How to Reach Out to Missing Pension Participants

You already know you need to find and pay your lost or missing pension participants who’ve reached their Required Beginning Date (usually the April 1 following age 70½). But what do you say in the notice you send to missing participants, whether by e-mail or snail mail? It’s an awkward dance.

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You want lost pension participants to respond to your attempts to reach them, but you face several obstacles:

  1. Someone other than the participant might read the notice. The reader might know the participant, or not. Either way, you have concerns about privacy and potential fraud.
  2. The participant might read the letter but not believe it is legitimate. This could be true especially if one pension plan merged with another or the employer sponsoring the plan changed hands or changed names.
  3. The participant might procrastinate, forget to respond or feel the effort of applying and supplying necessary documentation isn’t worth it.

[Related: Pension Strategies—On-Demand Presentation Package from the 61st Annual Employee Benefits Conference​]

You don’t want to reveal too much information to anyone who happens to read the notice, but you want to provide enough to gain the participant’s attention, trust and motivation.

Nine Dos and Don’ts When Contacting Missing Pension Participants

  1. Do not include very personal information in the notice, like dates of birth or Social Security numbers.
  2. Do include the name of the company the participant worked for. If the name has changed, mention what it was formerly called and what it is called now.
  3. Do consider mentioning the approximate dates he or she worked there to trigger his or her memories and enhance your legitimacy.
  4. Do provide your organization’s physical and/or mailing address, e-mail address, phone number and website so the recipient can check it out and verify that your organization’s authentic.
  5. Do make it easy to respond. For example, include a postage-paid reply envelope if sending by regular mail.
  6. Do provide motivation. Remind the participant if he or she doesn’t take the pension now, it will just stay in the plan and very likely be forfeited at his or her death.
  7. Do follow your legal counsel’s advice. Do include any language they recommend, but don’t put it right at the beginning.
  8. Do try to make the notice friendly. Here’s a sample:

Dear (participant’s name):

Remember when you worked at _________? You may have forgotten, but our records show you earned credit toward a retirement pension benefit when you worked there.

Because you are over age 70½, the IRS and U.S. Department of Labor say we should start paying your pension if we can locate and positively identify you. If you do not take your pension now, it will remain in the plan and would be forfeited when you die.

We can send you application forms, an estimate of how much your pension would be and a time line of when to expect payment.

To get the process rolling, return a copy of this letter to us with your date of birth, marital status, spouse’s date of birth, and current address. If you don’t feel comfortable sending this information by mail, you can contact us by phone or e-mail.  [Include spaces for the participant to write in date of birth, marital status, and spouse’s date of birth if you want.]

To receive a pension, you will need to complete an application and supply certain documents verifying your date of birth, marital status and, if married, your spouse’s date of birth.

Feel free to contact us:

By phone ____________

By mail _______________________

By e-mail ____________________

Visit our website at ______________

Sincerely,

XYZ Pension Plan Office 

  1. The final “Do” may be the most important of all: Do train your staff to handle inquiries that will come in from the participant, a relative or someone completely unknown. Money and death are emotional topics. Help your staff develop skills to interact appropriately with people who are overjoyed, annoyed, suspicious or even upset.

Good luck on your quest to find and pay your plan’s participants!

Resources:

McCarter & English LLP – Pension Plan Sponsors Beware: The Department of Labor Is Investigating Plans That Fail to Locate and Pay Benefits to Terminated Vested Participants
Benefits Bryan Cave – Do You Know Where Your Participants Are?
U.S. Department of Labor Field Assistance Bulletin 2014-01 (Even though this FAB is aimed at defined contribution plans, the same steps for locating missing participants should be used by defined benefit plans.)

Lois Gleason, CEBS
Lois Gleason, CEBS
Manager, Reference/Research Services at the International Foundation

Developed by International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans staff. This does not constitute legal advice. Consult your plan professionals for legal advice. If you reproduce or republish this information, please cite the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans as your source.

Comments (4)

  1. Donald Facey

    Is there a free website that can be accessed to find the address for a participant that moved and did not inform their former employer?

    Reply
    1. Teresa Pilcher

      I have been able to use the White Pages at http://www.whitepages.com to track some of our lost participants.

      Reply
      1. Donald Facey

        Teresa:

        Thank you!

        Reply
  2. Stacey

    I use whitepages.com. It’s nowhere near perfect, but it’s a start.

    Reply

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