How Do I File Form 5500 or 5500-SF?

18 MIN READEditorial Policy

IRS Form 5500 and Form 5500-Short Form are not tax return worksheets, but rather a disclosure of information to multiple government agencies for multiple reasons. The Form 5500 and 500-SF, along with any required schedules and attachments, are used to report information about employee benefit plans and their financial conditions, operations, and investments. These plans include 401(k)s, profit-sharing plans, pension plans, stock bonus plans, welfare plans, life insurance, disability plans, and any similar contribution plans or health plans. The information on Form 5500 is then used by the Department of Labor and Internal Revenue Service to check regulation compliance, gather data for annual reporting, and track economic trends.  

How Do I File Form 5500 or 5500-SF?

Your Form 5500 or 5500-SF must be filed through the EFAST2 website or an EFAST2 vendor-approved software. Since Jan. 1, 2010, the form is required to be filed electronically and can no longer be filed on paper. If you choose to file through the EFAST2 website, there are step-by-step Form 5500 instructions at the end of this article, along with other resources to help you. 

If you choose to file your Form 5500 through a vendor-approved software program, you still need to follow the first two registration steps that are outlined below in the EFAST2 website instructions. After completing the first two steps, you should then refer to the instructions that came with your purchased software or consult with the software vendor.

Deadline for Filing Form 5500 or 5500-SF

Both the Form 5500 and Form 5500-SF are due on the last day of the seventh month after the plan year ends. So, if your company follows a traditional calendar-year plan, then the form will be due on July 31. If you can’t submit the form on time, you can request an extension by filing the IRS Form 5558. There are significant late fees, from both the IRS and the DOL, if you don’t file the Form 5500 on time or get an extension. The late-filing penalty changes slightly from year to year, but you can expect it to be just over $2,000 a day from the DOL with no maximum limit and over $200 a day from the IRS with a maximum limit of $150,000. 

Who Files Form 5500 or Form 5500-SF? 

When using the EFAST2 website, different user accounts can be set up with different privileges and abilities. Any employee can register on the EFAST2 website as the filing author who can initiate and submit the filing, along with the ability to create, import, or amend the filing. The filing author can ask someone to register as a schedule author, who then has the authority to complete a schedule, but cannot sign, initiate, or submit a filing. The filing author doesn’t necessarily have signature authority, unless they are also registered as the filing signer. 

Usually, the registered filing signer is the 401(k) service provider, plan administrator, or employer plan sponsor who is responsible for electronically signing the form. The filing signer has no other authority, unless also registered as the filing author. In the event the DOL or IRS has questions about your filing, it’s best for the person with the most knowledge about your company’s benefit plans to be the person who signs and submits the filing. 

Form 5500 Versus Form 5500-SF

According to the IRS, you will want to file Form 5500-SF if you have more than one but fewer than 100 employees participating in a 401(k) plan. This version of the Form 5500 is a smaller and self-contained document that doesn’t require additional schedules. You will want to file Form 5500 if you have 100 or more employees participating in benefit plans. Certain plans require you to file schedules and attachments along with the standard Form 5500. You can use the Form 5500 search feature on the EFAST2 website to find the correct schedules for your specific plans.  

How to Use Form 5500/5500-SF Search 

The EFAST2 website has a search feature where you can find previously submitted Form 5500 and Form 5500-SF filings, along with all their components. You can find the Form 5500/5500-SF Search link on the left side of the welcome page. The website will search filings submitted electronically since 2009, and the results may be viewed, saved, or printed. The search can be used by registered or non-registered users, but you will only get results for filings you are authorized to view. 

The first three search fields are not case sensitive and can be wildcard searches, meaning you only need to enter the first four characters of a word. The rest of the search fields do require exact matches. A search can be conducted with only one search field, but using more search fields will narrow down the results. 

Steps for Filing the Form 5500

The following Form 5500 instructions walk you through the steps for filing your Form 5500 or Form 5500-SF using the EFAST2 website:

  1. Start by going to the welcome page of the EFAST2 website, which can be found at

  2. Before the website will allow you to move forward with filing your form, you must first register. On the welcome page, you should see a navigation bar on the left side of the screen, and under the main category, you should see the link to register. Once you click on the link to register, you can follow the page-by-page directions to create a new account or get access to your existing account. During the registration process you will receive a user ID, PIN, and password, all of which you will need to create, import, sign, and file your form, so keep that information handy. There are a few things you should be aware of during the registration process. 

    • You only need to register once. 

    • Use the tools on the registration page if you are unsure whether you already have an account, have forgotten your login credentials, or need to unlock your account. 

    • If you are uncertain which user types to select while registering a new account, choose filing author and filing signer. 

    • Use a valid email address. You will need to log in to this email to receive your user ID and finalize the registration process. 

    • The registration process is not complete until you’ve created a password.  

  3. Now that you have your user ID and password, you can log into your account. Under the main category, on the left side of the welcome page, you will see the link to log in. Once logged in, you will be directed to the home-filing summary screen, which provides a snapshot of filings that are in-progress or require your signature. Be aware that on this screen the navigation links on the left may change depending on your user type. 

  4. Now it’s time to start your Form 5500 or 5500-SF, but you must be registered as a filing author as noted in step two. On the home-filing summary screen, you should see two options on the left: create a filing and import a filing. Select the create a filing option to start with a blank form and follow the steps which will request the form year, form type, and filing name. Note that the filing name is not sent to the government, but is for your own record keeping. Select the import a filing option to upload a form that is already prepared and follow the steps, which will request the form year and filing name.

  5. Complete the Form 5500 or 5500‐SF. You should see tabs at the top of the page which will take you through the different parts of the form. Make sure to save each tab before moving on to the next, or you may lose your work. When you have completed all the tabs, click the save and close button, then you should be redirected to the filing menu screen. All your information should be saved, and you can come back to edit the form at any time. 

  6. Complete any needed schedules. The available schedules will be in a box on the right side of the filing menu screen. You will need to click on the schedule you want to add to your form and then choose either the create or import button. Just like the Form 5500, the create button will give you a blank schedule and the import button will let you upload an already completed schedule. Use the tabs to enter information and make sure to click save on each tab before moving on to the next one. 

  7. Add any attachments. Start on the filing menu screen. At the top of the screen you should see a row of buttons; click on add attachments, then follow the steps to upload your PDF or TXT attachments.

  8. Check for errors. Start on the filing menu screen. At the top of the screen you should see a row of buttons; click the validate button. A pop-up box will appear, and it will give you a list of any errors in your filing. If the box does not open for you, check your browser’s pop-up settings to make sure the pop-up blocker is turned off. Take a look at the list of errors, then go back to your Form 5500 to make the necessary changes. If the list of errors is long, you may want to leave the window open, take a screenshot, or write the list down so you can easily reference it.

  9. There is a two-step process to sign your filing. If you are only the signer, skip to the second step. 

    • Add signers by going to the filing menu screen and clicking on add signers in the top row of buttons. The email address you enter for the signer must be already be registered on EFAST2. Click the add button after each email address, and when finished click the done button to return to the home-filing summary screen. 

    • From the home-filing summary screen click on the provide signature button. Select the form to be signed, and you will see the filing menu. Select the sign electronically button from the top row of buttons, and follow the steps. You will need to enter your user ID and PIN number. 

    • It’s important to keep a copy of the filing. You can do this by clicking on the create a PDF button and either print or electronically save the form. If you print the form, the paper copy will need to be reviewed, signed, and retained in the plan sponsor’s or administrator’s files. If you save an electronic copy, you will want to save it in an XML format. 

  10. Now that everything is finished, you can submit your Form 5500. On the home-filing summary screen, click the ready to submit button, select the name of the filing, and you will be redirected to the filing menu screen. On the filing menu screen, click the submit button from the top row. The website will automatically check for errors, and if any are found, it will not send the filing to the government, but rather will ask you to fix the errors by editing the form. Once your form has been successfully submitted to the government, you will get a confirmation pop-up box.

  11. After your Form 5500 or 5500-SF has be submitted, you can check on its status at any time. On the home-filing summary screen, click on the submissions button on the left side of the screen. On the home submission page you can see the status of all your signed and submitted forms as well as whether there are any pending errors. 

For more detailed instructions on how to file IRS Form 5500, we would suggest you check out the following resources: EFAST2 FAQ, EFAST2 Guide for Filers and Service Providers, EFAST2 IFILE User Guide, and interactive EFAST2 tutorial. Another resource we recommend is the EFAST2 Help Desk, where you can speak with a live person. The help desk is open Monday-Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern time, except on federal holidays. The help desk number is 866-463‐3278. Most importantly, we encourage you to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced tax advisor who can guide you through all your Form 5500 needs.

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