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How to Protect Your Retirement Benefits If You Lose Your Job

Business closings, downsizings and reductions in hours may lead you to wonder what happens to your retirement benefits if you lose your job? Saving for retirement through an employer’s plan is an important part of your future financial security. The good news is you have protections under Federal law.

The Right To Receive Information

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) provides rules for those responsible for the management and oversight of your retirement plan. It also provides you with some rights and protections, including the right to receive information about your retirement plan.

When you leave your job, make sure you have a copy of your plan’s current summary plan description (SPD) and your individual benefit statement. If you don’t, request a copy.

The SPD tells you if and when you can collect your benefits or how to roll over your 401(k) account to a new employer’s plan or to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Your individual benefit statement lets you monitor your account balance or benefit.

What If Your Former Employer Goes Out of Business?

If your retirement savings remain in your former employer’s plan, your retirement funds generally should not be at risk even if a business closes. Employers must comply with Federal laws when establishing and running retirement plans, and the consequences of not prudently managing plan assets are serious.

Keep current on any changes the company makes, including changes of address, employer name, or mergers and give the plan any changes to your contact information.

If your benefits are in a traditional pension plan and your plan ends without enough money to pay the promised benefits, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation will pay benefits up to a maximum guaranteed amount set by law.

Accessing Your Retirement Money

If you want to access your retirement money, review your SPD and individual benefit statement. Generally, if you are in a 401(k)–type defined contribution plan, your plan may provide for a lump sum distribution or a rollover of your retirement money to a new employer’s plan or an IRA when you leave the company.

If you are in a defined benefit pension plan, your benefits begin at retirement age and are less likely to be available earlier. Contact your plan administrator if you have questions about accessing your benefits.

Keep in mind unless you rollover your funds into another retirement account you may have to pay income taxes and a penalty for early withdrawal. Also check with your state unemployment office to see if it will impact your ability to receive unemployment compensation. Withdrawing retirement savings early means you will have less money for retirement.

The Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) administers ERISA. EBSA has a number of publications about retirement benefit plans and the protections noted above available at If you have questions about your retirement plan, contact EBSA at or call 1-866-444-3272.

To learn about other free resources to help you no matter what your financial situation, sign up for our e-mail list or visit our page.

How to Recognize and Avoid Job Scams

When you’re looking for a new job, it can be tempting to jump at new opportunities. However, if a job offer seems too good to be true, it could be a scam.

Many jobs scams have a few things in common that you should watch for:

  • The potential employer says you can make fast money working from home.
  • You are asked to pay money to the employer up front.
  • Emails from the employer are full of spelling and grammatical errors.
  • The employer asks for personal and bank account information upfront.
  • You are asked to transfer money through Western Union or MoneyGram.

Learn more about how to avoid job scams.

To learn about other free resources to help you no matter what your financial situation, sign up for our e-mail list or visit our page.

Tips for Finding and Applying for Jobs

There are typical places to look for jobs like job websites or classified ads. The problem with these methods is that hundreds of people could apply to one job posting. It is very hard to stand out among hundreds of other applicants.

One alternative to job websites is networking. Networking allows you to connect with others who share your career interests. Your network could help you in the job search process if you are unemployed.

You can start to network by creating a professional online presence on a professional networking site. These sites allow you to formalize your network of colleagues, former colleagues, mentors, friends, family, and acquaintances so that you can learn more about opportunities. People you are connected to can endorse you or recommend you.

Do you submit a résumé or curriculum vitae?

Once you find a job that seems like it might be a good fit, you need to apply. Different job applications have different requirements, so make sure to read them carefully.

What is it?

A resume is a brief summary of education, experience, leadership skills, job skills and awards received

A curriculum vitae or CV is a detailed record of activities related to your career. This can include education, work experience, publications, courses taught etc.

How long is it?

A resume is typically 1 to 2 pages long.

A CV is a long as it needs to be. Those who are further along in their career will typically have longer CVs than those who are just getting started in their career.

What type of job is it for?

Resumes are used in various industries because they are shorter than CVs. Sometimes a potential employer may ask for a CV after they have seen your resume.

A CV is mostly used for academic jobs.

When do I update?

You should update your resume when you have a change in education, experience, leadership skills, job skills, and/or receive a reward.

A CV should be updated more frequently than a resume since it includes activities related to your career.

Keep in mind that a potential employer many pull a credit report prior to hiring you. Learn what other things employers may check when reviewing your application.

To learn about other free resources to help you no matter what your financial situation, sign up for our e-mail list or visit our page.

Finding a Job, Avoiding the Scams

Looking for a job can be a full-time job. So when you do come across a promising prospect, you might be tempted to leap before you get a good look.

But job hunters need to know that scammers also are in the mix, posing as real employers. They may pretend to be a business looking to hire, or they may claim they can give you access to special job listings or interviews. Some even guarantee to place you in a job. What’s more, they often advertise in the same places real employers do.

Whatever their angle, job scammers are looking for the same thing — to convince you to send money — or your credit or debit card information — before you catch on to their schemes.

So how do you know when you’re dealing with a scam? The surest sign of a job scam is someone who wants you to pay for the promise of a job. That’s true even when they say they’ve got a job waiting and that the money is for certification or some other fee. If you have to pay, it’s not a job offer.

Some popular job scams to look out for include:

Government and Postal Job Scams: Scammers pretend to have access to special government job listings, or guarantee to get you a job with the postal service. But information about federal and postal job openings is free and available to everyone. Applying also is free. Find out more about federal jobs at, and postal jobs at

Work-at-Home Schemes: Making a great income from home is an appealing prospect. But promises of guaranteed incomes and big returns for little work are the sign of a scam, whether it’s envelope stuffing, craft work, rebate processing, online search work, or medical billing. In reality, you’re left with useless starter kits or certifications, and broken promises.

Mystery Shopping Ads: Getting paid to shop and eat sounds hard to beat, but that email or ad for a mystery shopping job is likely a scam. Con artists send fake checks, convincing you to wire back money before the check bounces. When it does, you’re on the hook for the money you withdrew and sent.

If you’re not sure about a company, check it out with your local consumer protection agency, state Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau, and find out what others are saying by entering the company’s or person’s name into a search engine with the word complaints.

And be sure to check out the FTC’s Job Scams video and learn more at, or for Spanish.

To learn about other free resources to help you no matter what your financial situation, sign up for our e-mail list or visit our page.