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Locating lost participants is required compliance for benefit plan administrators and in-house or third-party administrators (TPA). Believe it or not, thousands terminate employment without leaving a forwarding address. In this case, if folk have benefits due them from a qualified plan, the company must make a due diligent effort to find them.
A 2018study by Boston Research Technologies reported that one-third of the people they interviewed learned they were unaware of a retirement savings account with a previous employer. In short, that is money owed to them they didn’t even remember existed.
These guidelines incorporate a series of legal requirements. First is the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Second is the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). In addition, there are also requirements from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
As a result, companies must meet these and other conditions when closing out a pension plan, including a due diligence effort in locating missing and lost plan participants.
Indeed, there are several methods for locating lost participants. Let’s look at some options.
If you are determined to hunt down a current address for your lost participant, here are some available options:
1. Try search engines like Google and Bing or free websites like anywho.com or InfoSpace. The catch with search engines is that they are not designed to locate people but will serve up companies. Unfortunately, these companies that do locates and pay tens of thousands of dollars in pay-per-click ads; aren’t in it to help you out. And they aren’t giving you the data you need without payment.
2. Check your plan or employer records for an updated address. Then you can mail a letter to your last known address and wait for a contact back.
3. Most importantly, if you know the area your participant moved to, you can try the local safe listing directory there.
4. Check personnel files to see if they are contacted you for a missing W-2.
5. Ask current employees to help you locate the lost participant. Generally, people are happy to help.
6. Look at the participant’s work application and contact emergency or business references.
7. Does the participant beneficiary designation form have contact data? In this case, if no contact information is available, it is possible to do a next-of-kin search.
8. If the participant is married, can you contact the spouse or possibly a listed friend or relative?
If privacy is not a concern in making the request, you can contact the subsequent employer to see if they are still working there.
Is the lost participant a member of a professional association? In this case, you can try contacting them through the association.
Do they have a LinkedIn or Facebook profile that can connect you?
If your participant filed a claim for health benefits, the insurance claims forms might mention the spouse’s employer.
Are you beginning to sense that this labor-intensive tracking process has the potential to become a long and winding road that you have no guarantees will end up where you need to be?
The IRS used to offer a letter-forwarding program to locate lost retirement plan participants. Plan administrators had to submit a request by mail with a brief explanation of why they needed to use the SSA letter-forwarding program.
Each request had to include the lost participant’s name and SSN. You also had to include a copy of the letter forwarded to your participant indicating they needed to contact their plan administrator.
Once the IRS received your request, they would forward it if their database contained an address for the lost participant. The IRS indicated to the plan participant that they do not divulge the recipient’s address or any other tax information. The decision to respond is entirely up to the recipient.
If the requested name did not retrieve a current address, or the letter was returned as unable to deliver by USPS, the letter was destroyed. Due to disclosure laws, the IRS could not provide the requester with the requested results. The law does NOT allow the IRS to provide the sender of this letter, i.e., the plan administrator, with the development of its efforts.
Multiple requests involving more than 50 people also came with a fee of $1,750. Each submission was sent to a Disclosure Officer at the service’s district office nearest the requestor, regardless of where the lost participant last resided. To contact your local office nearest a plan administrator, you could go to irs.gov.
Are you beginning to see how long and complicated this process is?
The IRS estimated that in 2002 alone, they received nearly 800,000 requests for letters to be forwarded to lost participants.
The overall workload of the Disclosure Officer can affect response time. Based on anecdotal information, forwarded requests could take up to a full year to process.
When EmployeeLocator.com began offering a lost participant locate servicein 2000, the SSA department closed its service. Specifically, because EmployeeLocator did a better job with quick locates, and in reality, they didn’t want to be in that business.