Summary Annual Report (SAR)

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

Reviewed by Subject Matter Experts

Updated on July 11, 2023

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What Is a Summary Annual Report (SAR)?

A Summary Annual Report is a document that provides plan participants with a condensed version of the financial and administrative information contained in a retirement or welfare benefit plan's annual filing with the Department of Labor (DOL).

The primary purpose of the SAR is to provide transparency and ensure compliance with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) by offering plan participants an overview of the plan's financial status, investments, and administration.

ERISA and the DOL establish specific regulatory requirements for the preparation, distribution, and filing of SARs for qualified benefit plans.

Overview of Summary Annual Report

Summary Annual Report Contents

Financial Information

The SAR includes essential financial information, such as the plan's assets, liabilities, income, and expenses. It also provides an overview of the plan's investment performance and returns.

Plan Administration Details

The SAR contains information about the plan's administration, including the names and contact details of the plan sponsor and administrator, as well as any changes made to the plan during the year.

Participant Rights and Responsibilities

The SAR informs plan participants of their rights and responsibilities, such as the right to request plan documents and the responsibility to update personal information.

Summary Annual Report (SAR) Contents

Plan Types That Require SAR

The following types of plans typically require an SAR:

  1. Defined benefit plans

  2. Defined contribution plans

  3. Health and welfare plans

Regulatory Requirements

Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)

ERISA sets forth various requirements for SARs, including filing deadlines, distribution methods, and recordkeeping requirements.

Filing Deadlines

Plan administrators must distribute the SAR to plan participants within nine months after the end of the plan year or two months after the annual report (Form 5500) filing deadline, whichever is later.

Required Distribution Methods

Plan administrators can distribute the SAR using various methods, such as mail, email, or posting on a secure website, as long as they comply with DOL guidelines for electronic delivery.

Recordkeeping Requirements

Plan administrators must retain records related to the SAR for at least six years after the filing date.

Department of Labor (DOL) Regulations

DOL regulations govern specific aspects of SAR preparation and distribution, including electronic delivery guidelines, model SAR language, and penalties for noncompliance.

Electronic Delivery Guidelines

Plan administrators must follow DOL guidelines for electronic delivery of the SAR, such as obtaining participant consent and providing notice of electronic availability.

Model SAR Language

The DOL provides model language for preparing an SAR to help plan administrators meet regulatory requirements and ensure clear communication with plan participants.

Penalties for Noncompliance

Failure to comply with ERISA and DOL regulations regarding SARs can result in significant penalties, including fines and legal action.

How to Read and Interpret a Summary Annual Report (SAR)

Financial Information

Understanding the plan's financial information in the SAR can help participants assess the plan's overall health and investment performance.

Plan Assets and Liabilities

The SAR provides a snapshot of the plan's assets and liabilities, which can help participants gauge the plan's financial stability.

Income and Expenses

The SAR includes a summary of the plan's income and expenses, offering insight into the plan's financial operations and efficiency.

Investment Performance

The SAR provides an overview of the plan's investment performance, allowing participants to evaluate the plan's returns relative to their investment objectives.

Plan Administration Details

Plan Sponsor and Administrator

The SAR identifies the plan sponsor and administrator, which is essential information for participants who need to contact these parties for assistance or information.

Service Providers

The SAR may include information about service providers, such as investment managers and recordkeepers, who play a crucial role in managing the plan and ensuring its proper administration.

Changes in Plan Terms

The SAR highlights any changes made to the plan during the year, which can impact participants' benefits and investment options.

Participant Rights and Responsibilities

Right to Request Plan Documents

The SAR informs participants of their right to request plan documents, such as the full annual report, plan description, and trust agreement, which can provide more in-depth information about the plan's administration and investments.

Right to File a Complaint With the DOL

Participants who believe their plan is not being administered in compliance with ERISA or DOL regulations have the right to file a complaint with the DOL.

Responsibility to Update Personal Information

The SAR reminds participants of their responsibility to update personal information, such as their address or beneficiary designation, to ensure they receive important plan communications and benefits.

Importance of the SAR for Plan Participants

Monitoring Plan Performance

The report provides an overview of the plan's investment performance, including the rate of return and fees charged by investment managers.

This information can help participants evaluate the effectiveness of their investment strategy and make informed decisions about their retirement savings.

Assessing Plan Fees and Expenses

The report breaks down the fees and expenses charged by the plan administrator and investment managers, allowing participants to assess the cost-effectiveness of the plan.

This information can help participants determine if they are paying reasonable fees for the services provided and can identify areas for cost savings.

Ensuring Compliance With ERISA and DOL Regulations

The report provides information on the plan's compliance with regulatory requirements, including disclosure requirements, fiduciary responsibilities, and participant rights.

Participants can use this information to ensure that their rights are protected and that the plan is being managed in their best interests.

Importance of Summary Annual Reports (SARs) for Plan Participants


The Summary Annual Report serves as a vital instrument in ensuring transparency and compliance in retirement and welfare benefit plans.

By offering participants a comprehensive overview of their plan's financial status, investments, and administration, the SAR empowers them to make informed decisions about their retirement and benefits.

This transparency not only promotes financial literacy but also enables participants to monitor plan performance, assess fees and expenses, and ensure compliance with ERISA and DOL regulations.

Encouraging employees to review and understand their SARs is an essential step in fostering a more secure retirement for all.

As employees become more knowledgeable about their benefit plans, they can better advocate for their rights and benefits, leading to improved plan management and administration.

Ultimately, the SAR plays a crucial role in creating an environment where employees are well-equipped to make sound financial decisions, ensuring a more stable and prosperous future for all plan participants.

Summary Annual Report (SAR) FAQs

About the Author

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website or view his author profiles on Amazon, Nasdaq and Forbes.

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