You can lose many personal items in your lifetime – your gloves, your keys, or your  glasses. They’re small and replaceable items. But your pension benefit is another matter. What if you lose your pension. Not because someone will take it away from you, but because you can lose track of it. It’s not unusual in an economy in which workers change jobs frequently, employers go out of business, move, or are acquired. Martha M. Hamilton writes in the on line addition of the Denver Post that tracking down pensions can be tricky for participants who have lost track of pension benefits owed to them. 

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation does have its Pension Search database, but it’s only useful to assist employees whose defined benefit pension plan the PBGC has taken over. There are other resources out there which Ms. Hamilton discusses, but the bottom line is you’re on your own.

So what’s the solution? One to consider is the approach taken by the U.K. and Australia. Each country has a central registry for the purpose of helping people find lost pensions. This approach is the subject of a discussion paper published by The Pensions Institute, Lost Pensions, Lost Pensioners: Is a National Registry of Pension Plans the Answer? (PDF)  The Pensions Institute is the first and only academic research center focused entirely on pensions in the U.K.

The discussion paper written in 2001 by David Blake of the Pensions Institute and John Turner of AARP preceded the wave of defined benefit plan terminations and freezes. And with the shift to 401(k) plans – and automatic enrollments – there will be an increasing number of lost benefits. It’s time to address the matter.