2021 Key 401(k) Compliance Dates for Your Business 401(k)

These key dates vary in how much action you’ll have to take—some may be as simple as signing and filing a form with the IRS. Others are related to ensuring that retirement plan documents are in order. There are also deadlines by which your business is required to fund contributions made to your employees, undergo compliance testing, and distribute notices to your employees.

For a full list of dates, download our 401(k) Compliance Calendar for 2021.

Key 401(k) Dates for 2021

Jan. 15: Provide and confirm prior year census data. The 401(k) plan manager confirms to the recordkeeper that the prior year census data is accurate. The recordkeeper will use that information to complete compliance testing in February.

Feb. 15: Review and approve compliance testing results. Compliance testing, which identifies whether your company 401(k) is in line with rules and regulations from the U.S. Department of Labor and IRS, exists to help ensure that plans aren’t discriminating in favor of highly-compensated employees.

March 31: Complete Form 5500. The Form 5500 is used to file a 401(k) or other retirement plan with the DOL, which satisfies the annual reporting required under ERISA. The service provider typically prepares the Form 5500, with the recordkeeper filling out the questionnaire. The 401(k) plan manager will need to sign it.

April 15: Fund employer contributions. This is the deadline for filing individual and/or corporate tax returns, as well as the deadline to fund employer contributions to the plan and still receive a tax deduction for 2017.

July 31: File IRS Form 5500. This is the deadline to sign and file your Form 5500.

Aug. 15: Mid-year compliance testing. This is optional, but if your plan failed compliance testing in February, you should consider a mid-year compliance test.

Sept. 30: Distribute Summary Annual Report. If you filed your Form 5500 in July (rather than request an extension), this is the deadline to distribute the Summary Annual Report to all employees and beneficiaries currently receiving benefits.

Oct. 1: Review your 401(k) plan document. Every fall, review your plan document to make sure that your 401(k) plan management is in line with what the plan document dictates. Amendments made in the fall can be made effective for the new year—request these changes from your service provider.

Dec. 1: Distribute annual participant notices to employees. These notices are applicable for Safe Harbor plans, Qualified Default Investment Alternatives, and Automatic Contribution Arrangements (if your plan has any). These notices can be combined, and many service providers can assist 401(k) plan managers with their creation and distribution.


In addition to the key dates listed above, include in your retirement plan compliance calendar an annual plan review. The IRS offers a 401(k) plan checklist to help you examine compliance topics such as:

• Plan operations

Nondiscrimination testing

Annual contribution limits

• Reporting and paperwork

What is the benefit of an annual plan review?

An annual plan review is a great opportunity to go over your retirement plan’s performance in the light of your business’ goals. Review your providers and the level of service they provide so your needs are met. Ask your adviser to help you evaluate your investment lineup to keep it up to date. Explore adding or changing features like employer match or profit sharing to help improve participation and savings rates.

How often must a 401(k) plan be reviewed? 

The IRS recommends reviewing your retirement plan every year.

Communicating Retirement Plan Changes to Employees

Any changes you decide to make based on your annual plan review need to be documented and communicated to your employees. Communication to employees has to happen no later than 30 days before the start of the new plan year. Make sure to get help from your retirement plan adviser to conduct a third-party, independent review of your plan, finalize any desired changes, and communicate with your employees.

Download the full 401(k) Compliance Calendar for 2021.


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