ASK KIM


Track Down Retirement Funds

Kimberly Lankford

I was a Wal-Mart employee from 1988 to 1995 in a store that has since closed, and I'm trying to find out exactly what happened to my profit-sharing fund.



I was a Wal-Mart employee from 1988 to 1995 in a store that has since closed, and I'm trying to find out exactly what happened to my profit-sharing fund. I never received payment and am wondering if it is too late to do anything about this. I have attempted to contact Wal-Mart, but the recording at the participant service center says that my social security number is not valid. Do you have any advice?

You're lucky that it's Wal-Mart. Because the company still exists, it's much easier to track down information about an old retirement plan than it can be from smaller employers or companies that have merged or disappeared.

Instead of calling the participant service center, which is more helpful for current employees, it's best to e-mail the company's benefits department at benefitsonline@wal-mart.com with your name, social security number, dates of employment and store where you worked (give them the store number, and let them know that it's now closed). Then they'll be able to investigate your case and give you the status of your profit-sharing money.

Ask for the summary plan description that was in effect when you left the job -- and the current one if different -- plus the most recent individual benefit statement, says John Hotz, deputy director of the Pension Rights Center. Employers must provide that information within 30 days of your request, and Hotz recommends sending a certified letter to document the date. If you don't receive the information within that timeframe, you can complain to the Department of Labor's Employee Benefits Security Administration (call 866-444-EBSA to be connected to your regional office; the EBSA Web site also has helpful information).

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The situation gets more complicated for companies that no longer exist. Then, you'll need to do some detective work. You may be able to find the plan administrator by looking up the company at FreeERISA's database of Form 5500 filings, which companies must submit to the government with information about their retirement plans. The basic search is free, but you'll have to register at the site. If you can't reach the plan administrator, contact the service provider or trustee -- also listed on the forms -- who could help lead you in the right direction. If you can't find the plan's filings, FreeERISA generally charges $50 to search through older plan documents, or you can request the information from the EBSA's public disclosure room (call 866-444-EBSA for information).

You also may be able to get help from the Pension Information and Counseling Project, which provides pension help in 25 states. For more information, see the Pension Rights Center's Web site.

Got a question? Ask Kim at askkim@kiplinger.com.




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