Retirement Plans

Retirement Plans in the United States

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.

Legal Materials

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 Procedures for filing the request are posted at

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 limitsunder 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/orEmployee 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” in this legal Encyclopedia, and “Tax”, also in this Encyclopedia.

For information about the Pension and Welfare Benefits administration, see the “Department of Labor” entry in this legal Encyclopedia.

Main Topics of Retirement and Aging

  • Retirement and Aging : Assisted Living Facilities
  • Retirement and Aging : Elder Abuse
  • Retirement and Aging : Healthcare/Medicare
  • Retirement and Aging : Nursing Homes
  • Retirement and Aging : Retirement Pension Plans
  • Retirement and Aging : Social Security

Retirement Plans and the State Laws

Select from the list of U.S. States below for state-specific information on Retirement Plans:


See Also

  • Profit Sharing Plans
  • Legislators Retirement Plan
  • Aging
  • Judges Retirement Plan
  • Individual Retirement Accounts
  • Legislative Commission On Pensions And Retirement

Individual Retirement Accounts
Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation
Internal Revenue Service

Further Reading

Retirement Plans: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Retirement Plans. This part provides references, in relation to Retirement Plans, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Retirement Plans by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Retirement Plans and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Retirement Plans or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Retirement Plans and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Retirement Plans. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Retirement Plans should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Retirement Plans when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

*This resource guide is updated frequently. However, if you notice something is wrong or not working, or any resources that should be added, please notify us in any of the "Leave a Comment" area.

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