missing pension benefits
a little more money brighten your retirement? Maybe you're one of the thousands
of people who are entitled to a share of the millions in pension money that's
Maybe you left an
employer in your 30s and forgot you left behind a pension. Or maybe you worked
for a company that went belly up a long time ago and you figure the pension went
Millions of dollars
are out there, waiting for the right people to come along and claim them.
Ford endured a one-hour ride each way to work every day; two buses to get there,
two buses to get home. For 15 years, she slogged through all kinds of weather
to get to her job at the Rosbro Plastics factory in Pawtucket, R.I., where they
made Halloween and Christmas toys.
Ford left Rosbro in 1973
and says she was told she didn't qualify for a pension. She thought it was because
she hadn't been in the union long enough. But a chance encounter in 2000 with
a former co-worker left her thinking she was entitled to a pension.
now 64, tried tracking it down, but Rosbro went out of business when its parent
company filed for bankruptcy in 1998. She says her calls to Rosbro's parent company
were not returned.
It doesn't take much to lose track of a
pension, otherwise known as a defined benefit plan. Leave a company before retirement
and you might need to hold on to paperwork for many years. If the company goes
out of business, the search can be tougher.
But there are
government agencies and nonprofit centers that will help you find your pension
Government-funded pension finders
"The workforce is more mobile now, people change jobs more frequently
and it stands to reason that they lose track of small vested pension benefits
that they had early in their careers," says Jeffrey Speicher, spokesman for
the Washington, D.C.-based Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
their company has merged, changed names, moved, maybe gone bankrupt and re-emerged
under a different name; there are many reasons that aren't the fault of the worker."
is a federal government agency that insures the minimum pension benefits of 35,000
private companies. Since 1974, all companies that have more than 25 employees
enrolled in a defined benefit plan are required to register with PBGC.
a company terminates a pension plan that isn't fully funded, PBGC becomes the
trustee of the plan and guarantees payment of the basic benefits.
company doesn't have to go bankrupt, but the overwhelming majority that we take
over occur in bankruptcies," Speicher says.
keeps track of benefits due former employees who can't be located.
unclaimed pension funds from the plan also come to us along with the names of
the individuals. Sometimes a company wants to end a defined benefit plan and create
a defined contribution plan. They'd terminate the plan, pay all the benefits and
we'd take the names of people they couldn't find," says Speicher.
company has already conducted a search, and then we attempt to weed out what we
can through publicly available databases such as the postal service and telephone
The names of the people the PBGC can't find
go into the PBGC database, which you can access via its Web
site so people who have lost track of a private pension can search by their
name, the company name, or by state. There is no charge for the service.
search program has found more than 14,000 people who were owed more than $34 million
dollars. But the names of 13,000 people are still in the database. Those people
are entitled to $43 million in benefits. New names are being added all the time.
Nonprofit pension finders
Many people who are looking for missing pension benefits can also be helped
by one of the handful of nonprofit pension counseling projects throughout the
nation. These organizations are often funded by the U.S. Administration on Aging
and private foundations. There is no charge for their services.
Bruce, director of the University of Massachusetts-Boston Pension Action Center,
says her office gets 500 to 600 calls each year, many of them from people trying
to locate their pension benefits.
"People come with a
host of different emotions depending on their situations and how long they've
been trying on their own. Some people are extremely frustrated, they haven't gotten
any answers and they come to us. Others have just started to search and found
the company is no longer there.
"Private company plans
are the biggest problem. Government plans are much easier to locate. Union plans
can sometimes create a problem, but the biggest problem is with private companies,"
Anna Ford's fortuitous encounter with a former
co-worker eventually led her to Bruce's office.
to us because she didn't know where to apply. It turned out PBGC had taken over
Rosbro's pension plan but she wasn't listed in PBGC's database. We contacted the
union and found that she was entitled because she was in an old plan," says
Ford's pension was small but, says Ford, well worth
the time it took to locate it.
"I got a lump sum of $3,400
after taxes. It's not much, but I was very happy to get this little bit of money."
you work for a company that has a defined benefit plan, hold on to all the paperwork
the company gives you. Perhaps stash it in a safe-deposit box so it's less likely
to get lost.
"The law requires that when a person becomes
a member of a pension plan that they be given a brief description of the plan,
it's called a summary plan description. Keep that and any statement the company
provides about the plan, and save your final pay statement," says Speicher
you're vested in a pension plan and you quit the company, you should be given
a notice of deferred vested benefits when you leave. Keep that in a safe place
It's also a good idea to notify the plan administrator
anytime you change address.
If you believe you are entitled
to a private pension and you can't contact your former employer, check the PBGC
site. Don't give up if your name isn't listed. PBGC gives step-by-step
advice on what to do if you can't find your name in its database.
A Lost Pension provides additional in-depth information that can aid in
Rights Center in Washington, D.C., lists addresses and phone numbers for the
pension counseling centers.
If your pension is outside the
area served by the Pension Counseling Centers, or if you're trying to locate a
federal or military pension, check
this list for assistance.