I Want to Begin Receiving My Pension Benefit, Where Do I Start?  (Part 2)

A Working-Class Program that Works to Solve Your Pension Problems

The Mid-America Pension Rights Project (MAPRP) assists clients with pension and 401(k) issues. There are no age or income restrictions and there is never a charge for the services. The Pension Project works to find answers and solutions to your pension-related problem.

I Want to Begin Receiving My Pension Benefit, Where Do I Start? (Part 2)

By Sandra Wisnewski, Director of the Mid-America Pension Rights Project at Elder Law of Michigan

In my last blog, I discussed the differences between a defined benefit plan and a contribution plan. In this post, I will discuss how to determine who to contact to start your benefit.

When you are ready to receive your pension benefit the first action to take is to examine any paperwork you may have received from the plan or employer on who to contact. If you have no such paperwork and are clueless on who to contact, start with an internet search with the name of your former employer. If you find a Wikipedia page on the company, chances are great that you will figure out who to contact.

A phone call to the former employer or subsequent buyer of the company can provide some information, like if you are at the right place, or if there is someone else that you need to call, and a mailing address. Usually, the information provided is very limited with a phone call. Many companies hire an insurance company to manage their pension funds. These are often referred to as third-party administrators. Although these companies manage the fund and pay the benefits, they are usually not provided with historical documentation, like work records. These types of historical records remain with the company.

When you call a third-party administrator just remember that the front-line representative does not have much information. All they are equipped to do is to look up your name or social security number in their database. This database basically tells them if you are in the system and if you have a pension coming. If you’re not in their system, then they are unable to tell you much. It is likely that the representative will ask you questions or mail a form for you to complete so that a deeper search can be done. These front-line people are not lawyers and do not have extensive training in pension matters. 

Imagine checking out at a grocery store and asking the cashier how much the store makes, how produce is ordered, where do they purchase conveyor belts, or the law on charging more than an item is priced. These are all questions the cashier is not trained to know and should not know. They are there to check you out. This is the same with third-party administrator representatives. Even the managers of these third parties are unaware of the history, law, or plan rules. That is not the information that they provide. 

So even though a phone call is the first step, it is really to find out who is currently managing the plan. Making several calls to the third-party administrator, asking questions about your benefit, will only provide you with inconsistent answers and extreme frustration. That is unless their system shows you are owed a pension. Then you are all set, and you can just wait for the money to roll in. 

In our next blog post, we will discuss the law that mandates most pension plans. 

The Pension Project is funded by the federal government through a grant provided by the Administration for Community Living and is a program of Elder Law of Michigan, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit. 

Since the program began in 1998, the Pension Project has assisted over 15,000 clients and has recovered over 78 million dollars in pension benefits. The Pension Project assists clients that either worked in or are currently living in Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. For more information, visit Mid-America Pension Rights Project.

If you need help with or information about your pension or 401(k) benefit, please call the Mid-America Pension Rights Project at 866-735-7737 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced attorneys.

The information in this article is general and not intended to be a substitute for legal advice. In any legal matter you should always consider consulting with an attorney for specific advice.  

Sandra Wisnewski is the Director of Legal Services at Elder Law of Michigan. Sandra has been a staff member of the Elder Law of Michigan team since 2010. As Director of Legal Services, Sandra manages the day-to-day operations of the pension department and helps clients who call for pension assistance.