How Long Should You Retain Retirement Plan Records

We are often asked, by our clients, "How long must I maintain our retirement plan records?"
The Answer:  You should keep retirement plan records until the trust or IRA has paid all benefits and enough time has passed that the plan won’t be audited and generally a minimum of 7-10 years (or which date is latest).
As an employer sponsoring a retirement plan, you are required by law to keep your books and records available for review by the IRS. Having these records will also facilitate answering questions when determining participants’ benefits. Employee plans covers the qualification of pension, annuity, profit sharing and stock bonus plans, IRAs, SEPs, SIMPLEs, tax sheltered annuities, and 457 plans.

Which plan records should you keep in case of an IRS audit?

As a plan sponsor you should keep the plan and trust document, recent amendments, determination and approval letters, related annuity contracts and collective bargaining agreements. The records you keep are based on the type of plan you sponsor.

For example:

  • SEP Plans – Keep Form 5305-SEP or 5305A-SEP as your plan document
  • SIMPLE IRA plans – Keep Form 5304-SIMPLE or 5305-SIMPLE as your plan document
  • Profit sharing, 401(k) or defined benefit plans – Keep your plan document, adoption agreement (if you have one) and all plan amendments

Also keep: 

  • trust records such as investment statements, balance sheets, and income statements
  • participant records such as census data, account balances, contributions  and earnings, loan documents and information, compensation data and participant statements and notices

How long should you keep plan records?

You should keep retirement plan records until the trust or IRA has paid all benefits and enough time has passed that the plan won’t be audited. Retirement plans are designed to be long-term programs for participants to accumulate and receive benefits at retirement. As a result, plan records may cover many years of transactions. The Internal Revenue Code and Income Tax Regulations as well as the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA) require plan sponsors to keep records of these transactions because they may become material in administering pension law. 

If you’re audited

You are required to provide complete, accurate records in either paper or electronic format if the IRS requests them during an audit.

Additional resources

Revenue Procedure 98-25 - lists the basic requirements for recordkeeping when a taxpayer maintains their records in an automatic data processing system.   Also,IRS: Maintaining Your Retirement Plan Records

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