In November of 2015, sponsors of audited employee benefit plans received a letter from the Department of Labor notifying them that over 40% of all audits submitted were not completed in accordance with auditing standards. Why is this concerning? Because audits that are not correctly performed create many issues for all those involved with employee benefit plans, including the plan sponsors, fiduciaries and participants.
Annual audits are an ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974) requirement for plans with participants over a certain threshold and are attached to Form 5500. An audit verifies the assets of the plan and confirms the plan is operating according to the plan documents and in compliance with applicable laws and regulations. These audits have a filing deadline of October 15 each year.
Errors in plan administration can trigger issues with the IRS, including penalties, and can also cause legal problems for the plan’s fiduciary. More importantly, audits that are correctly done can detect a number of errors that, if not caught early, turn into major problems. Commonly seen errors include: incorrectly calculated employee deferrals, employer matches, and deferrals for unique forms of compensation (like commissions or bonuses). Other common issues that may be uncovered with an audit include:
- Improper disposition or holding of forfeitures
- Failure by the plan of certain nondiscrimination testing, without adequate corrective action taken
- Top-heavy issues
- Other deviations from the Department of Labor and IRS requirements or from the plan document
The November Department of Labor letter communicates the results of the DOL’s audit of plan auditors. The intent of the letter was to encourage plan sponsors to confirm that they are using qualified, experienced auditors. Plan administrators are held responsible as fiduciaries of the plan, and can be held personally liable if they are not making reasonable choices with regard to their plan. This includes due diligence with selection of their plan’s auditor.
While many accounting firms are choosing not to continue to offer employee benefit plan audits as a service, Cray Kaiser assures clients that we are uniquely qualified for this work. In addition to our commitment to quality and continued education in this area, our staff has a great deal of experience understanding the nuances of these audits. Cray Kaiser is also a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ EBPAQC (Employee Benefit Plan Audit Quality Center), a group created to improve quality of benefit plan audits with news alerts, training, webinars, audit quality center and other resources.