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Handling Requests for Plan Documents

When a plan participant asks for copies of plan documents, what should be done? Since plans are required by law to provide certain requested plan documents in a timely manner, it’s important to have procedures in place for responding to document requests.

Required Documents

A retirement plan participant is entitled to receive certain plan documents at stated times and intervals without charge and without having requested them. These include the plan’s summary plan description (SPD), summary of material modifications (SMM), and summary annual report (SAR).

Requested Documents

A plan participant or beneficiary also can request copies of various plan documents. The U.S. Department of Labor specifies that participants must be provided any document on request that “specifies procedures, formulas, methodologies, or schedules to be applied in determining or calculating a participant’s or beneficiary’s benefit.” These include the latest SPD, the latest SAR, trust agreements, contracts, any bargaining agreements, and “other instruments” under which the plan is established or operated.

Reasonable Fees

A plan administrator can charge a reasonable fee to cover the costs of providing requested information. Note that plans cannot charge a fee for providing plan information they are required to distribute. A fee is considered reasonable if it is equal to the actual cost per page to the plan for the least expensive means of acceptable reproduction and not more than 25¢ per page.

Failure To Provide Requested Documents

Penalties for failing or refusing to provide requested plan information within 30 days can be steep. Under pension law, the penalty may be as high as $110 per day.

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