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The paper chase: Keeping track of your pension

Every day I receive calls from workers and retirees who need help with their pensions.  Often, the people I speak to are looking for lost pension income that their employers promised would arrive at a critical time in their lives - retirement.  These callers may be having trouble locating their pensions or finding out if they are even eligible to receive benefits.

Last month, I spoke with a gentleman who was trying to locate a pension from a company he had worked for in the 1980s.  Since he had left the company, it had merged with and been acquired by other firms several times.  As a result, the caller didn't know where to go to apply for his pension.  I followed an electronic "paper trail", which helped guide me through the company's various buyouts and name changes.  Finally, I found the current company, which was now under the ownership of a large multinational corporation.  I looked up the phone number for their retirement plan and gave it to the caller.

This man's problem isn't uncommon, and it's frustrating that the nation's pension system would be so hard to navigate.  Why didn't the pension plan let this man know that his pension had changed hands when the company was bought and sold?  How about creating a centralized registry of lost pension plans, similar to those in the United Kingdom and Australia?  It shouldn't require James Bond to track down a pension that someone has rightfully earned.

One way to prevent such problems is to keep good records about your benefits and to monitor what happens to your pension plan over time.  Correspondence from your pension plan administrator, notices about changes to the plan rules, and financial statements are items that should be saved and kept somewhere that you'll remember.

Even storing these important documents in an old shoebox is fine as long as you label the box and remember where it is.  Easier said than done, I know. But in this age where companies are continually changing their names, moving locations, and merging with other companies, it's a strategy worth thinking about.

What else can you do to keep track of your pension? Read the tips in our new fact sheet.

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