social ethics
Print Friendly Version Print Friendly Version

Standards for Form 5500 Plan Audits

“For qualified retirement plans that are subject to an audit by an independent qualified public accountant (IQPA) as part of Form 5500 filing requirements, what audit standards apply?”

ERISA consultants at the Retirement Learning Center Resource Desk regularly receive calls from financial advisors on a broad array of technical topics related to IRAs and qualified retirement plans. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business.

Highlights of Discussion

  • Sponsors of plans subject to a Form 5500 audit have a fiduciary responsibility to prudently select the IQPAs they use.1 Incomplete, inadequate, or untimely audit reports may result in penalties for the plan sponsor.  The DOL has a booklet sponsors can refer to, Selecting an Auditor for Your Employee Benefit Plan.
  • IQPAs must perform their ERISA plan audits using three sets of auditing standards:  the Generally Accepted Auditing Standards (GAAS), the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) reporting and disclosure requirements as defined by Department of Labor (DOL) regulations.
  • GAAP and GAAS standards are set by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).  The DOL plays no role in establishing GAAP and GAAS standards.
  • ERISA’s reporting and disclosure requirements are found at ERISA §103(a)(3)(A) and DOL regulation 29 CFR 2520.103-1(b).
  • In 2015, the DOL released a report, Assessing the Quality of Employee Benefit Plan Audits, in which it summarized the results of a study on the quality of IQPAs’ audits of ERISA-covered employee benefit plans. The study showed that 39 percent of the audits contained major deficiencies with respect to one or more relevant GAAS and/or GAAP requirements.  The leading GAAS and GAAP failures were
  • Inadequate footnote disclosures,
  • Inappropriate presentation of financial information on financial statements,
  • Lack of ASC 820 Fair Value Measurement disclosures,
  • Report not modified for lack of ERISA schedules,
  • Opinion does not extend to all financial statements and/or years presented and
  • Failure to refer to supplemental information (e.g., ERISA required schedules).
  • Furthermore, 17 percent of the audit reports failed to comply with one or more of ERISA’s reporting and disclosure requirements. The areas of ERISA noncompliance related to
  • Not attaching the supplemental schedule(s) required,
  • Incomplete or missing footnotes to the plan’s financial statements,
  • The IQPA did not manually sign the report and
  • Failure to report delinquent employee contributions.


The audit performed by a IQPA is an essential fiduciary element. Plan sponsors should pay keen attention and document their adherence to the DOL’s suggestions on selecting IQPAs for their plans.

© Copyright 2024 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved