Both small and large employers with a 401(k) plan must annually file an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 5500, Annual Return/Report of Employee Benefit Plan (Form 5500) or Form 5500-SF, Short Form Annual Return/Report of Small Employer Benefit Plan (Form 5500-SF). On each form, the employer will report certain information about their 401(k) plan to both the IRS and the Department of Labor (DOL) by July 31, 2022 (or October 15, 2022, with an extension).

Compliance Snapshot

  • Employers with a small 401(k) retirement plan with fewer than 100 participants on the first day of the plan year must file a Form 5500-SF, Short Form Annual Return/Report of Small Employer Benefit Plan (Form 5500-SF).
  • Employers with a 401(k) retirement plan with more than 100 participants on the first day of the plan year must file a Form 5500, Annual Return/Report of Employee Benefit Plan (Form 5500).
  • Both the Form 5500 and the Form 5500-SF are due the last day of the 7th month after the end of the plan year (i.e., for employers with calendar year plans, the Form 5500 or the Form 5500-SF is due on July 31st or October 15th with an extension).

Frequently Asked Questions

Which employers should file a Form 5500-SF or a Form 5500?

One of two versions of Form 5500 will apply to an employer’s 401(k) plan, described below.

  • Form 5500-SF: Applies to most small 401(k) retirement plans with fewer than 100 participants on the first day of the plan year.

    The Form 5500-SF is a simplified version of the Form 5500 and must be filed electronically online through the Internal Revenue Service’s ERISA Filing Acceptance System (EFAST2), further addressed below.
  • Form 5500: Applies to all 401(k) retirement plans with more than 100 participants on the first day of the plan year.

    Like the Form 5500-SF, the Form 5500 must be filed electronically online through the EFAST2 system, further addressed below.

When are 5500 filings due?

The Form 5500 or Form 5500-SF filing is due at the end of the 7th month after the end of the 401(k)’s plan year (i.e., for employers with calendar year plans, the Form 5500 or the Form 5500-SF is due on July 31st or October 15th with an extension).

How do employers file their Form 5500-SF or Form 5500 online?

To file a Form 5500-SF or Form 5500 online, an employer will need to register on EFAST2’s website1. Here are ten steps to follow for registration – all of which only take a few minutes to complete.

  1. Once on the EFAST 2 website, select “Register” on the welcome screen.
  2. Read and accept EFAST2’s privacy statement.
  3. On the next screen, provide the employer’s contact information, including a contact name as well as the company’s address and phone number. Next, select the category best describing the company. For example, if the employer is preparing, signing, and submitting the Form 5500 or Form 5500-SF, then select “Filing Author” and “Filing Signer.”
  4. Next, select and provide an answer for one of the two security questions, helping to identify the account if the password is lost.
  5. After verifying that all information is correct, a registration confirmation screen appears, stating that the employer’s EFAST2 registration is pending until the designated contact person receives credentials (along with additional instructions). Note EFAST2 generates credentials and sends them to the company’s contact person by email within five minutes.
  6. Once the EFAST2 credentials are received, click on the link in the email which then redirects to a secure EFAST2 website. At that point, the employer will then answer the chosen security question.
  7. Next, the employer must accept a PIN Agreement, which explains the PIN’s security and what to do if the PIN is lost.
  8. Additionally, the employer will be asked to sign a Signature Agreement. This last agreement only applies if the employer will be the one to sign the Form 5500 or Form 5500-SF filing.
  9. The employer will also be asked to create a password.
  10. Finally, the EFAST2 registration is complete, allowing the employer to file the Form 5500 or Form 5500-SF online.

For more information on EFAST2 credentials, see the U.S. Department of Labor’s Frequently Asked Questions for EFAST22.

Is there a penalty for filing the Form 5500 or Form 5500-SF late?

The DOL can assess penalties of up to $2,400 (2022) for each day a Form 5500 or Form 5500-SF is not filed. Employers who voluntarily file their Form 5500 after the due date can pay a reduced penalty, under the DOL’s delinquent filer voluntary compliance program (DFVCP)3. For example, penalties are capped at $1,500 per submission for small plans (with fewer than 100 401(k) plan participants at the beginning of the plan year) or $4,000 per submission for large plans (with more than 100 401(k) plan participants at the beginning of the plan year).

The DFVCP also provides a calculator4, helping employers determining how late a 5500 filing is, as well as the amount of any applicable penalty under the DFVCP.

Are employers required to keep copies of their 5500 filings?

Yes, employers must keep a signed copy of the original Form 5500 filing on file for at least 6 years from the date of filing.

Recommended Employer Actions

Ultimately, the employer is responsible for its Form 5500’s contents and timely filing, even if a draft is prepared by a 401(k) plan recordkeeper or other vendor.

Therefore, employers should review and confirm which Form 5500 they should file. Further, employers should review any draft filings provided by their recordkeeper for accuracy.

Additional Resources


  1. Department of Labor. (n.d.) EFAST2 Welcome. Retrieved on July 20, 2022, from https://www.efast.dol.gov/welcome.html.
  2. Department of Labor. (n.d.) EFAST2 Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved on July 20, 2022, from https://www.efast.dol.gov/faq/faq_efast.html.
  3. Department of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration. (n.d.) Delinquent Filer Voluntary Compliance Program (DFVCP) Penalty Calculator and Online Payment with Instructions, Examples and Manual Calculations. Retrieved on July 20, 2022, from https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ebsa/employers-and-advisers/plan-administration-and-compliance/correction-programs/dfvcp.
  4. Id.
  5. Internal Revenue Service. (n.d.) Form 5500 Corner. Retrieved on July 20, 2022, from https://www.irs.gov/retirement-plans/form-5500-corner.
  6. Department of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration. (n.d.) Form 5500 Series. Retrieved on July 20, 2022, from https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ebsa/employers-and-advisers/plan-administration-and-compliance/reporting-and-filing/form-5500.

Pensionmark Financial Group, LLC (“Pensionmark”) is an investment adviser registered under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. Financial Advisors at Pensionmark may also be registered representatives of Pensionmark Securities, LLC (member SIPC), which is affiliated with Pensionmark through common ownership.

Jenny Kiesewetter — Jenny is a Retirement Plan Compliance Consultant for Sequoia, where she works with our clients to optimize and streamline retirement plan compliance. In her free time, Jenny enjoys spending time with her friends and family, traveling, live music, and dining out.