What To Do Next
If your searches uncover an old 401 account in your name, your best bet is to roll the money in that account over to your current retirement savings account, be it another 401 or an IRA. Keeping all your retirement savings in one place helps you to keep track of how your investments are doing and whether or not you’re saving enough to meet your retirement goals.
To claim an old pension, you’ll need to contact the PBGC and prove your identity. After successfully claiming your pension, you’ll be able to start drawing on the benefits once you hit retirement age. If your time with the employer providing the pension was brief, you probably won’t get much — but hey, there’s no point in missing out on free money.
Move Your Old 401 Assets Into A New Employers Plan
You have the option to avoid paying taxes by completing a direct, or “trustee-to-trustee,” transfer from your old plan to your new employer’s plan, if the employer’s plan allows it.
It can be easy to pay less attention to your old retirement accounts, since you can no longer contribute. So, transferring old 401 assets to your new plan could make it easier to track your retirement savings.
You also have borrowing power if your new retirement plan lets participants borrow from their plan assets. The interest rate is often low. You may even repay the interest to yourself. If you roll your old plan into your new plan, youll have a bigger base of assets against which to borrow. One common borrowing limit is 50% of your vested balance, up to $50,000. Each plan sets its own rules.
Here are a few important steps to take to successfully move assets to your new employers retirement plan so as not to trigger a tax penalty:
Step 1: Find out whether your new employer has a defined contribution plan, such as a 401 or 403, that allows rollovers from other plans. Evaluate the new plan’s investment options to see whether they fit your investment style. If your new employer doesn’t have a retirement plan, or if the portfolio options aren’t appealing, consider staying in your old employer’s plan. You could also set up a new rollover IRA at a credit union, bank, or brokerage firm of your choice.
The instructions you get should ask for this type of information:
Contact Your Previous Employer For Information About Your Old 401
Permitting that your previous employer is still in operation, you can reach out to them directly. Typically, the human resources department will have information on your account or point you in the right direction.
Most companies try to reach out by sending mail regarding your account when you leave the company. If you moved when you changed jobs, you might have missed those notifications. If the company did not hear from you for an extended period, it might have transferred your funds to a separate, unmanaged account.
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Find Lost 401k: How To Find Out If You Have Lost Or Forgotten Retirement Accounts
Here is a guide for how to find lost money a lost 401k or other unclaimed retirement benefits.
Finding a lost 401k or other retirement account is more tedious than metal detector treasure hunting,but perhaps more rewarding.
A few years ago, I received a strange notice in the mail: a former employer was discontinuing their retirement plan and I had 30 days to either roll my balance into a different account or receive a distribution from the plan. This sort of thing happens quite often when people change jobs and leave their retirement account in the old employers plan. The strange thing about this notice was, I had no idea Id been participating in the plan while I worked there!
Could the same thing have happened to you? If youre looking for ways to increase your retirement savings, you just may want to look for lost or forgotten retirement accounts.
Why You Should Recover Your Old 401k
Theres a simple reason why you should attempt to recover a lost 401k account: Its your money. Whether your old 401k plan holds a lot of money or a little, every penny counts when staying on track with your retirement savings.
Another important point to consider: If youve changed jobs multiple times, its possible that you could have more than one lost 401k and taken together, that money could make a surprising difference to your nest egg.
Last, if you were lucky to have an employer that offered a matching 401 contribution, your missing account may have more money in them than you think. For example, a common employer match is 50%, up to the first 6% of your salary. If you dont make an effort to find old 401k accounts, youre missing out on that free money as well.
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Convert To A Roth Ira
If your old 401 is funded with pre-tax dollars, you may decide to convert it into a Roth IRA. You will pay income taxes on the conversion amount but can make tax-free withdrawals in retirement. Despite the upfront tax hit, this conversion doesnt count against your IRA contribution limits. In addition, youre no longer subject to required minimum distributions . There are two different ways to convert your 401.
Direct Roth IRA Conversion: Your Quickest Option
The easiest way is to see if your IRA provider can directly transfer your traditional 401 balance to your Roth IRA. If you dont want to convert the entire amount, see if your 401 administrator supports two direct transfers. If so, your second transfer rolls your remaining balance into a traditional rollover IRA. These funds wont incur a tax charge until you schedule a distribution or convert them into a Roth later.
Indirect Roth IRA Conversion: The Time-Consuming Way
If you cannot make two direct transfers, you must first rollover your 401 to a traditional IRA. Then, you must wait at least 60 days before requesting a Roth conversion for your desired balance.
Tip: You may decide to keep a traditional IRA if youre nearing retirement, as a Roth conversion resets the early withdrawal clock. Unfortunately, current tax rules require waiting five years before taking penalty-free withdrawals from your new account, even if youre at least 59 ½ years old.
Search Unclaimed Assets Databases
If your search is still coming up empty, your former employer has folded or was bought by another company, youâre not out of luck yet.
It may take a little more effort and research but there are many national databases that can help you track down your old 401 accounts:
- The Department of Laborâs Abandoned Plan database can help you identify what happened to your old plan and the contact information of the current administrator
- The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits allows you to do a free search for any unclaimed retirement money using just your Social Security number
- FreeERISA is another free resource to search for any old account information that has been filed with the federal government
- The Securities and Exchange Commissionâs website or your stateâs Secretary of State can provide more information on your previous employer
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Taking The Cash Distribution May Cost You
Avoiding cash distributions can save you from taxes and penalties, because any amount you fail to roll over will be treated as a taxable distribution. As a result, it would also be subject to the 10% penalty if you are under age 59 1/2.
Since the taxable portion of a distribution will be added to any other taxable income you have during the year, you could move into a higher tax bracket.
Using the previous example, if a single taxpayer with $50,000 of taxable income were to decide not to roll over any portion of the $100,000 distribution, they would report $150,000 of taxable income for the year. That would put them in a higher tax bracket. They also would have to report $10,000 in additional penalty tax, if they were under the age of 59 1/2.
Only use cash distributions as a last resort. That means extreme cases of financial hardship. These hardships may include facing foreclosure, eviction, or repossession. If you have to go this route, only take out funds needed to cover the hardship, plus any taxes and penalties you will owe.
The CARES Act, enacted on March 27, 2020, provided some relief for those who need to make withdrawals from a retirement plan. It lifted penalties for withdrawals made through December 2020 and provides three years to pay back any early withdrawals.
Contact Your Old Employer
Your first step should be to contact your former employer. The human resources department should have a record of your account. If your account was rolled over to an IRA for your benefit, your former employer should be able to give you information about the institution holding the IRA funds. If your account is still in the companys retirement plan, your former employer can provide you with distribution forms to receive your money.
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Find 401s With Your Social Security Number
All your 401s are linkedin to your social security number when you enrolled. Theoretically you should be able to find all your 401s with your SSN. However, in practice it’s pretty hard for one to do so. As far as we know, Beagle is the only company that simplifies this process and can conduct a comprehensive 401 search using your SSN. Once they find your 401s, they also help you with the tedious rollover process.
Make Sure You Actually Contributed
Before you go through the hassle and process of calling the HR department at your old employer, or searching through databases, its a good idea to verify that you contributed to the plan.
If you are unsure if you contributed to a 401 plan, you can check your previous year tax return and old W-2. Any contribution will be in Box 12 of the W-2.
ERISA, or the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, sets minimum standards for retirement plans, and protects retirement savings from abuse or mismanagement.
Among other things, employees are required to make annual reports
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Why You Should Roll Over Your Old 401 Accounts
Once you find forgotten retirement funds, you can make it easier to keep track of your money by simply rolling over your old 401 accounts into an IRA at a brokerage you already have an account with. This way you can manage your nest egg easier since all of your money is in one place.
“It’s beneficial to consolidate your accounts to reduce oversight obligations,” Cavazos says. “Having all of your funds consolidated in one account allows you to keep track of your balance and account performance.”
If you already have an existing IRA, you can roll your 401 balance into that account. Otherwise, it’s easy to open a new IRA at the big-name brokers like Charles Schwab, Fidelity, Vanguard, Betterment or E*TRADE. Rolling over your old 401 plan into an IRA gives you more control over how you invest your retirement funds since you won’t be limited to just the funds that were offered by your former employer. These large brokerages give you thousands of investment options, including mutual funds, index funds and individual stocks.
Looked For Unclaimed Money
“Ghosted” 401 money certainly qualifies as missing money, and it could be uncovered on digital money-funder platforms like missingmoney.com.
The site, run by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, runs free searches for not just retirement funds, but for money in old bank accounts, safe deposit boxes, escrow accounts, and insurance policies. According to the website’s directions, if you get a “hit” on the site, just claim the property and fill out the requested details, then submit and you will receive instructions on the next steps from the state where you made the claim.
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What Should I Do With My Lost Retirement Account
Once youve tracked down your lost retirement funds, you have some decisions you need to make. You can, of course, withdraw the funds and spend them, but there are a few reasons that might be a bad idea. If youre withdrawing funds from a forgotten 401 or other savings plan, take some time to research the taxes or penalties youll have to pay on any money you take out. Unless you put after-tax funds in, youll be taxed on the funds as you would with any type of income.
If youre 72 years old, though, youll need to pay attention to the Required Minimum Distributions to avoid a penalty. The amount youre required to take each year is based on a calculation that divides your account balance by your life expectancy factor. You can use the IRS Required Minimum Distribution Worksheet to help with that.
For the remainder of the amount, you may choose to leave it alone, withdraw it, or roll it into an IRA. You may find you can save on fees by rolling the amount over, but after retirement, the fees involved in doing that may eat into any cost savings. Weigh your options, including calculating the income taxes youll owe on any amount you withdraw, before making any decisions.
What To Do When You Find An Old 401
Once youve reconnected with your old 401, its time to decide what to do with it:
- Leave it with your old employer. If you contributed at least $5,000 to your old 401, you might consider leaving it where it is. But this may only be worthwhile if the account has competitive fees or offers access to unique investments. Otherwise, itll be yet another account to keep track of come retirement, and you may be better off rolling it over.
- New 401 rollover. Has your new employer offered you a 401? Consider consolidating your retirement funds by rolling your old retirement account into a new 401.
- IRA rollover. If you dont have a new 401 to move your old retirement funds into, consider rolling over into an individual retirement account. That way, your funds retain their tax-advantaged status.
- Cash it out. Consider this a last resort because cashing out a 401 ahead of schedule can result in major penalties.
- If youre older than 59 ½, you can access funds without penalty.
- If youre under 59 ½, withdrawals are subject to a 10% tax penalty and other fees.
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First Figure Out How Much Income Youll Need After Retirement
Experts generally suggest youâll need about 80% of your pre-retirement income to maintain the same lifestyle in retirement.
Why 80%? This figure accounts for certain expenses you probably wonât have to pay anymore. As an obvious example, youâll no longer have a need to set some of your paycheck aside to save for retirement. You also may not have some work-related expenses anymore, such as the cost of commuting and going out to lunch while at work.
Naturally, this rule of thumb isnât perfect. If youâre more of a thrifty person and save more of your income than most people, you can probably maintain your lifestyle with less than 80% of your income. Conversely, if your current lifestyle consumes pretty much all of your income, your retirement income need may be closer to 100% of your current income.
So, while the 80% guideline is a good rule of thumb for most people, for the most accurate estimate, consider which expenses youâll no longer have in retirement as a percentage of your current salary. Then, multiply this percentage by your current income.
How To Track Down That Lost 401 Or Pension
Can’t Find your old 401 or that old pension? Here is how to track your money down. Shutterstock
At least once every few months a long-term client brings in a retirement account statement and says, I forgot I had this retirement account. Can you help me with it? Sometimes these accounts are tiny but other times they hold a substantial amount of money. All of them are old, and havent been looked at in years. If you find yourself in this position, follow these steps to locating your 401 or other retirement accounts from previous employers.
Do you ever feel like you know you saved more for retirement than your statements indicate? Are you certain you must have forgotten about an old retirement account or pension with a previous employer? You likely arent crazy, and youre definitely not alone.
Americans lost track of more than $7.7 billion worth of retirement savings in 2015 alone by accidentally and unknowingly abandoning their 401.– USA Today, February 25, 2018
The days of graduating college, getting a corporate job and staying with the same employer until the retirement age of 65 are long gone. Today, people are jumping from job to job which often leaves a trail of old retirement accounts and even a few pensions. Because of this, a surprising number of people lose track of these old accounts. Forgetting about these accounts can really hurt your overall retirement security when you factor in compounding interest.
What happens when a 401 plan is terminated?
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Look Through Unclaimed Property Databases
You can also search the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits Opens in new window to find plans under your name.
Once you find one account, you can potentially spot a few more, as theres a possibility you have multiple plans hosted by the same company. The other accounts should come up as you log into the management companys website.