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Know Your Agencies #5: What Parts of the Government Regulate Retirement, and How they Can Help

Post 5 of 5: agencies that help with retirement benefits in other ways

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.

In the past four blog posts of this series, we covered government agencies that are in charge of regulating or administering retirement benefits. There are several other government agencies that don’t directly regulate retirement benefits that can be helpful to people with retirement questions.

Administration for Community Living (ACL)

The ACL is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. ACL helps fund the Pension Rights Center and the six pension counseling projects, which offer free legal assistance to individuals who need help obtaining their earned retirement benefits. 

ACL does a lot of other really helpful things for older Americans, too, and funds a number of wonderful services and organizations. A great way to learn about ACL-funded services (as well as other services) that might be available to you is to check out the Eldercare Locator, which ACL also funds. The Eldercare Locator is a one-stop resource that can connect you to a variety of different aging services in your geographic area.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

The CFPB is a federal agency that focuses on ensuring that consumers are treated fairly by financial institutions and companies that interact with them. While CFPB doesn’t directly regulate retirement plans, its Office of Older Americans can help retirees with issues related to retirement like fraudulent pension advance schemes, issues with your bank that might impact your ability to access retirement pay, and third party companies that your retirement plan may have hired to handle different aspects of retirement benefit administration. You can see past complaints made to CFPB to determine about whether a particular retirement investment opportunity, annuity provider or life insurance provider is legitimate, or to report bad behavior by these types of companies. CFPB also handles issues that involve debt collections and credit reporting, so if your retirement plan ever claims you owe it money and threatens you with debt collections, you can go to CFPB to learn about your rights.

Social Security Administration (SSA)

Social Security benefits are a critical source of retirement income for most American retirees. You probably already know that to claim your Social Security benefits or to address problems involving your Social Security benefits you need to reach out to the Social Security Administration. You may not know that the SSA offers an additional resource that can be very helpful when trying to understand your private retirement rights: Detailed Earnings Reports.

Social Security collects a lot of important information about your work history in order to establish what Social Security benefits you have earned. This information is equally helpful for figuring out whether you earned a pension benefit from a private employer or union because the number of years that you worked is an important factor in calculating pension benefits.  If you ever run into a dispute with a former employer or union about how long you worked, you can request a Detailed Earnings Report from the Social Security Administration and get proof. You can access the instructions and form for requesting a Detailed Earnings Report here. For help in using the Report to prove your right to benefits you may want to contact one of the six regional pension counseling projects that help people in 30 states. If there is no counseling project in your area, contact us at (202) 296-3776.

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

Post #1: Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA)

Post #2: Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

Post #3: Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC)

Post #4: Agencies regulating retirement benefits for government employees

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