The Employee Benefits Security Administration says employers will have to file plan returns through the Internet starting with plan years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2008.

EBSA, an arm of the U.S. Department of Labor, has pushed the implementation date of the new Electronic Filing of Annual Reports final rule back 1 year from what it had proposed in a draft of the rule published in August 2005.

But EBSA officials decided against accepting the recommendations of small advocates who advised it to phase in use of electronic filing of Form 5500 returns for smaller businesses, or to continue to accept paper Form 5500 filings from smaller businesses.

The Labor Department believes that the new electronic filing system “must have as its core component a requirement that Form 5500 filings be submitted through electronic means,” officials write in a preamble to the electronic filing final rule, which appears today in the Federal Register.

The benefits of phasing in or narrowing the scope of the requirement “would be outweighed by the benefits to participants and beneficiaries at large and to the department and taxpayers generally of implementing a single, wholly electronic system,” officials write. “The department accordingly is not prepared to adopt any alternative that would involve continuation of paper filing alternatives to electronic filing.”

Large filers already use electronic filing systems, and smaller files who file “hand-print” returns should be able to file without buying any special software, simply by entering data into a Web-based form, officials write.

Separately, in a proposed Annual Reporting and Disclosure rule that appears today in the Federal Register, EBSA officials say they will be preparing for the shift to electronic filing by streamlining the Form 5500 for pension and welfare plans with fewer than 100 participants.

EBSA also wants to remove Schedule E (ESOP Annual Information), Schedule P (Annual Return of Fiduciary of Employee Benefit Trust), and Schedule SSA (Annual Registration Statement Identifying Separated Participants With Deferred Vested Benefits) from the Form 5500,

EBSA wants to remove those 3 schedules because the Internal Revenue Service is the agency that uses the schedules, and the IRS has no authority to require the electronic filing of some types of tax returns, EBSA officials write.

EBSA wants to expand compensation reporting requirements for benefit plan insurance brokers and consultants and other plan service providers.

“A new section would be added requiring that the source and nature of compensation in excess of $1,000 received from parties other than the plan or the plan sponsor be disclosed for certain key service providers, including, among others, investment managers, consultants, brokers, and trustees, as well as all other fiduciaries,” EBSA officials write.

A copy of the final electronic filing rule is on the Web at Document Link

A copy of the proposed annual disclosure rule is on the Web at Document Link