For how long must employers keep employee benefit plans records?


Spring is just around the corner, and you are ready to clean out the files. Which employee benefit plan records must you keep and for how long must you keep them?


Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), persons required to file any description or report or to certify any information necessary under the law’s reporting and disclosure requirements must maintain records. These records must provide the details necessary to allow for information in the required reporting and disclosure documents to be verified, explained, clarified, or checked for accuracy and completeness. Vouchers, worksheets, receipts, and applicable resolutions should be kept as well.

Keep for six years. ERISA has a blanket record retention requirement of six years for information relating to plan documents, summary plan descriptions (SPDs), annual reports, summary annual reports (SARs), individual benefit statements, and any other certifications and reports that are required to be filed under its reporting and disclosure rules (or would be required to be filed but for an exemption). Thus, these records should be kept available for examination for at least six years after the filing date of the documents (or the date the documents would have been filed except for an exemption or simplified reporting requirement).

The six-year period begins on the date reports (such as 5500 forms) are required to be filed under ERISA (or if there is a small plan exemption, the date on which reports otherwise would have been required to be filed). Thus, ERISA-related records must be retained, for example, even for welfare benefit plans with fewer than 100 participants.

There are no specific requirements for disposal of employee benefit information; however, standard best practices for document disposal would clearly apply to any information with individual identifiers, and any personally identifiable health information would be covered under HIPAA privacy rules.

EBSA regulations, which require annual reports — such as the 5500 — to be filed electronically, do not affect the six-year record retention requirement.

Source: ERISA Sec. 107.

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