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?
Look For Contact Information
If you don’t know how to contact your former employer perhaps the company no longer exists or it was acquired or merged with another company see if you have any old 401 statements. These should have contact information to help put you in touch with the plan administrator.
If you don’t have an old 401 statement handy or yours doesn’t tell you what you need to know, visit the U.S. Department of Labor website and look up your employer. There you should find your old retirement account’s tax return, known as Form 5500. That will most likely have contact information for your 401’s plan administrator.
Use Resources To Discover Unclaimed Assets
Once you use these resources to locate your funds, you can use the following resources to get access to your unclaimed assets.
Read Also: Can You Convert A 401k Into A Roth Ira
What If Your Employer Goes Out Of Business
Under federal law, your employer must keep your 401 funds separate from their business assets.
This means that even if your employer abruptly shuts their doors overnight, your money is protected. It cannot be used to pay off your companys loans, cover employee payroll, or for any other purpose.
If your company shut down abruptly, it is possible that a portion of money will be at risk. If your money has been withheld, but has not yet been sent to the 401 plan to be invested, the company could in theory, access those funds.
Roll It Into A New 401 Plan
The pros: Assuming you like the new plans costs, features, and investment choices, this can be a good option. Your savings have the potential for growth that is tax-deferred, and RMDs may be delayed beyond age 72 if you continue to work at the company sponsoring the plan.
The cons: Youll need to liquidate your current 401 investments and reinvest them in your new 401 plans investment offerings. The money will be subject to your new plans withdrawal rules, so you may not be able to withdraw it until you leave your new employer.
Also Check: How To Opt Out Of Fidelity 401k
National Registry Of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits
If your online sleuthing doesnt turn up anything, you can search the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits, which helps employers connect with former employees who havent claimed their retirement benefits.
Just head to the website and enter your Social Security number, and it will search for any retirement plans associated with that SSN. If one is found, the site will contact the plan administrator on your behalf, or you can do so yourself. Youll then receive a benefit election form that allows you to specify how you would like to handle the funds.
Note that if a plan doesnt show up on this registry, that doesnt mean you dont have one. It may just mean that your former employer hasnt added your records to the database yet. The site notes that you should check back in the future, as more participants are added to the database daily.
Where Has My 401 Gone
There are a few scenarios in which someone might lose track of their 401.
If you did a bit of job-hopping early in your career, you may have moved on and forgotten about your 401 plan. Or perhaps your company merged with another, but your 401 plan didnt transfer over. In other cases, you may have automatically enrolled in your companys 401 plan without realizing it.
You know all the paperwork from human resources you ignored? The information youre looking for probably was in there.
Regardless of why you lost track of a 401 plan, the good news is that whatever contributions you made no matter how long ago that may have been are yours to keep and always will be. Heres what you need to know to track down your old 401 and make it work in your favor again.
Also Check: Should I Keep My 401k Or Rollover To Ira
Reference An Old Statement
Because companies reorganize, merge, get acquired, or go out of business every day, its possible that your former employer is no longer around. In that case, try to locate a lost 401k plan statement and look for contact information for the plan administrator. If you dont have an old statement, reach out to former coworkers and ask if they have an old statement.
What If I Have Employer Stock In My Employer
You can choose to roll company stock into an IRA or a taxable brokerage account. If you decide to roll the stock to an IRA, its full value will be taxed as income at your regular rate if you move the stock to a taxable brokerage account, you might be able to save money by paying capital gains taxes on the difference between the stocks value and the price you paid for it. There are tax benefits to each, so consult your tax advisor and ask about the net unrealized appreciation strategy.
Recommended Reading: Can I Start A 401k
Recommended Reading: How To View Your 401k
% Off Schwab Rollover Ira Promotion Verified
Is Charles Schwab better than TD Ameritrade? After testing 11 of the best online brokers over three months, TD Ameritrade is better than Charles Schwab . TD Ameritrade delivers $0 trades, fantastic trading platforms, excellent market research, industry-leading education for beginners, and reliable customer service
How To Find Out If You Had A 401
Keeping track of your 401 benefits is essential to retirement planning.
Saving enough money to retire often means taking advantage of multiple retirement savings accounts. Employers only match your 401 contributions while you are on the payroll. However, the money in your account still belongs to you after you leave your job. If you aren’t sure if you had a 401 with a previous employer, there are several ways to find out.
Also Check: How To Change A 401k To A Roth Ira
Leave Your Account Where It Is
Many companies allow you to keep your 401 savings in their plans after you leave your job. Often that’s only if you meet a minimum balance requirement, typically $5,000. Since this option requires no action, it is often chosen by default. But leaving your 401 where it is isnt always a result of procrastination. There are some valid reasons to do it.
You can take penalty-free withdrawals from an employer-sponsored retirement plan if you leave your job in or after the year you reached age 55 and expect to start taking withdrawals before turning 59 1/2.
Other reasons you may want to keep your retirement plan where it is include:
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
Read Also: How To Put Money In 401k
Option : Roll It Into Your New 401
If your new employer offers a 401, you can possibly roll your old account into the new one. You may be required to be with the company for a certain amount of time before youre eligible to participate in their plan.
You can choose to do a Direct Rollover, whereby the administrator of your old plan transfers your account balance directly into the new plan. This only requires some paperwork.
Or, you can choose an Indirect Rollover. With this option, 20% of your account balance is withheld by the IRS as federal income tax in addition to any applicable state taxes. The balance of your old account is given to you as a check to deposit into your new 401 within 60 days. There is one catch, though. Youll need to deposit the entire amount of your old account into your new account, even the amount withheld for taxes. That means using personal cash to cover the difference and waiting until tax season to be reimbursed by the government.
Guide To 401 And Ira Rollovers
According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics¹, the average time an American worker was with an employer is 4.6 years.
When you switch jobs, one key task is transferring your regular 401, Roth 401 or another tax-advantaged retirement plan. Neglecting this task could leave you with a trail of retirement accounts at different employers, or even nasty tax penalties should your past employer simply send you a check that you did not reinvest properly in time.
“Workers are much more transient today,” says Scott Rain, tax senior at Schneider Downs & Co., in Pittsburgh, Penn. “If you leave your 401 at each job, it gets really tough trying to keep track of all of that. It’s much easier to consolidate into one 401 or into an IRA.”
Also Check: Can I Roll My 401k Into A Roth Ira
Make The Best Decision For You
When it comes to deciding what to do with an old 401, there may be factors that could be unique to your situation. That means the best choice will be different for everyone. One thing to remember is that the rules among retirement plans vary so it’s important to find out the rules your former employer has as well as the rules at your new employer.
Do also compare the fees and expenses associated with the accounts you’re considering. If you find it confusing or overwhelming, speak with a financial professional to help with the decision.
First Off Dont Lose Track Of It Youd Be Surprised How Many People Forget About Their Old 401s
Recently, a Capitalize Research study revealed that Americans have left behind over $1 trillion untouched in their old 401s. This implies that millions of employees are struggling to manage their retirement savings as they move from job to job, leading to the accumulation of money in these abandoned accounts.
The 401, a tax-advantaged savings plan, has helped revolutionize the American workforce since its enactment in 1978. However, millions of dollars are left unclaimed as people change jobs, relocate and subsequently forget about their old 401s. When you lose track of a 401 at an old employer, your savings in that account stagnate, leaving an opportunity toward building a secure financial future squandered.
Even if you are contributing to a new plan with your current employer, leaving money behind in an old 401 account and forgetting about it harms your overall financial well-being, prevents you from building a cohesive financial plan and does not allow all your money to work for you and your goals in the best possible way.
Read Also: How Much Will My 401k Be Worth In 20 Years
I Cant Find My 401 Now What
Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the authors opinions and recommendations alone and is not intended to be a source of investment advice. It may not have not been reviewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners or the Investment company.
Were all chasing the almighty dollar, but sometimes we leave behind a few hard-earned ones along the way.
In fact, billions of dollars are left in forgotten 401 plans in the United States that are waiting to be claimed by their rightful owners.
If youre in search of your old 401, here are some tips on how you can track it down.
Call Your Old Employer
If you suspect you have missing 401 funds or even if you’re not sure, it’s still a good idea to contact old employers and ask them to check if they’re holding your old account. Your former company will have records of you actually participating in a 401 plan.
You’ll either need to provide or confirm your Social Security number and the dates of your employment, but if you can, you’ll have found the fastest way to dig up a missing 401.
Also Check: How To Invest In 401k Without Employer
Considering A 401 Rollover Consider Your Options First
If you decide a 401 rollover is right for you, were here to help. Call a Rollover Consultant at .
One great thing about a 401 retirement savings plan is that your assets are often portable when you leave a job. But what should you do with them? Rolling over your 401 to an IRA is one way to go, but you should consider your options before making a decision. There are several factors to consider based on your personal circumstances. The information provided here can help you decide.
Read Also: How Much Do You Get From 401k
Contact Your Old Employer About Your Old 401
Employers will try to track down a departed employee who left money behind in an old 401, but their efforts are only as good as the information they have on file. Beyond providing 30 to 60 days notice of their intentions, there are no laws that say how hard they have to look or for how long.
If its been a while since youve heard from your former company, or if youve moved or misplaced the notices they sent, start by contacting your former companys human resources department or find an old 401 account statement and contact the plan administrator, the financial firm that held the account and sent you updates.
You may be allowed to leave your money in your old plan, but you might not want to.
If there was more than $5,000 in your retirement account when you left, theres a good chance that your money is still in your workplace account. You may be allowed to leave it there for as long as you like until youre age 72, when the IRS requires you to start taking distributions, but you might not want to. Heres how to decide whether to keep your money in an old 401.
The good news if a new IRA was opened for the rollover: Your money retains its tax-protected status. The bad: You have to find the new trustee.
Read Also: How To Invest Money From 401k
The Cons Of Leaving Your 401 Behind
Risk of Losing Track of Old 401s
Rolling over an old 401 or managing your savings during a job transition can be stressful and chaotic. Some people end up leaving behind an old account with the intention to revisit it later, only to forget about it or lose track of it as they are faced with other aspects of their job transition. This will make it difficult to put your savings to good use in a way that promotes your financial stability in the future.
As of now, if you have less than $5,000 in any old accounts, your previous employers will likely either cut you a check for the remaining balance or move the money into an IRA. Its up to you to find it, though.
Missing Out on Investment Opportunities
Do you know when you forget your old 401 accounts, you miss out on a chance for a solid investment plan? You were wise enough to set up a retirement plan to secure your financial freedom for the future. But, when you leave behind any amount of savings, it leads to loss of earning capacity.
Leaving behind money in an old retirement account also means that your savings dollars may not be invested in the most beneficial way possible for you. Staying on top of old accounts or rolling them over into your current plan can help you ensure you are investing every dollar with purpose, efficiency and your unique goals in mind.