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News & Policy

PBGC Ready to Pay $75 Million in Unclaimed Pension Benefits

August 06, 2004

Internet Tool Is Public's Link to Missing Retirement Money

WASHINGTON - The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) reported today that it is holding $75 million in unclaimed pension benefits for 26,000 people owed money from terminated defined benefit pension plans.

"We urge everyone to check the Pension Search directory on PBGC's web site to see if they, a friend or a relative are missing any pension dollars earned during their working years," said Executive Director Bradley D. Belt. "We want people to get the retirement money they worked so hard to earn."

Since 1996, PBGC has offered the Pension Search directory as an interactive tool for people who may have lost track of a pension earned during their career. People can search by their last name, company name, or state where the company was headquartered.

For the 26,000 people still missing, individual benefits range from $1 up to $264,548 and average about $3,675. The states with the most missing pension participants and money to be claimed are: New York (5,436/$23.55 million), California (2,929/$5.85 million), Texas (1,747/$5.32 million), New Jersey (1,388/$5.30 million ) and Pennsylvania (1,321/$4.28 million).

Over the past eight years more than 19,000 people have found more than $75 million in lost pension benefits through PBGC's Pension Search program. The states with the most found participants and pension money claimed are: New York (3,175/$14.04 million), California (1,974/$5.54 million), Texas (1,452/$7.65 million), Florida (1,253/$8.83 million), and Pennsylvania (1,091/$4.71 million).

PBGC encourages those who may be owed money from a defined benefit pension plan that ended to conduct Internet pension searches and not write off the money as lost forever. The online service is free and available 24 hours a day.

For those without access to the Internet at home, many local public libraries, community colleges and senior centers make computers available to the public that can be used for searching the Pension Search directory. Searchers can also e-mail or if they believe they are entitled to a benefit.

Once PBGC is contacted by people who find their names in the directory, PBGC asks them to provide more details including proof of age and other vital statistics. The identification process generally takes 4-6 weeks. Once PBGC receives a completed application, people currently eligible for a benefit should receive their checks within two months. Those entitled to future benefits will receive their benefits when they reach retirement age.

The Internet directory is regularly updated with the names of more missing people. The current list identifies some 5,500 companies, primarily in the airline, steel, transportation, machinery, retail trade, apparel and financial services industries, that closed pension plans in which some former workers could not be found.

Many of the names in the Pension Search directory are workers with pensions whose former employers closed pension plans and distributed benefits. Others are workers or retirees missing from underfunded pension plans taken over by PBGC because the plans did not have enough money to pay benefits. Included in the directory are people who may be able to document that they are owed a benefit, even though current PBGC records show that no benefit is due.

PBGC does not endorse firms that offer to find missing pension benefits for a fee because the information is available free from many sources including the Pension Search directory. PBGC's booklet "Finding A Lost Pension" also provides tips, suggests potential allies, and details numerous free information sources. It is particularly helpful for those trying to find pensions earned from former employers whose identity may have changed over the years because of changes in company ownership. The booklet is available on PBGC's web site or by writing the PBGC Communications and Public Affairs Department, 1200 K St., NW, Washington, DC 20005-4026.

To avoid becoming a missing pension participant, workers should tell their employer when they move or change names, and they should hold on to any pension information they receive from their employers.

PBGC is a federal corporation created under Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. It currently guarantees payment of basic pension benefits earned by 44 million American workers and retirees participating in over 31,000 private-sector defined benefit pension plans. The agency receives no funds from general tax revenues. Operations are financed largely by insurance premiums paid by companies that sponsor pension plans and investment returns.

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PBGC No. 04-63