Skip to Main Content

ERISA Plans – Determining Plan Name, Number and Year

Thursday, September 27, 2018


Plan Name

  • Typically includes the name of the plan sponsor and a general description of the benefits provided

Plan Number

  • The three-digit number assigned to the plan by the plan administrator or plan sponsor
  • Must always be used in connection with the plan and may not be assigned to any other plan

Plan Year

  • Defined as the calendar year, policy year or fiscal year on which the plan records are kept
  • Generally, the 12-month period that was established when the plan became effective

Links And Resources

The following resources are available to help facilitate compliance with plan identification requirements:

Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), employee welfare benefit plans (such as group health plans) are required to have their own identifying information, including a plan name, plan number and plan year.

This information must be included on the plan’s Form 5500 (if applicable) so that the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) can recognize the plan. It must also be included in the plan’s summary plan description (SPD) so that participants can identify their benefit plan and understand how it operates.

This Compliance Overview provides general guidance for ensuring regulatory compliance when choosing and assigning a name, number and year to an ERISA welfare benefit plan.

plan year

Section 3(39) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) defines “plan year” as the calendar, policy or fiscal year on which the records of the plan are kept. Although short plan years are allowed in some limited situations, a plan year is generally the 12-month period that was established when the welfare benefit plan became effective.

Many employers operate their welfare benefit plans on a calendar year basis, from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31 of each year. Other employers operate their plans on a non-calendar year basis, which may be consistent with the company’s taxable year or with an insured plan’s policy year.

To determine a welfare benefit plan’s plan year, an employer should first review the documents governing the plan. ERISA requires that the plan’s SPD specify the plan year. Also, for a plan that files a Form 5500, the plan year must be disclosed on the form. If the plan document or Form 5500 does not designate a plan year (or if there is no plan document or Form 5500) federal regulations issued under HIPAA (and amended pursuant to the ACA) provide guidance on determining the plan year:

The plan year is the deductible or limit year used under the plan;
If the plan does not impose deductibles or limits on a yearly basis, the plan year is the policy year;
If the plan does not impose deductibles or limits on a yearly basis, and either the plan is not insured or the insurance policy is not renewed on an annual basis, the plan year is the employer’s taxable year; or
In any other case, the plan year is the calendar year.


Thus, if an insured plan is not required to file a Form 5500 and does not have an SPD, the plan year will generally be the policy year, presuming that the plan is administered based on that policy year. However, if the plan’s deductible is administered on a basis other than the policy year (for example, the calendar year), the plan year will be the year used for administering the deductible.

In addition, all of the benefit programs under a bundled plan must have the same plan year. However, to the extent that more than one benefit program is provided through an insurance contract, the contracts may have varying policy years or renewal dates.

This Compliance Overview is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice.
Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice.
© 2015-2017 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved. CMP 8/17





Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.

Get Started

Let Your Aspirations Set the Agenda

Grow with who you know. Reach out to us today and start the conversation, so you’re better protected and prepared for what comes next.

Talk to an Advisor

man looking left