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‘Find me the Money:’ The MAJOR Unclaimed Retirement Benefits Problem, and What to Do About It

by | Feb 6, 2024

By John Sullivan, Chief Content Officer at the American Retirement Association

Retirement benefits that go unclaimed is a major—and growing—problem, with recent headlines putting the total amount of lost or forgotten assets well north of a trillion dollars. The sheer size of the number has the retirement plan industry’s attention, as well as concern from politicians and policymakers. There’s an increasing consensus that something should (MUST) be done.

Asset accumulation has always been a big focus for third-party administrators (TPA) and other financial professionals. But as Preston Rutledge, former Assistant Secretary for the Department of Labor (DOL), notes, saving money for retirement doesn’t mean much if the funds are never distributed.

The problem stems from a recent and rapid change in America’s workforce. Today, the concept of the “organization worker,” someone who spends much of their career with one company, is rare, as are the once prevalent pension benefits they received.

By contrast, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported earlier this year that those closest to retirement (young baby boomers born between 1957 and 1964) held an average of 12.7 jobs throughout their working lives.1 Combine it with the demise of pension plans and rise of 401(k)s and similar-style retirement plans, and it means more opportunities to save, yet greater risk workers won’t claim benefits.

So, what can employers, employees, and service providers do about this disparity? And how can it act as a differentiating factor for financial professionals with their clients?

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s (PBGC) Missing Participants Program connects pension participants with unclaimed benefits when their plans are terminated. However, it’s only for terminated pension plans and any monies owed.

SECURE 2.0 legislation also requires the DOL to establish a Retirement Savings Lost and Found database by the 2024 plan year. Plan sponsors will provide information to the department about missing retirement plan participants and unclaimed benefits. Yet, it will only allow plan participants to search for the relevant contact information of a former employer. How likely is it a person owed benefits will initiate a search if they don’t know they are owed benefits? This has yet to be determined, but it’s probably not high.

Therefore, it falls to private companies—and financial professionals in particular—to help, which can also act as a differentiating factor for their businesses. Their proximity to plan sponsors, participants, and service providers affords them a unique “win-win” opportunity to connect workers with unclaimed benefits and, as a result, deepen their relationship with plan sponsor clients.

A Private Sector Company Delivers a Public Good

One example is the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits (NRURB), a member of the PenChecks family of companies, the largest independent processor of retirement benefit distributions in the U.S.

NRURB’s mission is to help connect former employees with their retirement benefits. It’s a free public service designed to help employers/plan fiduciaries and former employees locate each other so the latter can claim their overlooked or abandoned retirement benefits.

It’s a tall order, but NRURB is constantly receiving new information from other organizations, expanding the size and scope of the database and its search capabilities, with the database being updated daily.

Once each year, and with appropriate consumer protection measures in place, the participant database is run through an address search engine to continue NRURB’s quest to reunite people with their retirement funds.

Importantly, if a search is performed by the participant on the website and retirement money is found, NRURB will notify the former plan sponsor or custodian holding the retirement money and email them the provided participant contact information. Participants can also directly contact their former plan sponsor or the custodian holding the funds and claim their retirement account.

An affordable quality of life in retirement is the reward Americans receive after a lifetime of hard work. Ensuring they receive all they are due to maximize retirement income is essential to that goal. The size and scope of the issue are increasingly apparent, and with solutions currently available and those soon to come, there is a major opportunity to do something about it.

1 “Number of Jobs, Labor Market Experience, Marital Status, and Health for Those Born 1957-1964.” Bls.gov. August 23, 2023.

About the Author

John Sullivan is Chief Content Officer at the American Retirement Association, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of the private pension system and hardworking Americans. An experienced financial services content executive specializing in creative new media delivery, he has previously served as Editor in Chief of 401(k) Specialist Magazine, Investor Advisor Magazine, and Boomer Market Advisor Magazine.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of PenChecks Trust®, its subsidiaries or affiliates.


 

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