Retirement Savings Plan

Part 3: Plan Information To Review

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Retirement Planning and retirement plans

If you have a question about your retirement plan, you can start by looking for an answer in the information that the plan provides. You can request this information from your plan administrator, the person who is in charge of running the plan. Your employer can tell you how to contact your plan administrator.

Information Provided By The Retirement Plan

Each retirement plan is required to have a formal, written plan document that details how it operates and its requirements. As noted previously, there is also a booklet that describes the key plan rules, called the Summary Plan Description (SPD), which should be much easier to read and understand. The SPD should include a summary of any material changes to the plan or to the information required to be in the SPD. In many cases, you can start with the SPD and then look at the plan document if you still have questions.

In addition, plans must provide you with a number of notices. Some of the key notices are described in Table 5.

For example, defined contribution plans, such as 401k plans, generally are required to provide advance notice to employees when a “blackout period occurs. A blackout period is when a participant’s right to direct investments, take loans, or obtain distributions is suspended for a period of at least three consecutive business days. Blackout periods can often occur when plans change recordkeepers or investment options.

Some plan information, such as the Summary Plan Description, must be provided to you automatically and without charge at the time periods indicated below. You may request a Summary Plan Description at other times, but your employer might charge you a copying fee. You must ask the plan if you want other information, such as a copy of the written plan document or the plan’s Form 5500 annual financial report, and you may have to pay a copying fee. See Tables 5 and 6. Many employers provide benefit information on a Web site.

In some cases, plans provide information more frequently than required by Federal law. For instance, many large defined contribution plans provide quarterly benefit statements, and some plans allow participants to check their statements online or by telephone.

The plan’s annual financial report (Form 5500) is also available (there is a copying fee if over 100 pages) by contacting the U.S. Department of Labor, EBSA Public Disclosure Facility, Room N-1513, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20210, Tel: 202.693.8673. In addition, if your plan administrator does not provide you, as a participant covered under the plan, with a copy of the Summary Plan Description automatically or after you request it, you may contact the Department of Labor toll free at 1.866.444.EBSA (3272) for help.

Table 5 - Key information your plan administrator must provide automatically

What Description
Summary Plan Description (SPD) A summary version of the plan document and other important plan information, in easier-to-understand language.
Within 90 days of becoming a participant in the plan, and an updated copy every 10 years (5 years if the plan has been amended).
Summary of Material Modifications

A summary of significant plan changes or changes in the information required to be in the SPD.

Within 7 months of the end of the plan year in which the changes were made.
Summary Annual Report A summary of financial information filed by the plan on its Form 5500 Annual Return/Report.
Within 9 months after the end of the plan year or 2 months after the annual report filing deadline.
Notice of Significant Reduction in Future Benefit Accruals Notice of any significant reduction in the rate of future benefit accruals, the elimination, or significant reduction in an early retirement benefit or retirement-type subsidy. Applies to defined benefit plans and certain defined contribution plans. >
Within a reasonable time before the effective date of the plan amendment.
Blackout Notice Notice of a period of more than 3 consecutive business days when there is a temporary suspension, limitation or restriction on directing or diversifying plan assets, obtaining loans, or obtaining distributions. Applies to 401k or other individual account plans. >
Generally, at least 30 days before the blackout date.
Notice to Participants of Underfunded Plan Plan For defined benefit plans that are less than 90% funded, the notice of the funding level of the plan and information on PBGC guarantees.
Within 2 months after the due date for filing the annual report.

Table 6 - Key information your plan administrator must provide upon written request

What Description >
Individual Benefit Statement Statements of total accrued benefits and total vested pension benefits, and the earliest date on which nonvested benefits become vested.
Free (no more than once a year)
Plan Documents

Documents that provide the terms of the plan, including collective bargaining agreements and trust agreements.

Reasonable copying charge
Annual Report (Form 5500) - most recent report Financial information about the plan that most plans are required to file with the government within 7 months of the end of the plan year.
Reasonable copying charge

retirement age
What plan information should you review regularly?

If you are in a defined benefit plan, you should request an individual benefit statement once a year and review its description of the total benefits you have earned and whether you are vested in those benefits. Also check to make sure your date of birth, date of hire, and the other information included is correct.

Many defined contribution plans, including 401k plans, send participants individual benefit statements. If you receive a statement, check it to make sure all of the information is accurate. This information may include:

Salary level

Amounts that you and your employer have contributed

Years of service with the employer

Home address

Social Security number

Beneficiary designation

Marital status

The performance of your investments (defined contribution plan participants)

Fees paid by the plan and/or charged to participants. (For more information, see the Department of Labor brochure A Look at 401k Plan Fees at or call the Department of Labor toll free at 1.866.444.EBSA (3272).) Check with your plan to see if this information is included in materials on your investment options, the benefit statement, the Summary Plan Description or the plan’s annual report Form 5500. See Part 7 for more information on the fees that your employer can charge to your account.

Action Items

Make sure you have received the plan’s Summary Plan Description and read it for information on how your plan works.

Read other documents you receive from your plan to make sure that you keep up with any plan changes, and check that the information on your benefit statement is accurate.

If you are in a defined contribution plan, ask for information on the investment choices available in the plan and find out when and how you can change your plan account investments.

If you suspect errors in your plan information, contact your plan administrator or the human resources department.

If there have been changes in your personal information, such as marriage, divorce or change of address, contact your plan administrator or the human resources department.