Billions in lost pension, retirement funds
For years, members of Congress have been trying to pass legislation that will allow the federal government to establish a centralized database to help retirees locate their pension and 401(k) plans. There are billions of dollars in retirement accounts that have been lost, for a variety of reasons.
Sens. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., re-introduced the Retirement Savings Lost and Found Act of 2021 in May.
A centralized database
The act would require the secretaries of Treasury, Labor and Commerce to create a database at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), which is the federal pension insurance program, so that individuals can access information about lost retirement plans.
Under the act, if your plan changes its name or address, or is sold after you leave a company, your former employer will be required to forward this information to the database.
Karen Ferguson, president of the Pension Rights Center, indicated that “this will help retirees locate the pension and other retirement benefits they earned but cannot find because their former employers changed their names, addresses or structure.
“Currently, thousands of individuals contact pension counseling projects and government agencies each year seeking help in finding their lost pensions. This important bill will close a critical and too-long-overlooked gap in our nation’s private retirement system.”
Under current law, when a company has changed its name or address or has been bought or sold, it notifies the IRS and the IRS shares this information with Social Security. However, retirees don’t have access to this information.
Under the proposed act’s provisions, these changes will be incorporated into the Office of Retirement Savings Lost and Found database maintained by the PBGC. Ferguson hopes the act’s provisions can be changed so that plan sponsors can also voluntarily send historical information about past changes to the PBGC.
Tracking small accounts, too
The act also contains provisions that require plan sponsors who force out small accounts of $1,000 or less to send the account balance to the Office of Retirement Saving Lost and Found when the account holder does not respond to communications or fails to cash a check. Individuals will be able to go to the database to find their lost money.
The bill requires reporting to the PBGC for unclaimed forced-out accounts in excess of $1,000 but less than $6,000 that are transferred to an IRA. Individuals with such forced-out accounts will be able to search the database to find contact information for the financial institution holding their IRA. The bill raises the force-out limit from $5,000 to $6,000.
A 2014 report by the Government Accountability Office found that from 2004 to 2013, there was $8.5 billion in lost retirement accounts with balances of $5,000 or less.
When employees leave a job with account balances of $5,000 or less, they often don’t keep track of these accounts. Owners later use many sources to try to find information about their lost accounts. Some access state unclaimed-asset databases; others contact the Pension Rights Center, their prior employer, pension counseling projects, the PBGC or the Labor Department. Unfortunately, because there is no centralized database, it takes a lot of work to find the plans.
Congressional representatives, the Pension Rights Center, AARP, the American Benefits Council, and the ERISA Industry Committee have indicated the need for a centralized database. Yet Congress has been unable to pass the necessary legislation.
You can help light a fire under your congressional representatives by writing or phoning to tell them to pass the Retirement Savings Lost and Found Act of 2021 (S.1730). Don’t restrict your contact to only your representatives in the Senate and House. You should also contact Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi.
Elliot Raphaelson welcomes your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2021 Elliot Raphaelson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.