South Central Pension Rights Project
We help clients understand their pension rights and claim the benefits they've earned, regardless of the type of company worked for or the type of pension plan involved. Services are free of charge.
We provide personalized assistance by:
Answering questions about complicated pension laws and how they affect your retirement;
Obtaining and explaining hard-to-find retirement plan publications, forms, and other documents;
Correcting pension miscalculations and claiming retirement benefits that have been denied;
Tracking down benefits from past employers; and
Providing referrals to lawyers, actuaries, and other pension professionals as appropriate.
We can also assist with retirement income plans offered by private and government employers, including:
Traditional “defined benefit” pension plans;
Cash balance and other “hybrid” pension plans;
401(k), 403(b), and 457 “defined contribution” plans; and
Money purchase and other profit-sharing plans.
Examples of the types of questions we typically address are:
Am I entitled to a pension?
What happens to my pension when I change employers?
Can I get pension benefits from my ex-spouse?
How can I claim my pension from a company that has merged with another or gone bankrupt?
What happens to my pension when I die? What happens to my spouse’s pension?
What if my pension is miscalculated or denied altogether?
Pension counseling projects provide assistance free of charge to anyone with a pension question or problem, regardless of age, income, or value of the claim.
You can contact the South Central Pension Rights Project if you currently live or work in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, or Texas, or if you lived or worked in the region while earning the pension; or if the company or pension plan is headquartered or has operations now in the region, or if it had operations in the region when the pension was earned.
How It Works
Call us at 800-443-2528. Or you can fill out the form below and we'll contact you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the South Central Pension Rights Project?
The South Central Pension Rights Project (SCPRP) is a grant-funded non-profit legal assistance program that helps individuals understand and exercise their pension rights. SCPRP is funded primarily by a grant from the U.S. Administration on Aging. SCPRP is a program of Texas Legal Services Center, in cooperation with Legal Services of Eastern Missouri.
What services does the South Central Pension Rights Project provide?
SCPRP answers questions and provides assistance with any issue relating to employer-sponsored retirement benefits. For example, we track down benefits from past employers, answer questions about pension laws and how they affect your retirement, contact corporate, union, government, church, or any public or private pension plan on your behalf, and provide legal advice and assistance on spousal rights upon death or divorce. We assist with all types of plans, including defined benefit pension plans, cash balance, money purchase, profit-sharing, 401(k), 403(b), and 457 plans.
Is there a charge for your services?
No. There is no charge for our services.
Who is eligible for your services?
We can serve you if you or your spouse live or worked in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, or Texas, or if your pension plan is located in any of those states. Our services are provided free of charge, regardless of age or income.
How long will it take for my permission issue to be resolved?
Pension issues normally take between two and twelve months to resolve. This is due to federal laws that give pension plan administrators a generous amount of time in which to respond to information requests. The length of time it takes to resolve your pension matter depends upon the level of cooperation that we receive from the pension plan administrator and the complexity of your case.
I believe that I should be drawing a pension, but I can't locate my former employer. What should I do?
This is one of the most common pension problems. People move and forget to notify former employers or pension plan administrators. Companies move, merge, or go out of business and lose track of former employees. Locating a lost plan can be difficult. There are a few steps that a person can take to locate a lost pension, especially if internet access is available. If you do not have internet access at home, contact your local public library or senior center. Many libraries and senior centers offer internet access and instruction at no charge.
The first step to locating a lost pension is to search your personal records. If you have any old papers from the pension plan, they may contain the address of the pension plan administrator. If you have old income tax returns, you may be able to locate your employer’s address on an old W-2 form. If the address is no longer a good one, you may be able to locate the employer by performing a general internet search for the employer’s name, by using telephone books and catalogs of companies found in the reference section of your local library, or by contacting the U.S. Postal Service for a forwarding address. If you are able to locate a current address for your former employer, write a letter requesting information about the pension plan and how to apply for benefits.
If you are still in touch with former co-workers, talk to them. Find out if they are drawing a pension. If a former co-worker is drawing a pension, find out where their monthly check comes from, and write the entity that issues the monthly check. If the entity that issues the monthly check is not the plan administrator, it will be able to give you the plan administrator’s name and address. Be aware that even though your co-worker is drawing a pension, you may not be vested in the pension. If you are able to locate the plan and receive benefits, your pension benefit will most likely not be the same as your former co-worker’s benefit. Pension benefits are calculated according to each participant’s work history.
Pension plans must file informational returns with the Department of Labor. Information is reported on a DOL Form 5500. The website maintains a searchable database of Forms 5500. You can also print a copy of a Form 5500 from the website. If you search the Freeerisa website and locate a Form 5500 under a former employer’s name, the latest plan administrator’s name and address will be on the form. Write the pension plan administrator and request an individual benefits statement and a summary of the pension plan provisions. It is important that communications with pension plan administrators be in writing. Always make a copy of your letters and keep them in a file. It is also important to send letters of inquiry by certified mail because the return receipts serve as evidence that the letters were received.
I believe that my pension plan was terminated. What should I do?
Whether your former employer went out of business or merged with another company, the pension plan may have been terminated. When pension plans terminate, a number of things can happen. Most commonly, benefits will be distributed in a lump sum or the plan administrator will purchase annuities for vested plan participants. Upon termination, the plan administrator must certify to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) that all vested benefits have been paid out in the form of lump-sum payments or annuities. If, after considerable effort, the plan administrator has been unable to locate a participant, the plan administrator provides information on the missing participant so that he or she can contact the PBGC to claim the benefit.
Some pension plans terminate because the plans are underfunded. That is, there is not enough money in the plan to fully cover pensions for all of the plan’s vested participants. If an underfunded terminated plan was insured by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, a plan participant can contact the PBGC to see if pension benefits are due. The PBGC may also be able to assist you in locating the plan administrator of a terminated plan. The PBGC can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-400-7242 or via their internet site www.pbgc.gov.
What should I do if I am receiving my pension, but I believe that the payments are lower than they should be?
There is no standard formula for calculating pension benefits. Each pension plan is different. Plan administrators have a fiduciary duty to make certain that each plan participant receives the correct amount. However, pension plan administrators sometimes make mistakes. The first step in verifying a pension calculation is to find out how your benefit was calculated. Contact your pension plan administrator in writing to request a copy of your benefit calculation. The next step is to compare the plan’s calculations with the formula set out in the pension plan document. The formula should be contained in the Summary Plan Description that you should have received when you became a plan participant. You can also request a copy of the Summary Plan Description from your plan administrator.
I am divorced. Am I entitled to receive benefits from my ex-spouse's employer?
There is no automatic pension benefit for divorced spouses. When two people get divorced, the court must determine each spouse’s pension rights in the divorce decree. Typically, pension benefits that were earned during the course of the marriage are marital property that is divided between spouses upon divorce. However, this practice was not common prior to 1984.
How are pension rights determined in a divorce?
The partitioning of pension rights in divorce is a two-step process. The initial order is contained in the divorce decree. One way to find out whether you have a right to an ex-spouse’s pension is to look at your divorce decree. If you do not have a copy of your divorce decree, you can get one by contacting the clerk of the district court in the county where you were divorced. The second step of the process of partitioning pension rights in a divorce is to obtain a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO). To pay pension benefits to a non-participant spouse, the pension plan administrator must be presented with and qualify a domestic relations order. Once qualified by the plan administrator, the order becomes a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) that allows the plan administrator to pay benefits.
How do I find out if I have a QDRO?
To find out whether a QDRO was approved in your divorce, contact the pension plan administrator. If the pension plan administrator does not have a QDRO, you will need to get a copy of your divorce decree to see whether the court made any orders regarding your rights to your ex-spouse’s pension. If you do not have a copy of your divorce decree, you can get one by contacting the district clerk in the county where you were divorced.
What if I do not have a QDRO, but my divorce decree gives me a portion of my ex-spouse's pension?
If you have pension rights in your divorce decree and no QDRO was filed with the plan administrator, you will need to obtain a QDRO. In some cases, a divorce decree is specific enough to function as a QDRO. In most cases, a separate domestic relations order must be prepared. You can send a copy of your divorce decree to the plan administrator and request that it be qualified. However, the plan administrator can take up to 18 months to review and qualify a domestic relations order. If the plan administrator finds that the decree does not contain the language necessary to be qualified, then you must take the steps necessary to obtain a domestic relations order and present it to the plan administrator to be qualified.
Drafting domestic relations orders is complicated. It is not advisable to attempt to draft a domestic relations order without the assistance of an attorney. If your divorce decree partitions pension benefits but no QDRO was executed, it is best to hire an attorney to handle the drafting, execution, and qualification of the QDRO.