QUESTION: What are the signature requirements for electronically filed Form 5500s?
ANSWER: Form 5500 must be filed electronically, and there are several requirements you should be aware of related to signing Form 5500 and retaining copies of the electronically filed forms.
The ERISA plan administrator (typically the employer unless another party has been designated as the plan administrator) has the legal obligation to file Form 5500 and thus is responsible for the filing’s timeliness, accuracy, and completeness. (For retirement plan Form 5500 filings, the Code provides that either the plan administrator or the employer/plan sponsor (if different) may sign, but most retirement plan filings must include the plan administrator’s signature due to the ERISA rule. For filings made by a direct filing entity (DFE), the DFE generally signs the Form 5500.) The signature indicates that, to the best of the signer’s knowledge and belief, the filing is true, correct, and complete.
Under the DOL’s electronic filing system (EFAST2), anyone required to sign a Form 5500 must obtain “filing signer” credentials in the form of two identifiers—a user ID and a PIN—which together serve as a signature. If the plan administrator is an entity, the electronic signature must be in the name of an individual authorized to sign on behalf of the entity. A third-party preparer may be authorized to sign and submit the electronic filing on the plan administrator’s behalf. In that case, the plan administrator must manually sign a paper copy of the Form 5500, and the third-party preparer must include a PDF of the first two pages of the signed form as an attachment to the electronic submission. The third-party preparer then submits the Form 5500 using its own filing signer credentials—it may not obtain signing credentials on behalf of the plan or use the plan administrator’s signing credentials.
The ERISA plan administrator must keep a copy of the Form 5500—including schedules and attachments—with all required signatures on file as part of the plan’s records. The DOL has noted, in unofficial nonbinding remarks, that merely retaining confirmation of the electronic signature or a typed name on a printout would not satisfy the requirement that the plan maintain a copy of the Form 5500 with all required signatures. To comply, the plan administrator must retain a copy (either paper or electronic, such as a scanned version) of the manually signed form.
Lastly, keep in mind that while a limited extension for filing Form 5500 was granted in connection with the COVID-19 emergency, the filing deadline for 2019 calendar year plans has not been extended. (See our Checkpoint Question of the Week.)
For more information, see EBIA’s ERISA Compliance manual at Sections XXII.G (“Filing Form 5500”) and XXVI.E (“How Must Records Be Retained?”). See also EBIA’s 401(k) Plans manual at Section XXXI.E.2 (“Information Required by Form 5500 Main Body”), EBIA’s Self-Insured Health Plans manual at Section XXIX.B (“Annual Form 5500 Reporting”), and EBIA’s Cafeteria Plans manual at Section XXXIV.B (“Basic Form 5500 Rules: Who, When, What, and How”). You may also be interested in our webinar, Form 5500 for Health and Welfare Plans: Preparation and Filing (recorded on 4/29/2020).
Contributing Editors: EBIA Staff.