As authorized by the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA), the Pension and Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) has issued a final regulation that expands PBGC’s missing participants program, effective as of plan terminations that occur on or after January 1, 2018. PBGC’s missing participant program was previously limited to terminated single-employer DB plans covered by title IV’s insurance program. It is now available to other terminated retirement plans.

Summary of How the PBGC MIssing Participant Program Applies to Defined Contribution (DC) Plans and non-PBGC Defined Benefit Plans

The revised program now provides that PBGC’s missing participants program is voluntary for terminated non-PBGC-insured plans, e.g.,DC plans.

In addition, a non-PBGC-insured plan that chooses to use the program may elect to be a “transferring plan” or a “notifying plan.” A transferring plan sends the benefit amounts of missing distributees to PBGC’s missing participants program. A notifying plan informs PBGC of the disposition of the benefits of one or more of its missing distributees. Section 4050(d)(1) of ERISA permits but does not require non-PBGC-insured plans covered by the program to turn missing participants’ benefits over to PBGC.

A DC plan that chooses to participate in the missing participants program and elects to be a transferring plan must transfer the benefits of all its missing participants into the missing participants program. PBGC explains that this is to prevent the possibility of “cherry-picking”—that is, selective use of the missing participants program—by transferring plans.

PBGC will charge a one-time $35 fee per missing distributee, payable when benefit transfer amounts are paid to PBGC. There will be no charge for amounts transferred to PBGC of $250 or less. There will be no charge for plans that only send to PBGC information about where benefits are held (such as in an IRA or under an annuity contract). Fees will be set forth in the program’s forms and instructions.

The program definition of “missing” for DC plans follows Department of Labor regulations, which treat DC plan distributees who cannot be found following a diligent search similar to distributees whose whereabouts are known but who do not elect a form of distribution.

A distributee is treated as missing if, upon close-out, the distributee does not accept a lump sum distribution made in accordance with the terms of the plan and, if applicable, any election made by the distributee. For example, if a check issued pursuant to a distributee’s election of a lump sum remains uncashed after the last date prescribed on the check or an accompanying notice (e.g., by the bank or the plan) for cashing it (the “cash-by” date), the distributee is considered not to have accepted the lump sum.

A DC plan must search for each missing distributee whose location the plan does not know with reasonable certainty. The plan must search in accordance with regulations and other applicable guidance issued by the Secretary of Labor under section 404 of ERISA. See the DOL’s FAB 2014-01 for guidance on search steps. Compliance with that guidance satisfies PBGC’s “diligent search” standard for DC plans.

Some other major features of the new program include:

  • A unified unclaimed pension database of information about missing participants and their benefits from terminated DB and DC plans.
  • A centralized, reliable, easy-to-use directory through which persons who may be owed retirement benefits from DB or DC plans could find out whether benefits are being held for them.
  • Periodic active searches by PBGC for missing participants.
  • Fewer benefit categories and fewer sets of actuarial assumptions for DB plans determining the amount to transfer to PBGC and a free on-line calculator to do certain actuarial calculations.

Visit the PBGC’s Missing Participant site for more information, including an explanation of the plans covered by the program and the forms and instructions to use with the program.