Where do you look when you're trying to find a little bit of
the money you've left behind over the years? The couch cushions? The bins in your
car? Instead of hunting for small change, think bigger: a forgotten pension fund.
to government records, about 32,000 retirees are owed more than $133 million in
unclaimed pension benefits. Most are unaware they ever earned the benefits. Others
know they've got retirement money coming to them but have long since lost track
of their former employers, which may have merged, dissolved or been sold.
early in their career change jobs or get married and change their name and they
move on with their lives, forgetting they were at a particular employer long enough
to have become vested with a benefit," said Gary Pastorius, a spokesman for
the Washington-based Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp, or PBGC. "As the years pass, when
they don't leave a forwarding address, it becomes harder to find them."
PBGC, a federal corporation created by the Employee Retirement Income Security
Act of 1974, protects the pensions of 44 million American workers and retirees.
One of its tasks is tracking down missing participants who are entitled to benefits
from a defined benefit pension plan -- those that pay out a specific dollar amount
each month. So far, the agency has matched 22,356 account holders with lost pensions.
possible gold mine
While the largest lost pension on record is valued
at $611,028, most carry a far smaller balance. PBGC reports the average account
is worth $4,950. The smallest is worth $1.
Even so, says Clare
Hushbeck, a labor economist with the AARP in Washington, retirees should take
the time to investigate whether they've left money on the table.
are still thousands of seniors who are owed retirement benefits that they are
entitled to," she says. "It may just be another $98 a month, but it's
worth looking into because at least it's something."
Pension funds, however, aren't the only retirement
benefits languishing in the lost and found. Thousands of defined contribution
plans, including 401(k)s and profit sharing plans, are also marked
The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement
Benefits, or NRURB, based in San Diego and operated by the benefit distribution processing
firm PenChecks, keeps a running list of more than 50,000 individuals who are owed
benefits from 401(k)s, profit sharing plans or individual retirement
accounts and either can't be reached or remain unresponsive. Like the PBGC, its
database also includes lost pensions.
Created in 2005, the
NRURB Web-based list includes names of individuals for whom their former employers
have set up IRAs to preserve their retirement assets. The IRAs are invested in
no-risk money market funds or certificates of deposit. Any earnings are the property
of the account holder. Most of the accounts included in the database are valued
between $600 and $1,000.