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.
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.
The Takeaway On Finding Lost 401 Money
If you suspect that you’ve left a 401 behind somewhere and don’t attempt to locate it, you’re risking losing the plan — and the money — for good.
But if you don’t respond, a company holding an old 401 account has no obligation to pursue the issue further, and eventually will relinquish your old account to the state, and all of the funds held, as well.
Don’t let that happen to you. Use the tips listed above to make every effort to find your lost 401 account and get the money back for yourself, and don’t let “free” retirement slip out of your control.
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Next Steps To Consider
This information is intended to be educational and is not tailored to the investment needs of any specific investor.
Recently enacted legislation made a number of changes to the rules regarding defined contribution, defined benefit, and/or individual retirement plans and 529 plans. Information herein may refer to or be based on certain rules in effect prior to this legislation and current rules may differ. As always, before making any decisions about your retirement planning or withdrawals, you should consult with your personal tax advisor.
The change in the RMD age requirement from 70½ to 72 only applies to individuals who turn 70½ on or after January 1, 2020. Please speak with your tax advisor regarding the impact of this change on future RMDs.
A qualified distribution from a Roth IRA is tax-free and penalty-free, provided the 5-year aging requirement has been satisfied and one of the following conditions is met: age 59½ or older, disability, qualified first-time home purchase, or death.
Be sure to consider all your available options and the applicable fees and features of each before moving your retirement assets.
Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC, Member NYSE, SIPC, 900 Salem Street, Smithfield, RI 02917
Plan For Your Retirement Over Your Career
Remember that retirement planning is not a singular event, but rather something you do over the course of your career.
Keep this mindset and continually review your retirement planning progress and account balances. If you havent started to save for retirement, its never too late.
Talk to your HR department about retirement planning options, or open up an IRA, or even basic savings account to get started putting money aside for your future.
Also Check: How To Switch 401k To Ira
A Special Note For Pennsylvania Residents
If you live in Pennsylvania, you should start your search sooner rather than later.
In most states, lost or abandoned money, including checking and savings accounts, must be turned over to the states unclaimed property fund. Every state has unclaimed property programs that are meant to protect consumers by ensuring that money owed to them is returned to the consumer rather than remaining with financial institutions and other companies. Typically, retirement accounts have been excluded from unclaimed property laws.
However, Pennsylvania recently changed their laws to require that unclaimed IRAs and Roth IRAs be handed over to the states fund if the account has been dormant for three years or more.
If your account is liquidated and turned over to the state before the age of 59.5, you could only learn about the account when you receive a notice from the IRS saying you owe tax on a distribution!
Company 401k plans are excluded from the law unless theyve been converted to an IRA. If you know you have an account in Pennsylvania, be sure to log onto your account online periodically. You can also check the states website at patreasury.gov to see if you have any unclaimed property.
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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Your best bet is to visit FreeERISA.com, which can help you track down your old 401 using the following website tools:
- Code search: Find employee benefit and retirement plan filings by location.
- Dynamic name search: Find 5500s even if the plan sponsor’s name changed.
- Instant View: See benefit filings right in your browser instantly.
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.
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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:
Option : Rollover 401k To An Individual Retirement Account
Rolling your 401k to an IRA allows for the most flexibility with your investment choices. This can give you access to mutual funds, exchange traded funds, stocks and bonds, to name a few. You may also have greater flexibility with investments that provide income, such as dividends and interest. IRAs can provide for greater flexibility with withdrawals and various tax withholding. IRAs continue to allow for tax deferred saving.
There are some possible disadvantages to using an IRA. You are not allowed to take a loan against an IRA. Depending on your investment choices there could be upfront commissions, high annual fees or even back-end charges limiting you from withdrawing money from the IRA within a certain period of time.
It is important to remember everyones situation is different. When deciding what is the best option for you, it is wise to research all options and understand the fees involved with those options. These decisions are difficult, and you may want to reach out to a financial professional to assess your situation. In doing so, we suggest you work with a fiduciary, an advisor that works in your best interest.
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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.
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.
Also Check: How To Recover 401k From Old Job
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.
Option : Roll It Into An Ira
If your new employer doesnt offer a 401 or you dont like their option, you can roll your 401 into an IRA.
Rolling over accounts is easier than it sounds. You may need to open an IRA at a brokerage company and sign a few papers that allow the brokerage to transfer the money into your new account. This option will help keep your balance growing tax deferred and you can continue to make tax-deferred contributions.
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Account Holders Leave $135 Trillion At Former Employers
Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants a lost and found for retirement accounts.
The best financial advice looks to a clients future. But for many in the workplace, a professional review of past employment history is crucial in unearthing forgotten retirement savings.
Despite employers efforts to track down benefits due former workers, languishing retirement accounts can mean diminished returns, wasteful fees and, of course, the loss of unclaimed retirement money.
The scope of the problem affects workers of all ages and is so costly that broad federal legislation is being formulated to address the issue.
The investment management company TIAA estimates that 30% of employees tens of millions of Americans left a retirement account at their previous employer, including 43% of Gen Xers and 35% of Gen Yers, according to the office of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren , sponsor of the Retirement Savings Lost and Found Act of 2021.
A recent study by Capitalize, a New York-based company whose mission is to help consumers locate and maximize retirement investments from past employers, found that as of May 2021 an estimated 24.3 million 401 accounts with $1.35 trillion in assets have been left behind by job changers.
In The True Cost of Forgotten 401 Accounts, Capitalize analyzed a wide range of data on employer-sponsored accounts and consulted with experts such as the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
Advisors Can Help
Legislation in Progress
Changing Jobs The Ins And Outs Of A 401 Rollover
Thomas J Catalano is a CFP and Registered Investment Adviser with the state of South Carolina, where he launched his own financial advisory firm in 2018. Thomas’ experience gives him expertise in a variety of areas including investments, retirement, insurance, and financial planning.
If you’ve decided to leave your current job for another, you will need to decide what to do with the money that you have invested in your current company’s 401 plan. Options typically include leaving it where it is, rolling it over to a new employer’s plan, or opting for an IRA rollover.
If you are about to change jobs, here’s what you need to know about rolling over your funds into a new employer’s 401 plan and the ins and outs of other options.
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Determine If Your 401 Account Was Rolled Over To A Default Ira Or Missing Participant Ira
One possibility is your employer rolled the funds over into a Default IRA.
If your employer tried to contact you for instructions as to what to do with your account balance, and you fail to respond, you may be deemed a non-responsive participant.
If they are unable to locate you altogether, you may be deemed a Missing Participant.
In either scenario, if the plan is being terminated, your employer may have put the funds in a Missing Participant Auto Rollover IRA.
This is an IRA account set up on your behalf to preserve your retirement assets until they are claimed by you or your beneficiaries under Department of Labor regulations.
To qualify for a Missing Participant or Default IRA, the account balance must be greater than $100 but less than $5,000 unless the funds are coming from a terminated plan, then the $5,000 ceiling is waived.
Finding a Missing Participant IRA
If your money has been transferred to a Missing Participant IRA, you should be able to find it by searching the FreeERISA website.
This search is slightly more time consuming than the national registry. Registration is required to search the database, which contains 2.6 million ERISA form 5500s, covering 1.3 million plans and 1 million plan sponsors.
If you know your money has been transferred to one of these default accounts, you should get it out into a standard IRA account.
Typically, these accounts must be interest-bearing, bear a reasonable rate of return, and be FDIC insured.
Here’s the bad part:
Options For Your Old 401
Whether you are retiring or leaving a job for other reasons, it is important to make informed decisions about your retirement savings options. This video will help you learn how to evaluate your situation and assist you in making the most of what youve saved.
Important legal information about the e-mail you will be sending.
Fidelity does not provide legal or tax advice. The information herein is general and educational in nature and should not be considered legal or tax advice. Tax laws and regulations are complex and subject to change, which can materially impact investment results. Fidelity cannot guarantee that the information herein is accurate, complete, or timely. Fidelity makes no warranties with regard to such information or results obtained by its use, and disclaims any liability arising out of your use of, or any tax position taken in reliance on, such information. Consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific situation.
Keep in mind that investing involves risk. The value of your investment will fluctuate over time, and you may gain or lose money.
Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC, Member NYSE, SIPC, 900 Salem Street, Smithfield, RI 02917
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Picking The Best Option
Figuring out what to do can be difficult, as there may be complex tax and investment return implications for each decision.
In many cases, unless youre ready to retire, moving the funds into a new retirement account is often a good option. If your funds are in an IRA that was opened in your name, the IRA provider may be charging high fees. And, unless the old employer offers a much better plan than your current options, consolidating your money within a few accounts can make it easier to track your investments and help you qualify for discounts or benefits from plan administrators.
The easiest way to do this is with a direct transfer, where the money never touches your hands. Otherwise, 20 percent of the money has to be withheld for taxes, and you only have 60 days to deposit the funds into the new retirement account or the withdrawal will be treated as a cash out.
Fair warning, there can still be a lot of paperwork involved with a direct transfer. However, the company that youre sending the money to will often be able to help you with the process.
No matter what option you choose, if youve got old retirement accounts floating out there its in your best interests to track that money down sooner than later. The more you know about your retirement funds, the more options you may have the next time youre faced with a major financial setback. At the very least, youll understand where you stand as you prepare for retirement.