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Tracking Down a Pension

Q. Can Social Security tell me whether I have any pension benefits due me from former employers?

A. Yes, the Social Security Administration keeps a database of people whom the IRS has identified as having qualified for pension benefits under private retirement plans. When you apply for Social Security benefits, you'll be notified about any such information that SSA has on file about you or about a deceased worker whose record might qualify you for benefits.

Another way to get the information is to send a written request to:

OCO Office of Earnings Operations
Attention: ERISA Correspondence Group
P.O. Box 33007
Baltimore, MD 21290-3307

Include the following information:

  • Social Security number, name, date of birth, parents' names and signature.

  • Any information you might have concerning possible private pension benefits, such as the names of companies you worked for.

  • Add the Privacy Act penalty statement: "I certify that I am the person to whom the record pertains, or that person's parent (if a minor) or legal guardian, or a person who is authorized to sign on behalf of that individual. I know that the knowing and willful request or acquisition of records under false pretences is a criminal offense subject to a fine of up to $5,000."
  • Name and address of the person the information should be sent to.

Q. I received a Potential Private Pension Benefit Information form from Social Security indicating that I have retirement benefits available from a company where I worked for more than 10 years in the 1970s. I sent my documentation to the address given on the form. But the company had moved and left no forwarding address. How can I find it and get my benefits?

A. Start with some basic detective work. Do an online search. Or check at the reference department of your local library or at your state's corporation commission. Be prepared to spend time talking to officials.

If these efforts fail, the Department of Labor's Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) may be able to help. To get in touch with an EBSA benefits advisor, go to the organization’s “Contact us” web page or call 1-866-444-3272 toll free TTY 1-877-899-5627 toll-free for the deaf or hard of hearing).

Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Check out the archive. If you don't find your answer there, send a query. Have a question for the Social Security Mailbox?