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How Do I Find My Old 401k

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How To Track Down That Lost 401 Or Pension

How to find an old 401k
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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?

Roll It Over Into Your New Employer’s Plan

You’ll have to double check with your new employer to make sure they accept rollovers from a previous job. But if you get the go ahead to do this, you’d be able to just manage one 401 account rather than two different accounts potentially from two different plan providers .

“Some people find that having just one 401 account makes it easier to see all their money in one place,” MacDonald explained.

The money will still have the chance to grow in your new employer’s plan just make sure you like the new investment options available to you. And you’ll be able to save on all the additional costs that come with just keeping your balance with your old employer.

And unlike with the IRA rollover option, you won’t have to take required minimum distributions at age 72 if you move the money into your new employer’s 401 plan.

“Ultimately, it comes down to convenience,” MacDonald said. “And if you like seeing all of your assets in one place then this option could make sense.”

Pros And Cons: 401 Vs Ira

401 Pros

  • Offer protection from creditors under federal law, and funds cannot be seized in bankruptcy proceedings
  • Depending on the plan, you may be able to borrow money from your account
  • Required minimum distributions dont begin until you retire
  • Usually offer fewer investment options
  • Less control over your savings
  • Not all plans offer a Roth option
  • Can sometimes involve high management and administrative fees
  • Usually offer a wider variety of investment options
  • More control over your money
  • Option to choose between Roth IRA and traditional IRA
  • No required minimum distributions for Roth IRAs
  • Rollovers from 401s are protected in bankruptcy, though protection from other types of creditors varies by circumstances and state
  • Cannot borrow money from IRA accounts
  • Traditional IRAs require you to take minimum distributions beginning at age 72
  • In most circumstances, you must be 59 ½ to avoid the premature distribution penalties

Also Check: How Do I Withdraw Money From My 401k

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.

Search The National Registry

Should I Keep My 401K From My Old Job Open Or Should I ...

Still not having any luck? Past employers may list you as a missing participant if you no longer work for the company but left your 401 behind. The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits is a nationwide, secure database listing retirement plan account balances that have been left unclaimed .

Also Check: What Is Qualified Domestic Relations Order 401k

How Do I Find My Lost Ira

Back in my 20s, I opened an IRA. I remember doing it because it was my first exposure to index funds. And I know this sounds crazy, butafter a career change and a couple of movesI lost track of the account entirely. Now Im 45. The other day I was checking my 401 balance when it hit me: What happened to that IRA? Id love to have it back, but I dont know where to start. Help!

Victor S., New York, N.Y.

Individual Retirement Accounts , tax-favored accounts that are particularly important if you dont have access to a work-sponsored 401, can be a bit of a paradox. When you set one up during your early working years, you do so expecting your investments to grow on autopilot for decades it falls into the category of set it and forget it. But truly forgetting about an IRA can cost you. Heres what happens to lost IRAs, and what you need to do to find them.

How Do I Find My Old 401

If you’re not sure where your old 401 is, there are three places it could likely be. Here’s where to find your old 401:

  • Right where you left it, in the old account set up by your employer.

  • In a new account set up by the 401 plan administrator.

  • In the hands of your states unclaimed property division.

  • Heres how to start your search:

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    What Happens If I Have Unclaimed 401k Funds From A Previous Job

    The majority of unclaimed money comes from brokerage, checking and savings accounts, along with annuities, 401s and Individual Retirement Accounts. Companies are required by law to mail abandoned funds to the owners last known address. If theyre returned or the owner cant be reached, the assets must be relinquished to the state.

    Make The Best Decision For You

    How to Find an Old 401(k)

    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.

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    Indirect Rollovers Can Be Complicated To Manage

    With an indirect rollover, you receive a check for the balance of your account that is made payable to you. That might sound good, but as a result, you are now responsible for getting it to the right place. You have 60 days to complete the rollover process of moving these assets to your new employer’s plan or an IRA.

    If you dont complete the rollover within this 60-day window, you will owe income taxes on the amount you failed to roll over. If you’re under 59 1/2, you will also face a 10% penalty tax. Indirect rollovers can be made once a year.

    Your old employer is required to withhold 20% from your distribution for federal income tax purposes. To avoid being taxed and penalized on this 20%, you must be able to get enough money from other sources to cover this amount and include it with your rollover contribution.

    Then, youll have to wait until the following year, when you can file your income tax return to actually get the withheld amount back.

    Suppose the 401 or 403 from your prior employer has a balance of $100,000. If you decide to take a full distribution from that account, your prior employer must withhold 20%. That means they keep $20,000 and send you a check for the remaining $80,000.

    Even if you have an extra $20,000 on hand, you still must wait until you file your income tax return to get the withheld $20,000 returnedor a portion of it, depending on what other taxes you owe and any other amounts withheld.

    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

    Find Your 401s With Your Social Security Number

    If you don’t have any of the information mentioned above, you’re not out of luck just yet. You can use your social security number to search for and find old 401s.

    When you join a 401 at work, you’ll provide your social security number. This ties your 401 to any tax responsibilities you may have but also permanently stamps your 401 to your identity.

    There are a couple of places to search for your old 401s using your social security number.

    Finding Old Retirement Accounts

    Rollover A 401k After Leaving A Job

    You may want to start by contacting your former employers and the plan administrators, the companies that ran the retirement plan. Sometimes, youll find that your retirement account is still there and chugging along as is, hopefully growing in value over time. If you want, you may be able to leave it there, although update the company with your current contact information so it can let you know about any important changes.

    However, its not always that easy. If your account had less than $5,000 in it when you left, the plan administrator can transfer the funds to an individual retirement account that was set up in your name. If it had less than $1,000, the company may have tried to send you a check for the amount to the address it had on file. You may also have trouble tracking down the account if the company went bankrupt or switched plan administrators, leaving it up to you to figure out who is holding onto the money now.

    One thing is certainother companies dont get to keep your money. If a company cant figure out how to contact you, it has to turn unclaimed funds over to state agencies. You can start searching for your unclaimed funds in these databases:

    Once you find your account or money, youll still need to decide what to do with it.

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    What Can I Do With An Old Ira Account

    What Should You Do With That Old Retirement Account?

  • 1) Take the money and run. This may be tempting, especially if you have some debt to pay off.
  • 2) Roll it into your current employers plan. Make sure that your plan accepts rollovers first.
  • 3) Roll it into a traditional IRA.
  • 4) Roll it into a Roth IRA.
  • 5) Do nothing.
  • What Happens If I Have Unclaimed 401 Funds From A Previous Job

    The majority of unclaimed money comes from brokerage, checking, and savings accounts, along with annuities, 401s, and Individual Retirement Accounts. Once an account is considered inactive or dormant for a period of time , companies are required by law to mail abandoned funds to the owners last known address. If theyre returned, or the owner cant be reached, the assets must be relinquished to the state.

    Read Also: How Much Should I Put In My 401k

    Search For Unclaimed Retirement Benefits

    When all else fails, search for yourself in the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits. Not all employers participate in this service, but many do because it provides benefits that help them meet their legal requirements. It’s a free service, and it only requires your Social Security number.

    When Not To Transfer To An Ira

    Can I Move My Old 401k To An Existing IRA?

    You now know some of the benefits of moving your 401 to an IRA. But control over your money isnt the only thing that matters, and you may have other priorities. Its impossible to list every potential pitfall, but a few examples may offer food for thought.

    Between age 55 and 59.5

    When youre at least 55 years oldbut not yet 59 1/2 years oldyou might want to leave at least some of your money in the 401 plan. 401s allow you to pull money out without penalty after age 55 . IRAs, on the other hand, require that you wait until age 59 ½ to avoid an early-withdrawal penalty of 10% on certain distributions. There are always exceptions and workarounds, but those are the basic rules. If you intend to spend your 401 savings between the ages of 55 and 59 1/2, keep this in mind before making a transfer.

    Note: Some public safety workers can avoid early withdrawal penalties from a retirement plan as early as age 50. If you worked for a federal, state, or local government, be sure to explore your options.

    Depending on state laws, money in IRAs might be treated differently, and a 401 might offer more protection . Federal law often applies to ERISA-covered 401 plans, while state laws cover IRAs. However, there is some federal protection for IRAs in bankruptcy. When you owe federal tax debts or assets are due to an ex-spouse, protection is usually limited.

    Roth Conversions

    Fees and Expenses

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    Option : Keep Your Savings With Your Previous Employers Plan

    If your previous employers 401 allows you to maintain your account and you are happy with the plans investment options, you can leave it. This might be the most convenient choice, but you should still evaluate your options. Each year, American workers manage to lose track of billions of dollars in old retirement savings accounts, so you should make sure to track your account regularly, review your investments as part of your overall portfolio and keep the beneficiaries up to date.

    Some things to think about if youre considering keeping your money in your previous employers plan:

    How To Find Out If I Have A 401

    The best way to make sure you donât lose track of your 401 is to periodically keep tabs on it. Although, checking your retirement accounts too frequently can lead to overkill and alarm if the market takes a dive. Aim for quarterly or semi-annual checks of your funds to make sure everything is in order.

    Actively managing your 401 is a good habit to get into. Making sure your retirement accounts are being properly funded and youâre on track to meet your retirement goals should be etched into your overall personal finance plan.

    However, if youâve let it slip for the past couple of years, no need to worry. Contact your human resources department to get information on how you can monitor your account.

    You may be given access to an online portal for you to log in and manage your account.

    Verify your statements are being sent to the correct address. Bookmark the account information so you always know where to log into your account from. Also, consider updating your login and password to make sure your account is more secure.

    Read Also: How To Make 401k Grow Faster

    What To Do With A Lost Retirement Account When You Find It

    Once youve found a lost retirement account, what you do with it depends on what type of plan it is and where its located.

    Old 401k balances can be rolled into your current employers plan or rolled into an IRA in a trustee-to-trustee transfer. You can also request a payout of the plan balance, but if you are under the age of 59.5, the payout will be subject to income taxes and a 10% penalty for early withdrawal.

    If you find an old pension through the PBGC, youll have to go through a process to verify your identity. Once the PBGC has established that you are owed the benefits, you can apply for them at any time once youve reached retirement age.

    Its not uncommon for former employees to leave funds in a former employers retirement plan, believing theyll get around to dealing with it later. Years pass by, and maybe youve forgotten about a few old accounts. Even if they didnt amount to much at the time, a few hundred dollars here and there combined with some market growth over the years just might add up to a nice addition to your retirement savings. Its worth a look!

    Roll Your Assets Into A New Employer Plan

    Chris Hogan, Where Do I Move My Old 401k From My Previous ...

    If youre changing jobs, you can roll your old 401 account assets into your new employers plan . This option maintains the accounts tax-advantaged status. Find out if your new plan accepts rollovers and if there is a waiting period to move the money. If you have Roth assets in your old 401, make sure your new plan can accommodate them. Also, review the differences in investment options and fees between your old and new employers 401 plans.

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