The DOL website defines the Form 5500 as:
The Form 5500 is part of ERISA’s overall reporting and disclosure framework, which is intended to ensure that employee benefit plans are operated in accordance with certain prescribed standards and regulations that participants and beneficiaries, as well as regulators, are provided or have access to sufficient information to protect the rights and benefits of participants and beneficiaries under employee benefit plans.
A return/report must be filed every year for every pension benefit plan, welfare benefit plan, and for every entity that files as a Direct Filing Entity. If you are a small plan (generally under 100 participants at the beginning of the plan year), you may be eligible to file the Form 5500-SF instead of the Form 5500. For more information, see the instructions to Form 5500/Form 5500-SF.
If you have failed to file Form 5500 for this past tax year or previous tax years, your organization may be subject to penalties from both the IRS and the DOL.
If you find you didn’t file Form 5500, there is an opportunity for relief via the Delinquent Filer Voluntary Correction Program.
The Delinquent Filer Voluntary Correction Program (“DFVCP”) is an opportunity for pension and welfare plan administrators to file their overdue annual report, Form 5500/5500-SF, with the DOL. Plans that file under the DFVCP are eligible for reduced civil penalties related to late filing.
To be eligible to file under the DFVCP, Form 5500 annual reporting must be required under Title I of ERISA. The program does not apply to plans covering only self-employed individuals or sole owners (including spouses). Reporting for these plans is only required by the Internal Revenue Code and is not subject to Title I of ERISA.
Plan administrators must complete this process before they have been notified by the DOL via written notice of failure to file. An Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) late-filer letter will not disqualify a plan from participating in the DFVCP. A DOL Notice of Intent to Assess a Penalty will always disqualify a plan.