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Lost and found pension benefits

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Companies looking to dissolve their pension plans, he says, are legally required to pay out all benefits to workers and retirees before closing their plans. For former workers who cannot be located or remain unresponsive, the company must purchase an annuity from a private insurer in that person's name or deposit funds in a financial institution, such as a bank, to be held until claimed by the beneficiary.

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Depending on the terms of the pension-plan dissolution, those who claim funds held by the PBGC would be entitled either to an assigned value based on the distribution date or the assigned value plus any interest it may have accrued. In cases where the plan participants do not claim interest earned, the PBGC uses those dollars to help fund administrative costs of its program.

"In most cases, companies end their pension plans so they can replace them with a defined-contribution plan, such as a 401(k)," says Pastorius.

It's worth noting the PBGC list includes anyone the employer and PBGC have been unable to contact directly. In some cases, there is no money owed. The company simply needs to send a final letter of benefits termination.

Similarly, the NRURB makes its database available online. Its free search tool, located on its home page at www.unclaimedretirementbenefits.com, uses your Social Security number to scan for employer-sponsored retirement plans you may have left behind.

That database reflects all unclaimed retirement accounts that have been transferred into a default IRA by a plan sponsor or employer.

New rules in effect
Until last year, companies that could not find former workers who participated in their 401(k)s or other retirement plans were required by law to maintain those accounts at their own expense, keeping records up to date and filing annual tax forms until the money was claimed.

New federal regulations from the Department of Labor, however, allow companies to set up default IRAs for missing plan participants with accounts valued between $1,000 and $5,000, preserving the money for beneficiaries and clearing the accounts off their books.

Finally, the Social Security Administration can also serve as a resource. Through records provided by the Internal Revenue Service, the SSA keeps a database of individuals who have qualified for pension benefits under private retirement plans.

When you apply for Social Security benefits, the administration automatically notifies you of any information it has on file about your vested pension benefits -- or those of a deceased spouse -- for which you might be eligible.

You can also request that information in writing at: OCO Office of Earnings Operations, Attention: ERISA Correspondence Group, P.O. Box 33007, Baltimore, MD 21290-3307. For specifics on what to include in your letter (Social Security number, dates of employment, etc.), contact the SSA first by phone at (800) 772-1213.

The few minutes it takes to search for missing retirement money can be well worth the time investment, says Hushbeck. With any luck, you might just turn up another feather for your nest egg.

"People who have had a number of jobs are very likely to have forgotten about some retirement benefits," she says. "We would advise anyone planning for their retirement, especially those who worry they won't have enough, to check to be sure they're getting everything they're entitled to."

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Updated: Oct. 1, 2007
 
 
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