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Government got your back?

By Barbara Whelehan · Bankrate.com
Friday, November 11, 2011
Posted: 11 am ET

Got a question or complaint about your workplace retirement plan (or, for that matter, your health plan)? Now you can go to a new consumer assistance Web page, compliments of the Department of Labor's Employee Benefits Security Administration, or EBSA, and get a reply within three days.

Hopefully, it won't be an automated response like, "We've received your letter of inquiry and are investigating the matter. We will contact you within 60 days." That's the kind of response that I received from a different government agency in the past. But it doesn't look like that will be the case here. According to a news release issued yesterday, inquiries and complaints will go directly to EBSA benefits advisers. Your request will be routed to a regional office nearest your residence.

"Helping retirement and health plan participants find answers to questions about their benefits and providing assistance when they believe their benefits have been improperly denied is one of our most important responsibilities," said EBSA Assistant Secretary Phyllis C. Borzi in a press release. "The new consumer assistance Web page and electronic inquiry/complaint process will provide quick answers to the most frequently asked questions and connect workers to experienced benefits advisers if assistance is needed."

EBSA says it receives thousands of calls annually on its toll-free consumer assistance line at 866-444-3272. But it expects to be able to handle electronic inquiries more efficiently. To lodge your complaint or ask for assistance, go to http://www.dol.gov/ebsa and click on "Request assistance." There's a Spanish language version there too.

According to the release, EBSA assisted more than 230,000 consumers last year and obtained benefits in excess of $478 million that had been denied to 173,000 participants through an informal dispute resolution process. In addition, the agency opened 900 formal investigations related to retirement and health plans that couldn't be resolved informally.

Separately, another government agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC, recently announced it has filed 735 enforcement actions in the fiscal year ending September 30, a 30 percent increase over the previous year. It filed 146 actions related to investment advisers and investment companies and 112 against broker/dealers.

Do you feel the government has your back when it comes to retirement planning?

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