401(k) Plan Documents: Keeping All Your Ducks In a Row

February 7, 2018 by Alex Goldberg

A round-up of key documents to keep handy in-case of a 401(k) audit  

There are a lot of moving parts to your company’s 401(k). There are administrative duties, like identifying when employees become eligible to join the plan. Or getting employee contributions out of company accounts and into the plan trust. And even ensuring that employees haven’t contributed too much to their tax-deferred account. Then there’s nondiscrimination testing, providing required employee notices and completing and signing the IRS Form 5500. And lots more.

On the investment side, a fund lineup must be constructed, the performance and fees must be monitored, and ideally, help is provided to participants on asset allocation, and even personal finance decisions.


Did you document that?

Many 401(k) tasks either require documents that should be retained, or require documentation for future reference. Some documents like the Investment Policy Statement (IPS) are critical reference materials that can guide the investment committee when they review the investment options in the plan, even detailing when funds should be placed on a watched list or be replaced.

Others, like the fidelity bond, are key compliance documents that should be retained for a number of reasons. For example, Form 5500 requires that the amount of the bond be listed. Further, documentation of the fidelity bond may be required should be plan be audited by the Department of Labor.

In the table below we list several important documents that are smart to keep handy, either in the event of an audit, or to reference during the ongoing administration of the 401(k):

Important 401(k) Documents

Document Description
Plan documents – including Basic Plan Document and Adoption Agreement, Trust Agreement, and IRS Determination Letter if applicable. These key documents explain the provisions of your company’s 401(k). There are different “levels” of the plan document, generally varying by the amount of customization involved.
Updates and amendments Often plan documents must be updated to reflect changes in the law, or policy changes to the 401(k). Be sure to retain all updates and amendments.
Service Provider Agreements Retain all contracts and arrangements with service providers. Include all fee schedules as you will want to compare proposed fees with your actual experience.
ERISA Fidelity Bond A fidelity bond is required and the amount of the bond is listed on the Form 5500.
Investment Policy Statement While not required, an IPS can be a great asset to your investment committee. It can serve as a guideline for fund menu construction and monitoring.
Minutes of any meetings pertaining to the 401(k) They may be meetings with the Board of Trustees, Investment Committee or Board of Directors.
Summaries of contribution files You should have access to payroll reports showing total employee contributions and loan repayments for each paycheck date. Such information may be requested in a DOL audit.
Listing of all places where assets are on deposits. This includes not only custodians, but any limited partnerships investing 401(k) assets. Contact information on those who have the authority to make deposits and withdrawals should be included.
408(b)(2) disclosures These are the fee disclosures from those providing services to the plan.
404a-5 participant disclosures These are the fee disclosures for participants
Participant census Contact and SSN info for employees in the plan
Fund, fee and recordkeeper benchmarking reports When you or your advisor compares competitors to your current funds or providers, be sure to retain this information.


Many of the documents above could be requested by the DOL should they pay you visit. Get a more comprehensive list by downloading our DOL Audit Checklist here.

Seems like a lot to keep track of, right? If staying on top of these documents (and others not listed here!) is getting in the way of you running your business, you may want to consider outsourcing plan administration to a 3(16) fiduciary. At ForUsAll we offer full 3(16) fiduciary services on all plans, which means we assume the responsibility for managing your plan’s day-to-day administration to reduce your workload and liability. If you or someone in your organization is still spending time on any of the tasks below, you may want to consider hiring a 3(16) fiduciary:

  • Reviewing and processing loans
  • Tracking employee eligibility
  • Evaluating/approving hardship withdrawals
  • Submitting IRS filings, including Form 5500
  • Ensuring employee contributions are processed correctly
  • Distributing required participant notices


ForUsAll’s robust payroll integration technology can connect with more than a dozen cloud-based payroll providers to your 401(k) recordkeeper, eliminating tedious manual work every time a participant updates their deferral rate or an employee becomes eligible for the plan. And at ForUsAll, our software continuously runs 44 separate compliance checks each payroll cycle to fix and correct issues as they arise. We believe plan sponsors should not have to shoulder the burden of heavy plan administration work and the risk of compliance errors in order to offer a 401(k) plan. We also provide visibility into the checks we are running (and any errors we find!) with an easy to digest dashboard. If you would rather focus your energy on running your business and turn over the responsibility of running your 401(k) to small business retirement experts, don’t hesitate to set up a time to connect with us today. You can also download our 401(k) Audit checklist (below), which will help you further organize your retirement plan docs in preparation for a DoL audit.


The following two tabs change content below.
Alex Goldberg
Alex is a behavioral economics buff and a firm believer in the power of smart default settings. He envisions a future in which Americans don't have to be proactive about saving for a comfortable retirement. As an early member of ForUsAll’s marketing team, Alex leads demand generation efforts, building awareness and enticing plan sponsors with the promise of lower fees, less work, and reduced liability. After graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in economics, Alex joined an early-stage start up and built their marketing engine from scratch, helping the company grow from twenty or so employees to over a hundred. In his free time, Alex loves to play soccer, listen to podcasts, watch documentaries, try new crockpot recipes, and sample Japanese whiskey. He has no plans of ever retiring, but looks forward to having more time to travel the world.
Alex Goldberg

Latest posts by Alex Goldberg (see all)