How to Find an Old Pension
A forgotten or lost pension is a reality for many people. Unclaimed pensions total in the hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s no secret. Company provided retirement pensions have been in a steep decline over many years. But if you started working decades ago there is a chance a company you worked for had a pension benefit. Pensions used to be offered by many companies from retail stores to building/construction companies. My uncle earned a small pension from a little shipping pallet manufacturing company. A job that he worked as a retirement job.
When we are young the thought of retirement is far off. We certainly had other concerns and priorities. When we are Retirement-Unaware it’s easy to not pay attention to long-term company retirement benefits. It’s worth your while doing a little research. Especially if you have no memory of whether your long ago employer offered a pension benefit. Even a small amount of recovered long forgotten or lost pension is a beneficial retirement find.
Finding a Forgotten or Lost Pension
I hadn’t given this subject much thought. That is until a Leisure Freak site reader left a comment on the Pension De-Risking post. He had stumbled upon a forgotten pension when he looked into buying and annuity. That made me think about looking into one of my own long ago employers. I was curious to see if I had forgotten retirement money waiting to be found.
In my early working years I had two different past addresses and in a different state than where I live now. It would make sense that it might be difficult to find me if my previous employer tried to reach me.
Believe it or not, the company, PBGC, or the insurance company holding your long-lost annuity or pension wants to hear from you. They have a legal obligation to hold your money as an unclaimed pension and attempt to find you within the legal guidelines.
What to Do:
Prior Employer is Still in Business-
If you are fortunate your ex-employer is still in business which will make your search easier. You can do an online search to see if they offer retirement/pension benefits. However what they offer employees today doesn’t mean it will match what was offered when you worked there many years ago. You must be specific in your search for ancient benefits which may be difficult to find.
Your retirement treasure hunt is as simple as contacting it’s human resources (HR) department. Then ask about their retirement pension benefits and vesting periods (qualifying length of employment) during the timeframe you worked there. If you determine that you may have qualified for the benefit then ask for the plan administrator. Hopefully then you will be given a phone number or an email address to contact them and finish your long forgotten or lost pension search.
Prior Employer is No Longer in Business-
The forgotten or lost pension treasure hunt gets a little more complicated if your earlier life’s employer is no longer in business. It could have closed, went bankrupt, or was acquired by another company. Find out what you can from online searches. News of your employer’s demise or its acquisition/merger may give clues to your next steps.
If an online search for your old employment company fails, then reach out to any former co-workers that stayed after you left. If they are outside your circle of friends after all these years, then use LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. to find them. Simply ask what they remember and whether your old company offered retirement benefits and/or a pension. If they are getting a pension earned from your shared old company then ask them where their payments are coming from.
Other possible contacts for chasing down an old employer:
- Contacting the chamber of commerce of the city/town your old company was located.
- If any of the employees were union represented, then contact the union. They may know what happened.
If you find that your old employer was acquired by another company, then call that new company’s HR group. The new company is responsible for the other company’s pension benefits.
However, if you find that your old company is gone for good then all is not lost.
Search the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) Website
The PBGC is a government agency which insures and guarantees private sector pensions. It administers payments for underfunded and terminated pension plans. On its main page there is an option under “Popular Tasks” – Looking for an Unclaimed Pension.
The Unclaimed Pension page has a search box where you can enter your last name, company name, or state. If your old company pension plan was underfunded or terminated then the PBGC takes over. If you find your name in their Unclaimed Pension search then follow their instructions to get your information to them.
You will have to prove you are who they have listed. Once confirmed you may receive pension payments from the PBGC, a private insurance company annuity, or money set aside by your old employer.
The PBGC also offers a very detailed PDF document called Finding a Lost Pension. Note: If the link I provided doesn’t open the page for display then Search “finding a lost pension” with your favorite search engine and select the pdf pbgc.gov link provided in the search results.
The PBGC knows many things but it only has knowledge of terminated pension plans. It also doesn’t cover Government pensions.
The Social Security Administration May Know About Our Forgotten or Lost Pension
When we leave a business where we have earned a pension benefit, the company is required to report any pension benefit to the SSA. Once we apply for our Social Security or Medicare the SSA is required to tell us about any pensions that were reported to them.
The SSA notification of a reported pension benefit doesn’t necessarily mean there is treasure due. For instance, it may have been paid out in the past and the SSA wouldn’t necessarily know about that. However the SSA notification will give enough information to help us find our forgotten or lost pension if we know we didn’t receive an earlier payoff.
The Social Security Administration has what we were paid and by whom for each of our working years. We may be able to get the employer identification number from the SSA earnings records to help us track down our pension.
File Form SSA-7050 for a copy of your earnings record. “Request for Social Security Earnings Information.” The form is available at www.socialsecurity.gov/online/ssa-7050.pdf, or call 1-800-772-1213. There may be fees associated for the request.
Other Resources to Find a Forgotten or Lost Pension
According to the PBGC Finding a Lost Pension PDF document the following agencies along with the PBGC mentioned above may be of help.
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) – Within the Department, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) and EBSA’s regional and district offices provide assistance to individuals who are having difficulty with their pensions.
The Pension Rights Center (PRC) – The Pension Rights Center maintains an online clearinghouse called Pension Help America (pensionhelp.org). The Pension Help site walks you through a step-by-step process for getting information about your retirement benefits, including referrals to legal professionals. Or, you can e-mail PRC through their website at www.pensionrights.org/contact.
Finding a forgotten or lost pension is like a retirement treasure hunt for anyone who lost track of their benefits.
I my case I found that the company I worked for decades ago had a retirement plan when I worked there but only for management. That must be why I really couldn’t remember anything about a pension benefit. I was not management.
I did find in the PBGC Unclaimed Pension search using my last name that a distant cousin was listed there. It showed his name along with the company he worked for. A company that is bankrupt and is no longer in business. I am in the process of contacting him to let him know.
I may not have found a forgotten pension for myself but at least some good will come from my treasure hunt.