Understanding Your Summary Plan Description

March 6, 2012 — 1,643 views  
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If you don't quite understand your employee benefits, one way to learn more is to ask your employer or human resource representative for a summary plan description (SPD). The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974 makes it the law that companies have to make this kind of document available to workers, whether they ask for it or not. But what's inside an SPD?

There is certain information that a summary plan description must contain. They are:

• The name of your plan
• What type of plan you have
• When it began and when you can use it
• If it's part of a collective bargain agreement (CBA) that a union negotiated
• Where the money to pay from it comes from
• What conditions will end your plan
• Who to contact if you've been denied coverage you think you deserve

Understanding summary plans doesn't have to be difficult. You can set up an appointment with a human resource manager, employer or supervisor, who is legally bound to answer any questions that you have about your benefits. They also are required to give you a copy of the plan (which needs to be updated every year) within 90 days of your date of hire. Remember - you have a right to know about health insurance plans and other types of coverage because they belong to you.