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Case of the Week: 401(k) Plan Committee Charter

Case of the Week

The ERISA consultants at the Retirement Learning Center Resource regularly receive calls from financial advisors on a broad array of technical topics related to IRAs, qualified retirement plans and other types of retirement savings plans. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business.

A recent call with a financial advisor from Ohio is representative of a common inquiry related to 401(k) plan committees. The advisor asked: 

“If a 401(k) plan has an investment or administrative committee, is the committee required to have a charter?”  

Highlights of the Discussion

Neither the Department of Labor nor the IRS, both of which regulate qualified retirement plans, specifically require that a 401(k) plan committee have a charter. However, more and more firms with plan committees are adopting committee charters as a fiduciary best practice. Practically speaking, a committee charter can help committee members understand their roles and responsibilities.

Retirement plan committee charters are distinct from an investment policy statement. (Please see Investment Policy Statement Checklist and Education Policy Statement.)

A plan committee charter should be approved by the board of directors of the company and answer the following questions:

  • What authority does the committee have?
  • What is the committee’s purpose?
  • How is the committee structured?
  • Who may serve on the committee?
  • How are committee members replaced?
  • How will the committee delegate authority?
  • How will the committee assign responsibilities and duties?
  • How frequently will the committee meet?
  • What procedures will the committee follow?
  • What are the standing agenda items and how are new topics introduced?
  • What is the process for selecting and managing plan service providers?
  • What reporting will the committee do and to whom?
  • What are the procedures for protecting committee members financially? 

Retirement Plan Committees that do have charters should be sure to follow them. 


For retirement plans that have investment or administrative committees, having a committee charter in place could be a good fiduciary liability mitigation tactic – as long as it is followed.

Any information provided is for informational purposes only. It cannot be used for the purposes of avoiding penalties and taxes. Consumers should consult with their tax advisor or attorney regarding their specific situation. 

©2019, Retirement Learning Center, LLC. Used with permission.