(MONEY Magazine) – The Art of Digging for a Lost Pension
Q In the 1980s, I worked at a company that was later sold off. I think I'm entitled to a small pension, but I can't find anyone from the old company to confirm it. Is there anything I can do? --Ed Hebert, Barrington, Ill.
ANSWER Trying to locate an ancient pension from a long-deceased company is an increasingly common, and annoying, part of pre-retirement planning. After decades of corporate shuffles and acquisitions, finding old benefits can be as daunting as searching through a lifetime of stuff in the attic. But good for you: You held on to some key paperwork that made the search much easier.
After a number of name changes, Atlantic Richfield Co., later Arco Metals, was purchased by British Petroleum in April 2000. (Your local librarian can help you find this sort of information.) Unfortunately, your last benefits statement was dated 1985. But it did confirm that you were fully vested in the plan and the amount you could expect: a $54,000 lump sum when you turn 65 (or $375 a month).
Our first inquiry was to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), a federal agency that insures most corporate defined-benefit plans and helps people find lost pensions. It also maintains an online database of people who are being sought by a former employer regarding benefits. We plugged in your name, and sadly, BP was not looking for you. But one of the counselors directed us to the BP website to keep looking for old pension information. And that's where, after a lot of searching, we hit pay dirt.
A section of the site directed former Arco employees to Fidelity, the custodian of your plan. But you weren't in the system. Somewhere in the corporate twists and turns, your Social Security number had dropped off some master list. That's also why you hadn't gotten a more up-to-date statement. We called BP to find a live person who could confirm your pension eligibility and give Fidelity the heads-up. (Your paperwork saved the day.) Bob Levin in benefits contacted his counterpart at Fidelity, and your pension was reinstated within days. You can apply through Fidelity when you turn 65 in 2015. Enjoy it. You earned it.
You should get annual statements from any pension plan you're enrolled in. If they stop coming, call. The PBGC website has a guide to finding lost pensions, and it can direct you to counselors free of charge. Go to pbgc.gov or call 800-400-7242.
Having a financial nightmare? Need an advocate or some good advice? E-mail Ellen McGirt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Reporting by Judy Feldman contributed to this article.