Find your lost re­tire­ment money

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Business - BY SARAH SKIDMORE SELL

No one wants to lose money, par­tic­u­larly for re­tire­ment. But it hap­pens – peo­ple lose track of, or don’t know they have, re­tire­ment ac­counts.

It’s sur­pris­ingly easy to do. Peo­ple switch jobs, move, change names and the com­pany or plan provider loses track of them. Or an em­ployee can’t keep track af­ter a com­pany is sold or a plan is ter­mi­nated. Some peo­ple don’t even know they were el­i­gi­ble for a pen­sion, didn’t re­al­ize they were vested or were un­aware they were au­to­mat­i­cally en­rolled in a 401(k).

While an em­ployer should in­form em­ploy­ees of their op­tions when leav­ing, em­ploy­ees some­timese for­get to com­plete the pa­per­work, said Thomas Nee, co-founder of Com­pass Point Re­tire­ment Plan­ning. There is also lit­tle re­quire­ment or in­cen­tive for com­pa­nies or plan providers to find ben­e­fi­cia­ries.

There’s no ex­act mea­sure of how many un­claimed ben­e­fits are out there. But a re­port re­leased last year by the Govern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice states that be­tween 2004 and 2013 more than 25 mil­lion peo­ple left at least one re­tire­ment plan be­hind when they left a job.

Here are some tips on track­ing down lost ben­e­fits:

Check your pa­per­work:

If you have pa­per­work on an old pen­sion, 401(k) or other re­tire­ment plan, this is a good place to start. Con­tact the com­pany that man­ages the plan and go from there.

In some cases, you may want to grab old taxes, W-2s or other em­ploy­men­tre­lated doc­u­ments while you’re dig­ging through the pa­per­work. This doc­u­men­ta­tion can help if the process proves dif­fi­cult. In some cases, the hunt to find and claim ben­e­fits can be­come very com­plex and take years, par­tic­u­larly if a com­pany has been sold more than once over the years, said Karen Fer­gu­son, di­rec­tor of the Pen­sion Rights Cen­ter.

Con­tact your old em

ployer: The next step should be con­tact­ing your old em­ployer to request in­for­ma­tion about what re­tire­ment ben­e­fits you’re due. If you can­not find them, search the Depart­ment of La­bor’s web­site of Form 5500 fil­ings to find out if they are still in busi­ness. This form should have con­tact in­for­ma­tion for the plan.

Get help: There are a bevy of data­bases and or­ga­ni­za­tions that can help you find ben­e­fits and pro­vide di­rec­tion:

The Depart­ment of La­bor’s Em­ployee Ben­e­fit Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion (EBSA) pro­vides help over the phone and on­line, in­clud­ing a search­able data­base for aban­doned plans:

The Pen­sion Ben­e­fit Guar­anty Corp. is a fed­eral agency in charge of in­sur­ing pri­vate-sec­tor pen­sion ben­e­fits. If the plan is in trou­ble, the PBGC steps in. The PBGC said there are more than 80,000 peo­ple who earned a pen­sion who haven’t yet claimed it. Those un­claimed ben­e­fits to­tal over $400 mil­lion dol­lars, with in­di­vid­ual ben­e­fits rang­ing from twelve cents to almost $1 mil­lion. The agency pro­vides in­for­ma­tion over the phone and on­line, in­clud­ing a search­able data­base:

State Un­claimed Prop­erty: In some cases, the money is handed over to a state’s un­claimed prop­erty di­vi­sion. Each state main­tains its own data­base but the web­site miss­ing­, cre­ated by the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Un­claimed Prop­erty Ad­min­is­tra­tors, can also pro­vide in­for­ma­tion about each state’s pro­grams.

So­cial Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion: The SSA will pro­vide a no­tice alert­ing you to po­ten­tial ben­e­fits when you are ready to claim So­cial Se­cu­rity, but the no­tice does not guar­an­tee those funds are still there.

The U.S. Ad­min­is­tra­tion on Ag­ing’s Pen­sion Coun­sel­ing and In­for­ma­tion Pro­gram pro­vides free le­gal as­sis­tance to those ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a prob­lem with their pen­sion, profit shar­ing or re­tire­ment sav­ings plans. It cur­rently serves 30 states. If your state isn’t cov­ered, check out pen­sion­, a web­site of the non­profit Pen­sion Rights Cen­ter.

Small bal­ances: If a 401(k) has less than $5,000 in it, fed­eral law al­lows those bal­ances to be moved to an IRA with­out the ben­e­fi­cia­ries’ con­sent. These can be hard to find, but try the EBSA’s aban­doned plan search, a state’s un­claimed prop­erty site or con­tact the com­pany that used to man­age those ben­e­fits to find out where they’ve been sent.

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