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Using the Internet to Find Workers Owed a Pension

October 2, 1998 - "No one told me I had a pension. I am glad to know that there is a government agency like the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation that took the time to look for me and give me my pension." This was the reaction of Ms. Carol Carson, Atlanta, Ga., to the news that PBGC was holding a pension for her from her former employer in New York.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), which insures traditional pensions known as defined benefit pensions, is using the Internet to help unite people with their pensions. In December 1996, PBGC set up the Pension Search Directory on the Internet so American workers and others could search on their own to find out if they are owed a pension from former employers. The website address is

As of July 1998, PBGC had located 1,400 people owed more than $4 million of pension benefits through the electronic pension search.

People listed in the Directory are either workers with pensions whose former employers closed fully-funded pension plans, or workers missing from underfunded pension plans taken over by PBGC because the sponsoring companies could no longer support them.

Listed are the names of people who are missing a pension, the companies they once worked for, and the states where company headquarters are located. People can search the site by name, state, or company.   

"The vast majority of workers receive their full pension, but sometimes people move and forget  to inform past employers of their new address. The Pension Search Directory helps us  find workers owed benefits who couldn’t be located when their pension plans closed," said David M. Strauss, Executive Director of PBGC.

Like many of the people listed in the Directory, Ms. Carson did not know that she had a pension coming to her; many others forget that they earned a pension. People sometimes forget to tell former employers they have moved, changed jobs or changed names.

Another example is a woman who had worked for a heating and air conditioning supply company and said she forgot she had been covered by a pension plan: "I thought I would remember I had earned a pension. I’m glad PBGC found me and was there to give me my pension."

Another woman who worked at a "do-it-yourself home center" for 11 years was surfing the net one day and was shocked to find herself listed under her former married name. Even though she had closed out several pension plans, she didn’t know that another plan still had her listed under her old name. She now realizes how important it is to keep former employers informed of personal changes, "especially women who have changed their names."

And, as Ms. Carson explained, "By the time I moved it was almost 8 years since I left the company, and I didn’t think I had to tell them."

PBGC periodically updates the Directory to remove names of people who have been found and add new people. Currently, about 7,200 people are listed in the directory, along with some 1,000 companies where they had worked, many in the transportation, machinery, retail trade, apparel and financial services industries.

The companies are located in 46 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia, with a majority of the missing people who are owed pensions having worked for companies located in California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

Those who find their names on the website are directed to instructions online or they can e-mail PBGC to start the verification process. PBGC requires proof of age and other legal documents to confirm an individual’s identity. Once PBGC determines that a person is entitled to the pension, it makes payments as soon as possible, either as a one-time, lump-sum payment, or as a monthly benefit for life at retirement age.

"There should be more organizations like PBGC," Ms. Carson said, "to look out for America’s workers."

PBGC is a federal corporation created under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 to guarantee payment of basic pension benefits earned by some 42 million American workers and retirees participating in about 45,000 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.