Searching for Missing Retirement Plan Participants

BARBARA PLETCHER, September 29, 2022 

Over the years, the Department of Labor (DOL), the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have published guidance regarding acceptable methods of searching for missing participants in tax-qualified retirement plans governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

In the September Benefits Report, we have provided a Chart which highlights similarities and differences in the guidance provided by these agencies. In 2021 the DOL published subregulatory guidance (see Trucker Huss Missing Participants: The Search Continues”), which includes what the DOL deems to be “best practices.” While awaiting additional formal guidance, plan fiduciaries should consider documenting the method(s) currently used to search for missing participants, how and why each method was selected, and results generated by the method(s) selected. 

The following search method “codes” are used in the Chart on pages 5 and 6 in the September Benefits Report — view it here:

Code “A” = Use Certified Mail

Code “B” = Search records of (i) Company, (ii) plan, and (ii) related plan(s) such as life insurance

Code “C” = Use free search methods, such as social media and public data bases (e.g., tax records,  real estate records and obituaries)

Code “D” = Use paid search methods, such as a commercial locator service or a credit reporting agency

Code “E” = Contact named beneficiary

Again, the chart which utilizes these codes appears on pages 5 and 6 of the September Benefits Report.