(b)lines Ask the Experts – Can SPDs Be Provided for Church Plans?

I recently commenced employment at a church plan sponsor, and noticed that a Summary Plan Description (SPD) is not provided to participants in our 403(b) retirement plan.  

“Is an SPD not required for church plans? Can an SPD be provided?” 

Michael A. Webb, vice president, Cammack Retirement Group, answers:   

The term “Summary Plan Description” (SPD) is an Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) term; all plans that are subject to the reporting and disclosure requirements of ERISA are required to provide SPDs to participants (see this Internal Revenue Service (IRS) webpage for an excellent summary of the SPD requirements). Since church plans are not subject to ERISA unless they elect such coverage (a rare event), the delivery of an SPD to participants is not required. Presuming that your plan has not elected ERISA coverage, an SPD is not required. Note that governmental plans are also not required to provide an SPD, since such plans are also not subject to ERISA.

Having said this, some church/governmental plans elect to provide a summary of the plan document to plan participants, since plan documents can often be difficult/impossible for a participant to read. Some sponsors will call the document an SPD, though it is subject to none of the SPD requirements for content or timing of delivery to participants. Others will call the document a “Summary Plan Document” or a similar name so that it is not confused with an ERISA Summary Plan Description, though a church/governmental plan that elects to satisfy all of the ERISA SPD requirements will NOT subject its plan to ERISA.

Thank you for your question!


NOTE: This feature is to provide general information only, does not constitute legal advice, and cannot be used or substituted for legal or tax advice.