NU Online News Service, Oct. 11, 2004, 5:20 p.m. EDT

The U.S. Department of Labor is warning sponsors of terminating defined contribution plans against counting on the Internal Revenue Service to find missing participants.[@@]

Robert Doyle, the department’s director of regulations and interpretations, outlines a 4-step strategy for finding missing participants of 401(k) plans and other defined contribution plans in a memorandum written for Virginia Smith, the department’s director of enforcement for regional directors.

The memorandum, Field Assistance Bulletin 2004-02, says sponsors of defined contribution plans that are shutting down should start by using certified mail to see whether there is an easy to way locate the missing participant.

Sponsors also should check related plan records, check with designated plan beneficiaries, and try using the letter-forwarding services offered by the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration, Doyle writes in the bulletin.

Sponsors also should consider trying to use Internet search tools, commercial locator services and credit reporting services, Doyle says.

If sponsors cannot find the missing participants, they should consider rolling the participants’ plan assets into individual retirement plans or, if that is not possible, into federally insured bank accounts or state unclaimed property funds.

Some plans sponsors have tried to shift responsibility for the participants’ assets to the IRS, by sending the assets to the IRS through “100% tax withholding,” Doyle writes.

“We have concluded that the use of this option would not be in the interest of participants and beneficiaries,” Doyle writes.

In theory, the IRS could refund the withheld cash to the plan participants, but for now, the IRS data systems are not necessarily capable of matching the missing participants’ cash with the missing participants, Doyle concludes.

The bulletin is on the Web at http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/Regs/fabmain.html