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Lost and found pension benefits

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"Many people these days contribute to 401(k)s through automatic payroll deductions, so it's easier to forget they ever had one," says Spiro Preovolos, a spokesman for the NRURB. "In some cases, even if they know it's there, they think it's only worth a few dollars so it's not worth the hassle to get the money."

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But claiming lost retirement benefits is a fairly painless process, says Preovolos. Once they have your address, the employer or trustee of the account will send you an election form, which you can use to either take the benefit as a lump-sum payment or roll it over into an IRA.

In most cases, lost retirement benefits can be claimed by account holders, spouses or heirs to their estates.

How to claim lost money
If you think you're owed retirement benefits, you should first try to contact the plan administrator or the company where you worked. If that fails, there are several sources that may be able to help.

The PBGC Web site, for one, offers a free, online search tool that enables Web users to hunt for missing pension funds by last name, the name of the company for which the participant worked or by state.

Those unable to locate their former employers can also use PBGC's "Find your pension plan" search tool, which allows them to search by pension plan name, PBGC case number or the company's name.

According to Pastorius, the PBGC database includes the names of all missing persons who participated in a traditional pension fund at a privately owned company that terminated its plan and then transferred the assets for missing participants to PBGC. It also includes lost pensions from companies that either merged or went out of business.

Next: Make sure you get everything to which you're entitled.
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