There are many kinds of retirement plans. Some of the most popular include Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), Keogh Accounts, Pension Plans, 401(k)s. Most of the more popular plans are "qualified" under the Tax Code to receive favorable tax treatment, though a few "nonqualified" plans are used to provide additional compensation for top corporate management.
Retirement plans subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) are required to file annual information returns (Form 5500) with the Department of Labor. The 5500 can tell you the value of the plan's assetts and the number of plan participants. You can see blank Form 5500s on the DOL Web site back to 1995, but you can't use them to file. Starting in 2010 filing must be done electronically. Before electronic filing, you had to call the IRS to get a blank 5500 for filing (1-800-TAX-FORMS) or subscribe to a service like the BNA Benefits Practice Center. You can search for and pull up filed 5500s through:
- The Department of Labor's Form 5500/5500-SF Filing Search.
- freeERISA, which also has Form 5300s (application to request a Determination Letter concerning the initial qualification of a qualified plan), Form 5310s (application to terminate a qualified plan) and filings for non-qualified plans required to notify the IRS of their existence.
- BrightScope for 401(k) plans.
To get Form 5500s not available online, file a FOIA request with the DOL. You can submit the request by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Procedures for filing the request are posted at www.dol.gov/dol/foia/FOIASubmit.htm.
The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation posts a database of plans covered by the PBGC, including terminated plans (a/k/a "Trusteed Plans").
Recent retirement plan news is posted on BenefitsLink. BenefitsLink also posts lost of useful related information, including the current and historical inflation-adjusted limits under various retirement plan laws. The Bureau of Labor Statistics compiled data on retirement plans; more information is available from
the Profit Sharing / 401(k) Council of America and the Employee Benefits Research Institute.
Mergers and Acquisitions: See Qualified Plans -- Treatment in Mergers, Acquisitions and Other Corporate Transactions (BNA Tax Management Portfolio #364) and/or Employee Benefits in Mergers and Acquisitions by Ilene H. Ferenczy (Aspen Publishers).
Public Plans: Public retirment plans (for school systems, state government employees, etc.) generally do not file form 5500s. They do, however, have websites, and financial data can be found in the Annual Reports and Financial Statements posted on the websites.
Treatises: I have heard that The ERISA Outline Book by Sal Tripodi is first-rate.
For More Information
For information about the tax treatment of specific retirement plans, see "Internal Revenue Service" and "Tax."
For information about the Pension and Welfare Benefits administration, see "Department of Labor."