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Missing Participants FAQs

Overview of Missing Participants Program

How do I close out my plan if I can't locate every participant and beneficiary?

PBGC's Missing Participants Program was created by the Retirement Protection Act of 1994 to provide a way for distributing plan benefits to participants and beneficiaries who cannot be located in plans terminating in a standard termination or in a distress termination where the plan was sufficient for all guaranteed benefits. (See Section 4050 of ERISA and 29 CFR Part 4050)

An employer choosing to terminate a fully funded pension plan must distribute all plan benefits to participants and beneficiaries before completing the plan's termination.

If you cannot find a participant or beneficiary after a diligent search you must either purchase an annuity from a private insurer in that person's name and provide information on the missing person and insurer to PBGC or transfer the value of the person's benefit to PBGC's Missing Participants Program.

If an annuity is purchased, it must be purchased by the same distribution deadline that applies to other benefits generally. If the value of the missing participant's benefit is paid to PBGC, it must generally be paid by the time the Post-Distribution Certification is submitted. However, PBGC will assess interest for late payment of an amount for a missing participant only to the extent the payment is made more than 90 days after the benefit distribution deadline.

My plan isn't terminating but I have a number of "missing participants." May I turn their benefits over to PBGC?

No. ERISA limits PBGC's Missing Participants Program to terminated defined benefit plans. Ongoing defined benefit plans and plans that are not covered by Title IV are not eligible for this program.

May I use PBGC's Missing Participants Program for a participant whose whereabouts are known but who refuses to return the election forms?

No. You must purchase an annuity for the participant in order to complete the termination. The annuity contract must preserve all of the participant's benefit options.

Forms and Instructions for Missing Participants

Where do I find forms and instructions related to transfer of missing participants benefits to the PBGC?
Where should checks and filings for missing participants be sent?
  • The Schedule MP and the applicable attachment(s) must be sent along with the Post-Distribution Certification to:

    Processing and Technical Assistance Branch

    1200 K Street NW

    Washington, DC 20005-4026

    (Do not send payments with these forms)

    If using the U.S. postal service, the payment for designated benefits and/or other amounts with a completed payment voucher must be sent to:

    Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation

    P.O. Box 955710

    St. Louis, MO 63195-5710

    If using another delivery service or sending the payment via wire transfer, check the Missing Participants Filing Instructions. [PDF]

Where should missing participant inquiries be directed?

Call 1-800-736-2444, or (202) 229-4242 in the Washington, DC area. For TTY/ASCII users, call the federal relay service toll-free at 1-800-877-8339 and ask to be connected to 1-800-736-2444.

Diligent Search

What requirements must be met for a "diligent search" before money can be paid to PBGC?

You may learn that a participant or beneficiary is missing after sending the Notice of Intent to Terminate to the person's last known address. In this situation, you are required to conduct a "diligent search" as described in 29 CFR 4050.4. A diligent search includes inquiry of any beneficiaries of the missing participant whose names and addresses are known to the plan administrator. It also includes use of a commercial locator service. The participant may not be charged for the search. The plan administrator must complete the diligent search before transferring money to PBGC for the person's benefit.

When must a "diligent search" be made?

A diligent search must begin not more than 6 months before notices of intent to terminate are issued. It must be carried on in such a manner that if the individual is found, distribution to the individual can reasonably be expected to be made by the "deemed distribution date" as described in 29 CFR 4050.

Is a "diligent search" required if an annuity is purchased for a missing participant?

 Yes, a diligent search is required for any missing participant, whether an annuity is purchased for that participant or that participant's benefit is paid to the PBGC.


Does 20% tax withholding apply to the transfer of the value of a missing participant's benefit to PBGC, or to purchase of an annuity for the missing participant, under the Missing Participants Program?

No, the full benefit should be transferred to PBGC. The Internal Revenue Service confirmed to PBGC in an information letter (dated February, 26, 1997) that 20% tax withholding does not apply to a transfer from a terminating plan to the PBGC, or to the purchase of an annuity, under the Missing Participants Program. (If your plan withheld amounts for a missing participant, see next two questions below.)  The PBGC, or the insurer that provides an annuity, will withhold taxes when benefits are paid to the participant.

If a plan pays the Internal Revenue Service 20% tax withholding on a distribution to a participant who turns out to be a missing participant and does not receive the distribution, may the plan administrator reduce the amount paid to PBGC by the amount of tax withheld? If the administrator buys an annuity for the missing participant, may the administrator purchase the annuity based on the reduction for the tax withholding?

No. The plan administrator must pay the total value of the missing participant's benefit, without any reduction for the 20% tax withholding, to the PBGC's Missing Participants Program. Similarly, an annuity purchased for a missing participant must be based on the participant's total benefit without any reduction for the 20% tax withholding.

How can a plan recover from the IRS an amount erroneously withheld for a missing participant?

The Internal Revenue Service advised PBGC in an information letter (dated May 15, 2003) of the procedures that a plan must follow to get a refund of federal income tax it erroneously withheld. Generally, the plan must act within 3 years of the withholding return due date or the date the return was filed, whichever is later.

Last updated February 27, 2020