penalty may be raised again before the filing deadline, as the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Improvements Act requires that the amount be adjusted annually for inflation after the Form 5500 and its schedules, attachments and instructions are issued for filing. Filers should check for possible required inflation adjustments, which would be published in the Federal Register. For 2016 Form 5500 filing, notification of a further adjustment was published on Jan. 18, 2017.

  • IRS-only questions gone. "The IRS has dropped a series of compliance questions from the 2017 Form 5500 and schedules," said Nevin Adams, chief of marketing and communications for the Arlington, Va.-based American Retirement Association, which represents retirement plan sponsors and service providers.

    IRS-only "preparer's information" compliance questions for filers were first included on the 2016 Form 5500, Form 5500-SF, Schedules H, I and R. The IRS decided not to require filers to complete these questions due to privacy and misreporting concerns raised by retirement plan administrators and advisors, Adams said.

Among other changes for 2017 filings:

  • Service providers can now sign electronic filings on the plan sponsor and Direct Filing Entity lines, in addition to signing on behalf of plan administrators.
  • There is now a field that allows filers to indicate if the plan name has changed.
  • New mortality codes have been added for use with Schedule MB.
  • PBGC-covered plans must now enter the confirmation number for the PBGC premium filing for the relevant plan year.

Consultants, agents, CPAs and law offices often assist in preparing the 5500 filing but "it is important to note, however, that the sole responsibility for the filing falls on the employer," advised Gary B. Kushner, president and CEO of Kushner & Co., a benefits advisory based in Portage, Mich.

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