Lost Retirement Accounts: A Huge Problem In The United States
Capitalize, a company that provides retirement account services, published The True Cost of Forgotten 401 Accounts in June 2021. It says that Americans will have forgotten almost $1.35 trillion in 401 assets by the end of 2021. Thats about 20% of the total assets currently in 401 plans, Capitalize says.
The report also says Americans have left billions of dollars from pension plans unclaimed. Among the reasons that people lose these accounts include:
- Changed jobs and forgot about or lost track of an old 401 plan
- Spouse or family member died and benefactor is unaware of old accounts
- Left a job without realizing the company auto-enrolled them in a 401 plan
Some of the resources that help find lost retirement accounts also can help you find other forms of lost money. This includes:
- Brokerage accounts
- Safe deposit boxes
What Is An Ira
While there are a number of benefits to 401ks, they’re not the only retirement plan in the game. An IRA is an individual retirement account. Where a 401k can only be offered through an employer, an IRA account can be opened up by an individual whether they’re associated with an employer or not. That means they’re the best option for independent contractors without an employer or anyone who wants to do some extra retirement planning on top of their 401k.
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?
Read Also: How To Pull From 401k
How Can I Find My Old 401 Account
Ask previous employers whether theyre maintaining any accounts in your name. If the company no longer exists, contact the plan administrator. If you dont know the name of the plan administrator, search the Department of Labor website for the companys Form 5500 , which will list their contact information. You might also check the states unclaimed property database via the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators .
Darin Bostic, a Schwab financial planner, points out that the best way to keep track of your funds is not to lose them in the first place. Consolidating similar accounts, such as old and new brokerage or IRAs, can help you keep track of your savings, says Darin.
Whats more, consolidation helps ensure your assets are working in harmony toward your long-term goals. Its difficult to follow a comprehensive investment strategy when your money is spread out all over the place.
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.
Recommended Reading: How Do You Take Money Out Of 401k
What Is A 401
A 401 is an employer-sponsored retirement plan enabling workers to save money in a tax-deferred way. Often employers will match contributions up to a percentage of salary. Its just like any other retirement plan in the sense that youre trying to save money and reduce taxes as you do it. Like an IRA, you will pay taxes once you start taking withdrawals in retirement.
If you opted for it when you were hired, every paycheck a percentage of your salary is taken out and put into a 401 retirement account. Your employer may add some more money, maybe even the same amount, on top of that. That money is usually invested, and has been accumulating. How much is in there?
There are different types of 401s. A Roth 401 operates much in the same fashion as a Roth IRA. While still employer-sponsored, it uses after-tax income to fund itself, so you pay the taxes now, and not later in retirement. While one can deliberate the merits of which to use, the general consensus is that a Roth format is useful if one believes they will be in an higher tax bracket later in life when withdrawing from their retirement accounts.
Conversely, a traditional 401 advocate might argue that the ability to put more money into an account in the beginning and through time, allows the saver to make the most of compound interest.
Read more about how a 401 works in this article from TheStreet.
Do I Have A 401k I Don’t Know About
If you think that you may have enrolled in a 401K plan with a previous employer, but youre not quite sure, there are a few ways to find out if you did.
The easiest way is to contact the HR department of your former employer and ask them whether you ever contributed to a 401K while in their employment. Youll need to give them your personal details along with the dates that you worked for them, so keep this information to hand.
If your old employer has since gone bust or you cant remember which companies youve worked for in the past, check the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits website. Youll be able to see whether youve been listed on their database by your old employer as someone with unclaimed retirement plan funds.
If you havent been listed on the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits database, there are a couple more options to explore. Visit NAUPA or missingmoney.comwhere you can search by state based on where youve lived or worked to find out whether any unclaimed assets belong to you.
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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.
Consider The Amount Of Money In Your Old 401 Account
Your past employer doesnt have to keep overseeing your 401 account if your balance is less than $5,000.
At less than $1,000, your old company can just write you a check.
If you hold more than $1,000 but less than $5,000 in a 401 account with a company for which you no longer work, you should receive a request for payout instructions from your former employer. If you fail to respond to those instructions, your former company can roll the money into an IRA of its choice.
You can search the FreeERISA website to find an old IRA. You wont have to pay to use the site, but it does require you to register to search its database.
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Are You Prepared For Retirement
Find out with My Interactive Retirement PlannerSM
This material is not a recommendation to buy, sell, hold, or roll over any asset, adopt an investment strategy, retain a specific investment manager or use a particular account type. It does not take into account the specific investment objectives, tax and financial condition or particular needs of any specific person. Investors should discuss their specific situation with their financial professional.
Life and annuity products are issued by Nationwide Life Insurance Company or Nationwide Life and Annuity Insurance Company, Columbus, Ohio. The general distributor for variable products is Nationwide Investment Services Corporation , member FINRA, Columbus, Ohio. The Nationwide Retirement Institute is a division of NISC. Nationwide Funds are distributed by Nationwide Fund Distributors, LLC, Member FINRA, Columbus, OH. Nationwide Life Insurance Company, Nationwide Life and Annuity Company, Nationwide Investment Services Corporation and Nationwide Fund Distributors are separate but affiliated companies.
The Nationwide Group Retirement Series includes unregistered group fixed and variable annuities issued by Nationwide Life Insurance Company. It also includes trust programs and trust services offered by Nationwide Trust Company, FSB.
You’ve Found Your Old 401s Now What
Once you’ve located your old 401s, you have a few options. Some come with penalties, some require taxes to be paid, and some don’t require either.
You have the option to cash out all of the funds in your old 401s. However, the IRS will charge you a 10% early withdrawal penalty. In very few cases, can this penalty be waived, so it’s best to leave it saved until you’re at least 59Â½.
Secondly, you can rollover your old 401s into your current employer-sponsored plan. This comes with no penalty or taxes. Because you are rolling it over into another retirement account, you won’t incur any additional costs in doing so.
Lastly, you can consolidate your 401s into an IRA. Like a 401, an IRA is a retirement account, so it’s free from any penalties and taxes. These are held outside of your employer’s 401 plan, but they’re easy to set up and come with many more investment options.
Read Also: Why Cant I Take Money Out Of My 401k
Search For Unclaimed Money In Your State
Businesses send money to state-run unclaimed property offices when they cant locate the owner. The unclaimed funds held by the state are often from bank accounts, insurance policies, or your state government.
Search for unclaimed money using a multi-state database. Perform your search using your name, especially if youve moved to another state.
Verify how to claim your money. Each state has its own rules about how you prove that youre the owner and claim the money.
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.
How To Find Lost 401 Account Funds
If you suspect youve lost track of some old 401 funds, or if your old company has gone out of business, you may still be able to find that money.
If Congress passes the legislation, the proposed SECURE Act 2.0 intends to create a national, online lost and found for orphaned retirement plans. In the meantime, your best option is to work through the options below.
Follow The Paper Trail
If you think you may have money in a company-sponsored retirement plan floating around somewhere, you should take all necessary measures to track it down. You worked hard for those dollars, and you want to make sure theyre working as hard as possible for you and your future.
The Find a Financial Advisor links contained in this article will direct you to webpages devoted to MagnifyMoney Advisor . After completing a brief questionnaire, you will be matched with certain financial advisers who participate in MMAs referral program, which may or may not include the investment advisers discussed.
Also Check: How To Know If You Have A 401k
A Beginner’s Guide To Understanding 401k Plans
The word 401k is synonymous with retirement, but how many of us actually know all the rules around 401k accounts? We’ll walk you through all the finer details, but we also know you’re busy, so we’ve also whipped up this handy table of contents for you, too. Feel free to self-serve some of the most frequently asked questions about 401k plans, or binge it all, top to bottom.
Now, onto the good stuff:
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.
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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.
Option : Cash Out Your Old 401
Another option is cashing out your 401, which does exactly what you would expect provides cash. But there are many implications to consider. The cash you withdraw is considered income, and you may incur local, state and federal taxes by doing so. You will lose the benefit of giving your accounts investments time to grow, and you may need to work longer to make up the difference. Whats more, if you leave your employer prior to the year you turn 55 and are younger than 59 ½, you will be required to pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty on top of any taxes on the money.
Read Also: How To Open A Solo 401k
Taking Money Out Of A 401 Once You Leave Your Job
If you no longer work for the company that sponsored your 401 plan, first contact your 401 plan administrator or call the number on your 401 plan statement. Ask them how to take money out of the plan.
Since you no longer work there, you cannot borrow your money in the form of a 401 loan or take a hardship withdrawal. You must either take a distribution or roll your 401 over to an IRA.
Any money you take out of your 401 plan will fall into one of the following three categories, each with different tax rules.