Pre-Approved Retirement Plans


A pre-approved retirement plan is a plan sold to employers by a document provider such as a financial institution or benefits practitioner. The document provider is the “pre-approved plan provider.” The document provider requests IRS approval (“pre-approval”) of a defined contribution or defined benefit plan document as meeting the requirements of Internal Revenue Code Sections 401, 403(a) or 403(b). The pre-approved plan provider then makes the IRS-approved plan available to adopting employers. The IRS also issues opinion letters for prototype IRAs.

For employers

For document providers

How to apply - procedures and forms

When to apply

Plan language resources

  • Amend or update a plan - Cumulative lists, listings of required modifications (LRM), quality assurance bulletins (QABs), etc.

Providers of a pre-approved plan

The IRS posted LRMs for pre-approved defined contribution plans on on November 2, 2017. Plan document providers applying for IRS opinion letters during the third defined contribution pre-approved plan cycle (October 2, 2017 - October 1, 2018) may use the revised LRMs to draft or amend their plans. No additional amendments will be made to the defined contribution plan LRMs until the beginning of the fourth cycle submission period in 2023.

LRMs contain model plan language:

  • for laws effective during the third remedial amendment cycle
  • that reflects qualification requirements and guidance in the 2017 Cumulative List (Notice 2017-37).

The IRS pre-approved plan program changed, as announced in Revenue Procedure 2017-41. For example:

  • Two types of pre-approved plans – the IRS recognizes standardized and non-standardized plans. Standardized plans are safe harbor plans, whereas non-standardized plans adopt the flexibility of plans under the predecessor Volume Submitter program.
  • Separate trust document – trust and custodial agreements must be segregated, and the plan must contain a provision that its terms will govern in the case of a conflict (see Defined Contribution LRM #81). The IRS does not review trust documents.

Additional resources