What Is A 401k
A 401k is a powerful type of retirement account that many companies offer to their employees as a perk. With each pay period, you put a portion of your paycheck into the account. It happens automatically so you dont have to do anything special and there are a ton of benefits.
A 401k is called a retirement account because it gives you huge tax advantages if you dont touch your money until you reach the minimum retirement age of 59 1/2 years. While you will have to pay a penalty if you touch your 401k savings before you reach retirement age, the benefits far outweigh the risk.
Here is a snapshot of the benefits of having a 401k:
Roll Your Assets Into A New Employer Plan
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.
If Youve Ever Had A 401 Account With An Employer And Lost Track Of It After Youve Left Youre Not Alone
We estimate that there are over 25 million orphaned 401 accounts just like yours. These are accounts tied to former employers that continue to have money in them, but are not actively being monitored or used.
At Capitalize, we help people find these old, orphaned 401 accounts and consolidate them into a new retirement account for free. This helps them better keep track of their retirement savings over time.
The money youve put away in a 401 account remains yours even after youve left that job. Most of the time its still at the same financial institution that managed it while you had it. This financial institution is known as a 401 provider. Its a company engaged by your former employer to hold and manage your 401 assets. You can see a full list of 401 providers here.
Some of the time, though, your money has been transferred to a new institution. That generally happens in one of three cases:
- Your former employer changes their 401 provider when this happens your 401 account will be transferred over to the new institution.
- Your former employer is acquired by another company when this happens your account usually gets transferred to the 401 provider used by the acquiring company.
- Your account balance was under $5,000 and was transferred to an IRA at a different institution this is known as a forced rollover and is allowed by some 401 plans.
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Ways To Dig Up An Old 401 Account
Before we play “lost and found” with your old 401 plan, know that even though you can’t find your 401 account , your plan money is federally protected.
That’s right. By law, nobody can access, steal or otherwise make off with your 401 funds while they’ve gone missing.
With Uncle Sam at your back, use these tips and strategies to find a lost 401 account.
If You Find The Money
What to do with your 401 funds when you find the account largely depends on where you find it.
If the account resides in your employer’s plan, you do have the option to leave the money and the account there — just note you can no longer contribute money to it.
To get back in the game with your sidelined 401, roll it over into an individual retirement account or a current employer’s 401 plan. That way you can put the fund money to work by investing in stocks, bonds and funds that appreciate in value and accumulate more money for your retirement, on a tax-efficient basis.
Also Check: Can You Roll A Traditional 401k Into A Roth Ira
Track Down Previous Employer Via The Department Of Labor
If you cant find an old statement, you may still be able to track down contact information for the plan administrator via the plans tax return. Many plans are required to file an annual tax return, Form 5500, with the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor . You can search for these 5500s by the name of your former employer at www.efast.dol.gov. If you can find a Form 5500 for an old plan, it should have contact information on it.
Once you locate contact information for the plan administrator, call them to check on your account. Again, youll need to have your personal information available.
How To Reclaim Your Retirement Plan With A Previous Employer
- Retirement Planning
- How to Reclaim Your Retirement Plan with a Previous Employer
Millions of Americans accidentally or unknowingly leave money in retirement plans with previous employers. According to a study by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, Americans lost track of more than $7.7 billion in retirement savings in 2015.
If you’ve left a retirement plan with a previous employer, not to worry. Here are 6 tips you can follow to reclaim your money.
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How To Find An Old : 7 Ways
People prone to leaving things behind usually don’t lose a 401 account, but it happens more often than you think – especially if you don’t have a great deal of cash stashed away in a 401.
Data from Plan Sponsor Council of America shows that 58% of 401 transfer balances are between $1,000 and $5,000 when a career professional leaves an employer. That’s not an insignificant range of money, but it’s money you could have working for you, if you could only find it.
Additionally, the U.S. Government Accountability Office states that over 25 million Americans with cash in a 401 or other employer retirement plan left that money behind when they moved on to greener career pastures.
People leave old 401 accounts behind for many reasons. The account holder may have engaged in a string of job-hopping experiences and lost an old retirement account in the shuffle. Or, the 401 account holder’s company merged with another firm, was bought out, or went bankrupt.
You might even automatically have been enrolled in an old 401 company by a firm you only spent a year or so working at, didn’t realize it, and completely missed bringing the 401 account along with you to your next job.
If that sounds vaguely familiar, how do you find the money you lost in an old 401 account and what do you do with it when you get it back?
There are plenty of ways to get the job done. Let’s take a closer look.
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What Options Do I Have For My Current 401
When you leave an employer, you have several options:
- Leave the account where it is
- Roll it over to your new employers 401 on a pre-tax or after-tax basis
- Roll it into a traditional or Roth IRA outside of your new employers plan
- Take a lump sum distribution
The truly smart move for you depends on your own individual circumstances and goals.
Some items to consider include:
- Your current account balance
- Whether you fear collection actions, because workplace plans provide creditor protection that IRAs dont
- Quality of your new companys retirement plan versus your former plan in terms of investment options, fees and whether or not loans are permitted
- Options available to you in an IRA outside of your employers plan
The good news is that you do not have to make any decisions about your existing 401 immediately. You may want to speak with a financial advisor first to discuss your options.
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.
Read Also: Can I Contribute To Traditional Ira And 401k
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.
Use Additional Government Document Recovery Tools
Lots of folks say the federal government is beholden to excessive paperwork and, in many ways, those people are right. But your hunt for an old 401 isn’t a good example of that mindset.
Exhibit “A” is the U.S. Department of Labor’s Abandoned Plan Database. The database can tell you if your company’s old 401 plan is still up and running, has been deep-sixed, or is being held by an outside administrator who can steer you to your old 401 account.
When using the website, the more information you can provide, the better. Your best bets include using the plan’s name, the name of your old employer, the city and state where the company resided, and the appropriate zip code.
Also Check: Can I Transfer My Ira To My 401k
Roll It Over To Your New Employer
If youve switched jobs, see if your new employer offers a 401 and when you are eligible to participate. Many employers require new employees to put in a certain number of days of service before they can enroll in a retirement savings plan.
Once you are enrolled in a plan with your new employer, its simple to roll over your old 401. You can elect to have the administrator of the old plan deposit the contents of your account directly into the new plan by simply filling out some paperwork. This is called a direct transfer, made from custodian to custodian, and it saves you any risk of owing taxes or missing a deadline.
Alternatively, you can elect to have the balance of your old account distributed to you in the form of a check. However, you must deposit the funds into your new 401 within 60 days to avoid paying income tax on the entire balance. Make sure your new 401 account is active and ready to receive contributions before you liquidate your old account.
Consolidating old 401 accounts into a current employers 401 program makes sense if your current employers 401 is well structured and cost-effective, and it gives you one less thing to keep track of, says Stephen J. Taddie, managing partner, Stellar Capital Management LLC, Phoenix, Arizona. Keeping things simple for you now also makes things simple for your heirs should they need to step in to take care of your affairs later.
Organize And Rebalance Your Accounts
After years of neglect, your forgotten retirement accounts may not be properly balanced. This means there may be too much emphasis on one type of investment, or not enough on another.
If you plan to keep the IRA or company plan open, you may want to consider diversification, so theres the right amount in stocks, bonds, U.S. investments or international exposure thats appropriate for your investment goals and risk tolerance.
Youll need to check each account individually at first. However, if you can list them all in one place, youll see how your combined investment diversification stands up. An online tracking service can continue to monitor your accounts, possibly flagging you if you need to consider rebalancing again.
Online tracking services cant do the rebalancing for you, however youll have to go to each individual account to manage the rebalancing. And if the diversification seems off but its not time for you to rebalance, youll have to look at each individual account to determine which one may be out of balance the most.
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National Registry Of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits
You may be able to locate your retirement account funds on the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits. This registry is a secure search website designed to help both employers and former employees. Employees can perform a free database search to determine if they may be entitled to any unpaid retirement account money. Employers can register names of former employees who left money with them. Youll need to provide your Social Security number, but no additional information is required.
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.
Also Check: How To Grow 401k Fast
What You Can Do Next
In order to keep track of your retirement accounts, you first must know where they all are. Once you gather all your old accounts in one place and make sure they are properly balanced, its about sticking to the same investment principles ensuring your money is in diversified, low-cost funds that you would follow for your current company retirement plan.
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
Also Check: Why Cant I Take Money Out Of My 401k
Us Department Of Labors Abandoned Plan Search
In certain cases, such as in bankruptcies, employers abandon the 401 plans they provided to employees. If that happens, theyre required to notify you so you can receive the funds owed to you. If you werent notified or believe your plan may have been abandoned, you can use the U.S. Department of Labors Abandoned Plan Search. You can search by employer or plan name, and if a plan is found, youll receive the plan administrators contact information.
Making A Hardship Withdrawal
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