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Know Your Agencies #3: What Parts of the Government Regulate Retirement, and How they Can Help

Post 3 of 5: Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC)

The Pension Rights Center is located in Washington, D.C., where people regularly joke about how the government is made of “alphabet soup” because it consists of so many different agencies that we refer to by different combinations of letters.  Sometimes figuring out which agency does what can be really daunting.  So, the Pension Rights Center has put together a “know your agency” blog post series to help workers and retirees know what agencies can help in case they run into problems involving their retirement benefits.

Private retirement plans

Responsibility for administering federal laws governing retirement benefits that people earned by working for companies, unions or nonprofit organizations is divided between three different federal agencies: EBSA, the IRS, and the PBGC. This post focuses on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, or PBGC.

The PBGC is a federal agency whose primary role is to insure certain traditional pension plans sponsored by companies and unions. If a pension plan runs out of money the PBGC will pay out the benefits the plan owes, up to certain limits. The PBGC has two different programs: one for pension plans offered by single employers and one for “multiemployer” plans (plans negotiated by unions with several employers).

When a single employer pension plan stops without enough money to pay all promised benefits or a multiemployer pension plan is struggling financially, the PBGC will step in. In the case of single employer plans the PBGC will become responsible for administering and paying out the benefits itself. In the case of multiemployer plans, the PBGC may make a loan. In both situations, the PBGC is where retirees should go to ask any questions they may have about their benefit rights and, in the case of single employer plans, apply for benefits. You can do that here, or by calling 1-800-400-7242.

The PBGC may also be able to provide information about terminated plans that have purchased annuities from life insurance companies to pay benefits.
If you think PBGC owes you a benefit and you’re having a hard time obtaining it, you can reach out to the PBGC’s Participant and Plan Sponsor Advocate at (202) 326-4448 or advocate@pbgc.gov. 

If you need help writing a formal claim for benefits to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation or to appeal a benefit denial from PBGC, you can contact the Pension Rights Center at (202) 296-3776 for referral to a pension counseling project or a private attorney.

The PBGC also administers several “Missing Participants” programs for participants in terminated traditional pension plans as well as terminated 401(k) and other individual account plans. If you think you are entitled to a benefit from a retirement plan that you have been unable to locate you should contact the PBGC to see if you are listed in its Missing Participant database.

If your plan has not terminated but you cannot find it because it has moved, changed its name or merged, a pension counseling project, the Labor Department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration or the Pension Rights Center may be able to help track down your “lost” plan.

Read the other posts in our "Know Your Agencies" series!

Post #1: Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA)

Post #2: Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

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