WASHINGTON-The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) reported today that it is holding almost $197 million in unclaimed pension benefits for over 36,000 people owed money from terminated defined benefit pension plans formerly sponsored by private sector employers.
Since 1996, the PBGC has offered the online Pension Search directory (http://search.pbgc.gov/mp/mp.aspx) as an interactive tool for people who may have lost track of a pension earned during their careers. People can search by their last name, company name, or state where the company was headquartered.
For the more than 36,000 people still missing, individual benefits range from $1 up to $676,436 and average about $6,550. The states with the most missing pension participants and money to be claimed are: New York (7,215/$40.65 million), California (3,078/$7.82 million), Texas (2,496/$11.52 million), New Jersey (2,487/$14.22 million), Ohio (2,311/$15.56 million), Illinois (2,175/$16.78 million), and Pennsylvania (2,109/$11.32 million).
Since 1996 about 37,000 people have found nearly $252 million in missing pension benefits through PBGC's Pension Search program. The states with the most found participants and pension money claimed are: New York (5,708/$39.39 million), California (3,106/$11.12 million), Florida (2,739/$22.28 million), Texas (2,362/$18.12 million), Pennsylvania (2,210/$17.40 million), New Jersey (2,131/$15.20 million), and Michigan (1,683/$10.24 million).
The 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.
Once the PBGC is contacted by people who find their names in the directory, the agency asks them to provide more details including proof of age and other vital statistics. The identification process generally takes 4-6 weeks. After the 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 Pension Search directory is regularly updated with the names of more missing people. The current list identifies some 6,900 employers, 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 fully-funded pension plans and distributed benefits. Others are workers or retirees missing from underfunded pension plans taken over by the 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.
The 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. The 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 the PBGC's website (http://www.pbgc.gov/docs/Finding_A_Lost_Pension.pdf ) 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 employers when they move or change names, and they should hold on to any pension information they receive from their employers.
The 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 29,000 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.