Can You Lose Your 401k
Also, 401 money is protected from creditors in the event you had to file for personal bankruptcy, and by cashing it out, you will lose this protection. 1 You will also be eroding your nest egg and would be better off using an IRA rollover or making a transfer to a new 401 plan instead of cashing in this money.
How To Track Down That Lost 401 Or Pension
Cant 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?
Check The National Registry Of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits
The National Registry is a nationwide, secure database listing of retirement plan account balances that have been left unclaimed by former participants of retirement plans.
It is essentially a search engine of lost 401 plans.
The only thing you need to search the database is your social security number. No additional information is needed, and there is no cost to search the database.
You May Like: How Do I Use My 401k To Start A Business
Find Accounts From Failed Banks
You have a couple options if your bank failed and you have yet to claim your money:
- You can find unclaimed money from banks that have failed at this Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. website.
- If your unclaimed money was held at a failed credit union, you can track it down at this National Credit Union Administration website.
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:
You May Like: How Much Should I Have In 401k
Cashing Out Your 401k While Still Employed
The first thing to know about cashing out a 401k account while still employed is that you cant do it, not if you are still employed at the company that sponsors the 401k.
You can take out a loan against it, but you cant simply withdraw the money.
If you resign or get fired, you can withdraw the money in your account, but again, there are penalties for doing so that should cause you to reconsider. You will be subject to 10% early withdrawal penalty and the money will be taxed as regular income. Also, your employer must withhold 20% of the amount you cash out for tax purposes.
There are some exceptions to the rule that eliminate penalties, but they are very specific:
- You are over 55
- You are permanently disabled
- The money is needed for medical expenses that exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income
- You intend to cash out via a series of substantially equal payments over the rest of your life
- You are a qualified military reservist called to active duty
Have Retirement Money Set Aside But Dont Know Where Try These Strategies
- Print icon
- Resize icon
Between job changes, growing families, maybe even cross-country moves, losing access or forgetting about a retirement account is completely plausible.
Retirement Tip of the Week: If you think you have money floating around in a 401 or pension somewhere, try and find it with a few helpful resources.
For those of us who have been in the workforce for some time, it is easier than one might think to lose track of retirement assets, said Larry Harris, a certified financial planner at Parsec Financial Wealth Management.
Lost retirement money could be held in an abandoned 401 plan or a pension, or in the form of stock shares granted by the employer.
The first step is to check your states treasury site, as states will take custody of these assets after a certain number of years . Many states have an option to perform a search for unclaimed property, said Christopher Lyman, certified financial planner at Allied Financial Advisors. Be careful as to what site youre actually on a state government website will end in .gov, for example. Claiming the property from there is a fairly straightforward process laid out by the state, he said.
Try running the search using any name ever used, said Sarah Carlson, a certified financial planner and founder of Fulcrum Financial Group.
Read Also: How Should I Invest My 401k
What Is A 401 Account
A 401 plan, named for the section of tax code that governs it, is a retirement plan sponsored by an employer, allowing employees to save a portion of their paycheck for retirement.
The advantage to employees of saving with a 401 plan is they are able to save funds they have earned, before taxes are deducted from a paycheck.
Many employers offer a company match meaning whatever the employee contributes, the company matches.
Although 401 plans were originally born as a supplement to pension plans, they are now often the sole retirement plans offered at companies.
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.
Read Also: What Is A Robs 401k
A National Database To Find Forgotten 401s And Pensions Could Be On The Way But Savers Should Take Action Now To Locate Any Missing Retirement Accounts
At a time when many Americans are worried that they wont have enough money to retire comfortably, thousands have lost track of billions of dollars in savings.
There are more than 24 million forgotten 401 accounts containing some $1.35 trillion in assets, according to a report from Capitalize, which helps workers roll over their retirement plans when they change jobs. Companies are also holding on to billions in unpaid pension payments earned by former employees.
The problem is so widespread that Congress is considering legislation to address it. SECURE Act 2.0, which includes a wide range of benefits and protections for retirement savers , would create a national online lost-and-found database to help people track down these orphaned plans.
Brian Stivers, owner of Stivers Financial Services, in Knoxville, Tenn., says he typically meets one to two new clients a month who are in this situation. Most of the time, theyve changed jobs and forgotten about an old plan, usually because it had a small balance. Retirement plans are also misplaced when one spouse dies and the survivor is unaware of accounts with his or her former employers.
Option : Leave It Where It Is
You don’t have to move the money out of your old 401 if you don’t want to. You won’t ever lose the funds provided you don’t lose track of your old account again. But this option is usually the least desirable.
For one, it’s more difficult to manage your retirement savings when they’re spread out over many accounts. You also get stuck paying whatever your old 401’s fees were, and these can be higher than what you’d pay if you moved your money to an individual retirement account, for example.
But if you like your plan’s investment options and the fees aren’t too high, you could consider leaving your old 401 funds where they are. Just make careful note of how to access them again so you don’t forget.
Also Check: How Can I Take Money Out Of My 401k
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.
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.
You May Like: How Much Can I Withdraw From My 401k
Other Ways To Find Lost Money
If you are hoping to find lost money, you might want to start by creating a comprehensive and detailed retirement plan. This enables you to:
- Document what you have right now.
- Take stock and think about what might be missing.
- Learning about what you need for a secure retirement is a great way organize your financial life.
- Discover opportunities to make more out of what you have. People who use the NewRetirement retirement planner typically improve their plans by thousands of dollars in their first session with the tool.
Read Also: When You Leave A Job Do You Get Your 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.
Read Also: When Changing Jobs What To Do With 401k
Debt Relief Without Closing My 401k
Before borrowing money from your retirement account, consider other options like nonprofit credit counseling or a home equity loan. You may be able to access a nonprofit debt management plan where your payments are consolidated, without having to take out a new loan. A credit counselor can review your income and expenses and see if you qualify for debt consolidation without taking out a new loan.
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.
Read Also: Should You Always Rollover Your 401k
Use An Outside Company Like Beagle
If your search in the above databases doesnât provide any results, utilizing an outside company to find your old 401s and do the difficult work of consolidating them is a great option.
Beagle is the first company of its kind that will do the difficult work for you. We will track down your old 401s and find any hidden fees in your current 401 plan.
Then, they will provide you with options on how best to rollover your 401s into one convenient, low-cost investment option.
This is a great option for anyone who is not sure where to start or even where to begin looking.
Discover Where Your Funds Are Transferred
If your former employer does not have your old 401, you can search on the Department of Labors abandoned plan database. You will be able to search for your plan using the information you already have, including your name, your employers name and more. If you had a traditional pension plan and it no longer exists, you can search the U.S. Pension Guaranty Corp. database to find your unclaimed pension.
Finally, you may want to search the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits. This service is available nationwide and has records of account balances unclaimed by former retirement plan participants.
Read Also: How To Find Old 401k Contributions
Youre Our First Priorityevery Time
NerdWallet, Inc. is an independent publisher and comparison service, not an investment advisor. Its articles, interactive tools and other content are provided to you for free, as self-help tools and for informational purposes only. They are not intended to provide investment advice. NerdWallet does not and cannot guarantee the accuracy or applicability of any information in regard to your individual circumstances. Examples are hypothetical, and we encourage you to seek personalized advice from qualified professionals regarding specific investment issues. Our estimates are based on past market performance, and past performance is not a guarantee of future performance.
We believe everyone should be able to make financial decisions with confidence. And while our site doesnt feature every company or financial product available on the market, were proud that the guidance we offer, the information we provide and the tools we create are objective, independent, straightforward and free.
So how do we make money? Our partners compensate us. This may influence which products we review and write about , but it in no way affects our recommendations or advice, which are grounded in thousands of hours of research. Our partners cannot pay us to guarantee favorable reviews of their products or services.Here is a list of our partners.