DOL Announces New E-Signature Option for Forms 5500 Electronic Filing

By Stephen Miller May 18, 2010

Beginning on May 13, 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Employee Benefits Security Administration made available, for the EFAST2 electronic filing system, a new e-signature option for Forms 5500 and 5500-SF (short form) employee benefit plan annual reports. This option is designed to simplify the electronic filing process, especially for small businesses that use service providers to complete and file their annual reports.

As of Jan. 1, 2010, retirement and welfare plans have been required to file their annual Form 5500 or 5500-SF using the DOL's new EFAST2 electronic filing system. More than one million Form 5500 reports are filed each year to satisfy annual reporting requirements under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code. EFAST2 is designed to improve the receipt and processing of the Forms 5500 and 5500-SF.

Response to Service Providers

In February 2010, the American Society of Pension Professionals & Actuaries (ASPPA), on behalf of nearly 800 firms, filed a petition requesting that the DOL permit the sharing of signer credentials under the EFAST2 system. According to ASPPA, the original rules required each plan sponsor go through the cumbersome process of obtaining the necessary EFAST2 filing credentials on their own, and service providers were not allowed to assist in the process without violating security protocols. “We’re pleased and gratified by Assistant Secretary of Labor Phyllis Borzi’s timely and practical response to the relief ASPPA and its members requested," Craig Hoffman, ASPPA general counsel and director of regulatory affairs, commented regarding the new signature option. A statement from the group added, "Many smaller businesses have neither the staffing nor the resources to properly understand and easily use the EFAST2 system. Their management focuses on simply running the business. Professionals are hired to ensure their employee benefit plans are in compliance with the law and proper reports are filed in a timely manner. The relief announced today will greatly simplify the process."

Written Authorization from Plan Administrators

Under the new e-signature option, service providers that manage the filing process for plans can get their own signing credentials and submit the electronic Form 5500 or 5500-SF for the plan. The service provider must confirm that it has specific written authorization from the plan administrator to submit the plan’s electronic filing. In addition, the administrator must sign a paper copy of the completed filing manually, and the service provider must attach a PDF copy of the manually signed Form 5500 or 5500-SF as an attachment to the electronic filing submitted to EFAST2.

The service provider must communicate to the plan administrator any inquiries received from EFAST2, the DOL, the IRS or the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. regarding the filing and must inform the plan administrator that, by electing to use this option, the image of the plan administrator’s manual signature will be included with the rest of the annual return/report posted by the DOL on the Internet for public disclosure.

The additional e-signature option became available in the government-sponsored IFILE application as of May 13, 2010. Filers using EFAST2 approved software to complete and file the Form 5500 or Form 5500-SF should contact their software vendors for information regarding availability of the e-signature option as part of their software.

Additional information is available on the DOL's EFAST2 web page.

Stephen Miller is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Related Articles:

Ten Tips for New Form 5500 Electronic Filing Requirements, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, May 2010

Pension Professionals Urge DOL to Modify EFAST2 System, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, February 2010

DOL Launches Mandatory Form 5500 Online Filing System, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, January 2010

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