Understanding Form 5500


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If you’re a plan administrator for a defined contribution plan, like a 401(k), you’re required to file an annual return called a Form 5500. The Form 5500 Series collects information about employee benefits plans and works as an important compliance, research, and disclosure tool for government agencies, Congress, and the private sector. It also satisfies your plan’s annual reporting requirement under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code. The penalties for not filing your Form 5500 can be steep, so it’s important to understand this piece of your responsibilities as a retirement plan sponsor.

What is a Form 5500?

The Form 5500 is an information-only return–that means no tax payments are made with the filing. It reports annual financial and headcount activity of your organization’s plan to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Department of Labor (DOL). Every retirement plan that held assets at any time during 2022 must file a 5500.

What are my Form 5500 requirements?

Small retirement plans (those with fewer than 120 participants as of January 1, 2022) must file a simplified Form 5500-SF (Short form). Large plans, including new plans with 100 or more participants, must file a long-form 5500 with additional schedules and must accompany an independent third-party accountant’s opinion and audited financial statements.

Your plan’s Form 5500 is typically filled out by your recordkeeper or third-party administrator, but it must be signed by a plan administrator to verify the information and confirm accuracy. If your small business has a retirement account with Ubiquity, we will send you your pre-filled 5500 along with specific filing instructions.

How do I know if my Form 5500 was successfully filed?

The Form 5500 is a public document. Once successfully filed, it’s available to the public through Department of Labor’s website and other agencies. Feel free to search for your filed Form 5500 annual returns here.

Tip: We’ve found it easiest to search via your Employer Identification Number (EIN).

I failed to file Form 5500. Can I file it now?

If you didn’t file a Form 5500, you may have the option to file under the DOL’s Delinquent Filer Voluntary Correction, or DFVC, program. The DOL maintains a Delinquent Filer Voluntary Compliance Program (DFVC)  program available to retirement plans that are subject to Title 1 of ERISA and are not currently undergoing an audit. The DOL’s fee for each late filing is $750 per year up to $1,500.

Our plan is terminating. Do we need to file Form 5500?

Yes, a terminated plan must continue filing a Form 5500 until all plan assets have been distributed. You are required to file a final Form 5500 for the year in which all plan assets were distributed and the plan had a closing balance of zero.

How are the participant counts determined (5500-SF Part II, Section 5)?

Participant counts are generated with census information you and/or your payroll provider supply your third-party plan administrator throughout the year. Key information to determine participant counts include: date of birth, employment and eligibility statuses, date of employment termination, and account balances.

Below is a description of each section for a 2023 calendar year filing:


Count of employees who became eligible on or before the first day of the filing year (1/1/2023). This count will also include terminated participants with account balances as of 1/1/2023.


Count of participants who became eligible on or before the last day of the filing year (12/31/2023). This count will also include terminated participants with account balances as of 12/31/2023.


Count of participants who with a balance in the plan as of 12/31/2023, regardless of their employment status with the company.


Count of active and eligible participants (not necessarily making contributions). Participants who terminated before 1/1/2023 are excluded from this count regardless of their account balance.


Count of participants who are active and eligible on or before 12/31/2023. Participants who terminated before 12/31/2023 are excluded from this count regardless of account balance.


Count of participants who terminated employment in 2023 and were not 100% vested in their retirement benefit.

What financial information is reported? (5500-SF, Part III)

Below is a description of fields that may be populated in Part III (Financial Information) of the Form 5500.


8a. Contributions

1. Employer Contributions-The sum of all contributions the company made to the plan during the year. Types of contributions include: Safe Harbor, Profit Sharing, QNEC, or Discretionary Match.

2. Participant Contributions-Any contributions participants made to the plan during the year. Types of contributions include: Pre-Tax Deferral and/or Roth Deferral.

3. Others, Including Rollovers – Any employee rollovers from IRAs and other qualified retirement plans that were rolled into the plan.

8b. Other Income

The sum of all dividends, gains/losses (realized and unrealized), investment interest, and participant loan interest earned in the year.

8c. Total Income

The sum of Sections 8a and 8b

8d. Benefits Paid

The sum of all participant benefit distributions in the plan year due to termination, age 59 ½ in-service withdrawals, hardships, QDROs, required minimum distributions, or distributions due to a plan termination.

8e. Deemed / Corrective Distributions

Any required ADP/ACP Refunds, or 402(g) excess refunds and any deemed or defaulted loans.

8f. Administrative Service Providers

All participant fees paid to service providers and custodians throughout the plan year.

Types of fees include:

  • monthly participant fees
  • distribution fees
  • loan fees

What is the six-digit business code?

The six-digit North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) primary business activity code is used by the IRS to categorize plan sponsors based on their business activity type. You can obtain your business code from the NAICS list or from your corporate income tax return where it is also reported.

What is the Form 8955-SSA?

This form is used by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to identify terminated employees who are entitled to distributions but haven’t taken them yet. For example, if a plan participant terminated employment in 2019 and didn’t take withdraw their retirement plan benefit by December 31, 2023, the participant is listed on the 2023 Form 8955-SSA with a code A. This indicates that the participant should be added to the SSA database. If the participant receives their benefit in the future, they’ll be reported on the Form 8955-SSA for the year of distribution with code D to indicate that the participant should be deleted from the SSA database.

Learn more

If you are a small business owner and need a 401(k) plan for yourself and your company, only Ubiquity offers flat-fee plans plus free expert advice. We’ll fully customize your 401(k) to meet the specific needs of your small business.

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Setting up a 401(k) or filing a form 5500 without an audit report can be complicated. Only Ubiquity gives small business owners access to 401(k) experts in addition to industry leading low flat-fees. Each sales expert has over a decade of experience assisting business owners in 401(k) plan design. Take advantage of this free benefit.

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© 2023 Ubiquity Retirement + Savings
Privacy Policy
44 Montgomery Street, Suite 300
San Francisco, CA 94104