Your Right to Plan Information

This chapter outlines the disclosure requirements of retirement plans. It describes the documents that a plan administrator must make available to you, the information these documents should contain, and alternative sources for the information. The following questions are addressed:

  • What information does the plan have to provide?
  • What is a summary plan description and how often should you get it?
  • Where can you get annual financial reports and other plan documents?
  • What penalties can be assessed if a plan administrator does not provide certain documents?
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What information is your plan required to disclose?
ERISA requires plan administrators the people who run plans to give you in writing the most important facts you need to know about your retirement plan. Some of these facts must be provided to you regularly and automatically by the plan administrator. Others are available upon request, free-of-charge, or for copying fees. Your request should be made in writing.

One of the most important documents you are entitled to receive is a summary of the plan called the summary plan description, or SPD. Your plan administrator is legally obligated to provide to you, free of charge, the SPD automatically when you become a participant of an ERISA-covered retirement plan or a beneficiary receiving benefits under such a plan . The summary plan description is an important document that tells you what the plan provides and how it operates. It tells you when you begin to participate in the plan, how your service and benefits are calculated, when your benefit becomes vested, when you will receive payment and in what form, and how to file a claim for benefits. You should read your summary plan description to learn about the particular provisions that apply to you. If a plan is changed you must be informed, either through a revised summary plan description, or in a separate document, called a summary of material modifications, which also must be given to you free of charge.

In addition to the summary plan description, the plan administrator must automatically give you each year a copy of the plans summary annual report. This is a summary of the annual financial report that most retirement plans must file with the Department of Labor. These reports are filed on government forms called Form 5500. The summary annual report is available to you at no cost. To learn more about your plans assets, you may ask the plan administrator for a copy of the annual report in its entirety.

If you are unable to get the summary plan description, the summary annual report, or the annual report from the plan administrator, you may be able to obtain a copy by writing to the Department of Labor, EBSA, Public Disclosure Room, Room N-1513, 200 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20210, for a nominal copying charge. To help locate your plan documents, please provide enough information to assist EBSA in identifying the document, such as the name of the plan and city and state in which it is located, as relevant to the document.*

If you have information that plan assets are being mismanaged or misused, call EBSAs toll free number at 1.866.444.EBSA and ask to speak with a regional office representative near you, or view a list of regional offices at

On the following page is a list and description of the documents that must be made available to you. If a plan administrator refuses to comply with your request for documents, and the reasons are within his or her control, a court may impose a penalty of up to $110 per day. The Department of Labor does not have the authority to impose this penalty.

What documents are available from other Federal agencies?
Documents for some plans are available for public inspection at the Internal Revenue Service. These documents include the applications filed by retirement plans to determine if they meet Federal tax-qualification requirements, applications filed by certain organizations to determine if they qualify as tax-exempt, and the Internal Revenue Service responses to these applications. Get in touch with the Internal Revenue Service Public Access Reading Room, P.O. Box 795, Ben Franklin Station, Washington, D.C. 20044, telephone: 202.622.5164, for information on available documents.

If you terminate employment and you have a vested retirement benefit that you are not eligible to receive until later, that information will be reported by your plan to the Internal Revenue Service, which, in turn, will inform the Social Security Administration (SSA). This information must also be provided to you by the plan. The Social Security Administration will tell you, upon request, whether you were reported as having a deferred vested benefit under any plan. For information about making these requests, call 1.800.772.1213 (toll-free). SSA will automatically give you this information when you apply for social security benefits. Nevertheless, it is in your interest to keep the plan administrator informed about any change of address or name change after you leave employment to assure that you will receive the retirement benefit due to you.