Use PBGC.gov to Find Millions in Unclaimed Pensions

Terminated pension funds waiting for over 38,000 people

bag full of money
Are You Missing an Unclaimed Pension?. John Kuczala/Getty Images

As of 2014, the federal Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC), reports there are more than 38,000 people who, for any number of reasons, have not claimed pension benefits they are owed. Those unclaimed pensions are now north of $300 million, with individual benefits ranging from 12 cents to almost $1 million.

In 1996, PBGC launched the Pension Search directory Web site to help people who may have forgotten about, or been unaware of pensions they earned during their career.

The pension database can be searched by last name, company name, or state where the company had its headquarters. The online service is absolutely free and available 24-hours a day.

Updated regularly, the current list identifies some 6,600 companies, primarily in the airline, steel, transportation, machinery, retail trade, apparel and financial services industries that closed pension plans in which some former workers could not be found.

Benefits waiting to be claimed range from as little as $1 up to $611,028. The average unclaimed pension is $4,950. The states with the most missing pension participants and money to be claimed are: New York (6,885/$37.49 million), California (3,081/$7.38 million), New Jersey (2,209/$12.05 million) Texas (1,987/$6.86 million), Pennsylvania (1,944/$9.56 million), Illinois (1,629/$8.75 million) and Florida (1,629/$7.14 million).

Does It Work? ​

According to PBGC, in the past 12 years, more than 22,000 people have found $137 million in missing pension benefits through the Pension Search program.

The states with the most found participants and pension money claimed are: New York (4,405/$26.31 million), California (2,621/$8.33 million), Florida (2,058/$15.27 million), Texas (2,047/$11.23 million), New Jersey (1,601/$9.99 million), Pennsylvania (1,594/$6.54 million) and Michigan (1,266/$6.54 million).

What to Do If You Don't Have Internet at Home

For those without access to the Internet at home, many local public libraries, community colleges and senior centers make computers available to the public that can be used for searching the Pension Search directory. Searchers can also e-mail found@pbgc.gov or missing@pbgc.gov if they believe they are entitled to a benefit.

What Happens If You Find a Missing Pension? ​

Once the PBGC is contacted by people who find their names in the directory, the agency asks them to provide more details including proof of age and other vital statistics. The identification process generally takes 4-6 weeks. After the PBGC receives a completed application, people currently eligible for a benefit should receive their checks within two months. Those entitled to future benefits will receive their benefits when they reach retirement age.

How Do Pensions Become "Lost?"

Many of the names in the Pension Search directory are workers with pensions whose former employers closed pension plans and distributed benefits. Others are workers or retirees missing from underfunded pension plans taken over by the PBGC because the plans did not have enough money to pay benefits. Included in the directory are people who may be able to document that they are owed a benefit, even though current PBGC records show that no benefit is due.

For More Information

The PBGC's booklet "Finding A Lost Pension (.pdf)" also provides tips, suggests potential allies, and details numerous free information sources. It is particularly helpful for those trying to find pensions earned from former employers whose identity may have changed over the years because of changes in company ownership.

About the PBGC

The PBGC is a federal government agency created under Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. It currently guarantees payment of basic pension benefits earned by 44 million American workers and retirees participating in over 30,000 private-sector defined benefit pension plans. The agency receives no funds from general tax revenues. Operations are financed largely by insurance premiums paid by companies that sponsor pension plans and investment returns.