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Legislation offers hope for finding lost pensions

(Update: February 12, 2021. The Lost and Found provisions of the Warren/Daines bill are included in the Securing a Strong Retirement Act of 2020 (H.R. 8696). It is likely that this bill will be reintroduced into Congress in 2021.)

In my 15 years at the Pension Rights Center my primary responsibility has been helping people get assistance with their pension problems.  The most frequent question I get from callers is, “I worked for a company for a number of years and now that company is gone and I can’t find my retirement plan. What can I do?” 

At this point I have to explain to callers that the problem is all too common.  In countries like the United Kingdom, they have a pension tracing service that helps people locate their lost retirement plans.  In the United States, we do not have any registry or tracing service, so if someone left a company years ago, it can become complicated to find their plan when the worker is ready to retire. 

Individuals with pension or 401(k) plans that terminated (often because their former employers went bankrupt) can seek help from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC)’s Missing Participants Program. But if their former company still exists but was bought or sold, or changed its name or moved they will have to become part-time detectives.  

This can be very challenging.  To start, they can contact friends, relatives, co-workers, old supervisors, or by cold calling a series of corporate phone numbers.  They can also review incorporation records or company SEC filings, but these are just breadcrumbs that may not lead anywhere.

If they live or worked in one of the 30 states covered by the U.S. Administration for Community Living’s Pension Counseling and Information Program, they may be able to find help from one of the six regional pension counseling projects that we work with.  The New England Pension Assistance Project recently published an informative blog post on how they tracked down a lost pension plan.  Benefits Advisors at the U.S. Department of Labor can also help track down lost plans.

Fortunately, a solution has been proposed for this problem.  Recently, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) introduced legislation that would create a retirement savings registry for all Americans with a company or union retirement plan.  The Retirement Savings Lost and Found Act of 2020, would create an online “Office of Lost and Found” that would pool all of the relevant information about changes in the names, addresses, and structure of retirement plans into one centralized database so individuals would easily be able to find their retirement plans when it is their time to retire. 

The legislation, which has the support of retiree and industry groups, was introduced into the House of Representatives by Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Jim Banks (R-IN) as H.R. 7439. The Pension Rights Center applauds Senators Warren and Daines and Representatives Bonamici and Banks for proposing this important legislation.  Thanks to their leadership, millions of future retirees may have a way to easily find their lost pension and 401(k) money.

If you need help locating your retirement benefit, see if you are covered by one of the pension counseling projects, or reach out to us.