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WOMAN: Keeping your retirement plan in good shape is like maintaining your car.

Regular maintenance and fixing small problems before they become big, expensive problems ensure that you can depend on your car when you need it to get where you're going.

The retirement plan you adopted also needs regular care to keep it operating well.

A program of internal controls, oversight, and periodic review is essential, and the business owner is the one most responsible for the plan's good health.

It's easier to keep a plan in compliance than bring a neglected program back into shape.

You can't just set up a plan and assume that it will operate the same way indefinitely.

Business circumstances may change in ways that require adjustments in how the plan operates.

If a business has a 401(k) plan, changes in the workforce or its salary-deferral patterns will have an impact on how much the management team can defer.

Your own role as a fiduciary requires a great deal of care and diligence to ensure that these important benefits are there when you and your employees are ready to retire.

There are two broad areas of maintenance.

The first has to do with the written aspects of the plan.

Many types of retirement plans have written documents that must be kept up to date with changes in the law, and you need to know when and what to change.

Second, plan participants need to get what's promised to them by the plan terms, and benefit and contribution limits can't be exceeded.

Different kinds of retirement plans are covered by different legal requirements, so, well, a one-size-fits-all program for keeping a retirement plan in good running order isn't possible.

Attorneys, accountants, actuaries, and other professionals who specialize in retirement-program planning and operation can be a wonderful source of information and assistance.

They can help you determine what needs to be monitored and how to do it.

The IRS has material on its website to alert employers to new plan requirements and opportunities.

You'll find checklists to get you thinking about areas you may need to include in designing your internal controls.

The IRS' free electronic newsletter will keep you up to date on what's happening in retirement-related tax law.

The IRS and the Department of Labor understand how complicated the requirements of the law are and have programs to help you.

We know that even with the best intentions, good planning, and review, you can still make mistakes with retirement plans.

Both the IRS and the DOL have several correction programs to help you to identify and correct problems earlier rather than later.