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Lost in the office

Marketplace Staff Jul 7, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Suppose you worked for a company. Ten years, let’s say. You earned a pension and then left for another job. Then your old company merged with a new company. With that came a new name and now, years later, you’re wondering “what ever happened to that pension?” Money Magazine’s Ellen McGirt is here with the answer. Ellen, your column in this month’s issue is all about how to find those lost pensions.

ELLEN McGIRT: Pensions are disappearing for many of us, but 44 million people still do have them. And not only do they move around, but the companies themselves change and that’s where it gets really rough. Hopefully you’ve kept some paperwork that proves you used to work there or that you were vested but the most important thing that you can do is to contact the closest approximation of that old employer, whatever they’ve turned into, but if you can’t find them, if they’ve actually disappear, there’s one great resource that everyone needs to know about. It’s called the Pension benefit Guarantee Corporation. You can got to them on the Web at pbgc.gov or call them on the phone. And they’ve got counselors who can help you search their own databases, but they can also tell you whether those plans still exist or not and what kind of benefits you can expect.

KAI RYSSDAL: Now the gentleman who wrote into your column had worked for Atlantic Richfield and then that got bought and subsumed and bought and you guys went to PBGC, and then you finally wound up with the pension plan administrator . . .

ELLEN McGIRT: We did! And it was like a double and triple glitch. Not only had he worked there years and years and years ago and they had changed names, they had actually just dropped him off some master list, so when we finally found the plan administrator, they had never heard of the guy. So the extra step he needed to take was go to the current form of Atlantic Richfield, which is BP. By some miracle there was a person there that remembered him. The other miracle is, he had kept the paperwork and that’s the No. 1 rule: Just be organized enough to be able to prove that you’ve been everywhere that you said you’ve been in your work life. So using that paperwork they were able to fast track him reinstating him with the plan’s administrator.

KAI RYSSDAL: Let’s talk about that paper for a second, because I am a terrible keeper of appropriate records and documents, that’s probably something I shouldn’t admit as host of this program . . .

ELLEN McGIRT: You’re human.

KAI RYSSDAL: Well that’s right, I am. Anything you have now, you should just hang on to?

ELLEN McGIRT: You should, but if you don’t, remember the annual paperwork checkup is a pretty good way to figure out where you are on stuff. Anyplace that you have worked or that you have any kind of benefit from should send you an annual notification. And if you haven’t gotten it, and if you don’t have at least one year’s worth, you need to make a call immediately. So even if you don’t keep absolutely everything, you have to make sure that annual update file is up-to-date. And tax time is the perfect time to think about that, January is a perfect time to think about that, the weather’s bad there’s nothing else to do. But that extra half hour that you spend making sure that your year paperwork is in order can make a big difference.

KAI RYSSDAL: Ellen McGirt writes the Money Health column for Money Magazine. Thanks Ellen.

ELLEN McGIRT: Thank you.

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