In the 10 year period recently ended, 25 million retirement plan participants left behind one or more accounts when they changed jobs or retired. Last year alone, Americans lost track of nearly $8 billion in retirement savings, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.
Heirs of decedents who have left behind unclaimed assets and unclaimed benefits make up the largest group of individuals owed money and property. Most family members do not know they are entitled to receive funds, as financial records are often incomplete or missing at the time of death.
The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) estimates the total value of unclaimed retirement savings exceeded $100 billion in 2019. To trace and claim missing retirement money and benefits select below:
IRA’s comprise the greatest share of retirement assets, totaling $8 trillion. Types of IRA’s include:
- Traditional IRA & Roth IRA
- 401(k) Rollover IRA
- Coverdell Education IRA, Medical IRA, Health Savings Account (HSA)
- SEP (Simplified Employee Pensions)
- SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees)
There is no limit to the number of IRA’s an individual can have. About half of all IRAs are invested in mutual funds; one-third in brokerage accounts, while bank deposits, insurance annuities, and hard assets like gold and real estate make up the remainder.
► Due to the long term nature of this type of investment, every year large numbers of owners and heirs – who may not be aware of a deceased family member’s IRA or rollover 401k – fail to claim accounts to which they’re entitled. Search for a Missing or Unclaimed IRA
The U.S. Department of Labor estimates each year tens of thousands of workers fail to claim or rollover $850 million in 401k retirement plan assets when they change jobs. A disproportionate share of the missing are family members of deceased employees who fail to claim pension benefits stemming from employment that may have ended years earlier.
Another common problem: former employees of bankrupt companies are unable to locate their 401(k) accounts, because many insolvent businesses fail to provide for the administration of 401k plan assets when they cease operations.
► Participants in defined-contribution retirement plans such as the 401(k) are protected when their employers fail or otherwise cease operations, because they individually own the assets in their accounts. Find a Missing 401k
Pension plan administrators are often unable to locate lost employees or missing beneficiaries who have moved or changed name over the years, and companies owing unclaimed pension benefits may have moved, change name or merged, making them difficult to find.
Because many defined-benefit private pension plans are federally insured – even if a company dissolved or went bankrupt – it may be possible to receive unclaimed benefits.
► The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) guarantees payment of basic pension benefits earned by workers and retirees in over 35,000 private sector defined benefit pension plans, with over $300 million available for claim. Search for Unclaimed Pension Benefits
Effective 2013, the U.S. Treasury required all Social Security beneficiaries switch from paper checks to electronic payments; either direct deposit to a bank, credit union, or Direct Express® debit card.
Prior to that time, hundreds of millions of dollars in benefit checks and Social Security Death Benefit payments went unclaimed and/or uncashed every year. Some recipients still have not converted to electronic payment.
The Social Security Administration is also responsible for another substantial stockpile of unclaimed money – uncredited earnings.
► A Government Accountability Office [GAO] audit found an ‘Earnings Suspense File” of uncredited earnings and unpaid benefits now exceeds $1.2 trillion, resulting in underpayment of benefits to tens of millions of workers. Claim Missing Social Security Benefits
Records on two million former Civil Service workers are not automated, but rather stored in some 35,000 file cabinets by alphabetical order. This system does not permit sorting by age, a likely indicator of unclaimed and unpaid benefits. Because many government employee records at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Retirement Operations Center are not computerized, it’s difficult to determine when a federal retirement benefit has gone unclaimed and unpaid.
Federal retirement benefits include Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) distributions, a defined-contribution plan similar to a 401(K) created by the Federal Employees’ Retirement System Act of 1986 to supplement FERS benefits. As of 2016, TSP accounts for 4.5 million participants – including federal civilian employees in all branches of government, U.S. Postal Service employees and members of the uniformed services – totaled $496 billion.
► Unclaimed government retirement funds are not declared abandoned unless unclaimed by the employee’s 115th birthday or 30 years after death; but virtually no effort is made to find lost employees owed government pension benefits. Trace and Claim Government Employee Pension Benefits
The Railroad Retirement Act replaces Social Security for railroad employees, providing payment of retirement, disability and survivor benefits. Monthly benefits are payable to surviving widows, children, and certain other dependents at the time of death of a covered railroad employee.
The Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act also provides unemployment and sickness benefits for railroad employees, replacing unemployment insurance.
► The Railroad Retirement Trust Fund is valued at approximately $18 billion. Currently 818,000 railroad retirees and heirs are eligible for benefits, but five percent of addresses on file are not current, because workers or family members have not made the proper notification. Claim Railroad Retirement Benefits
VBA, the Veterans Benefits Administration, helps veterans and their families cope with financial challenges by providing supplemental income through the Veterans Pension and Survivors Pension benefit programs.
VBA offers two broad categories of pension benefit programs: Veterans Pension: Tax-free monetary benefit payable to low-income wartime Veterans; and Survivors Pension: Tax-free monetary benefit payable to a low-income, unremarried surviving spouses and/or unmarried children of deceased veterans with wartime service.
► Veterans and survivors who are eligible for pension benefits and are housebound or require the aid and attendance of another person may also be eligible to receive additional monetary amounts. Find Unclaimed Veteran Benefits