Find A Lost Pension Plan
Thankfully, tracking down an old pension is a bit easier than other types of accounts as long as your pension plan paid guaranty premiums to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. The PBGC is very similar to the FDIC in that the pension pays what amount to insurance premiums to the corporation and in return the value of those pension payments is guaranteed.
This also makes the PBGC a handy place to find an old pension you have left behind. The US Agency has a handy search tool to find unclaimed pensions that lets you search by Last Name, by Company, or by State. If you have an old pension left out in the wild, do a thorough search with the tool and hope that your pension was part of the PBGC.
Take These Steps First If Youre Looking For Lost Retirement Funds
The first thing you should do when youre looking for lost retirement accounts is to contact your previous employer.
If the company still exists, you should be able to reach out to the human resources department. Ask someone in the department if theres a 401 account or pension plan in your name.
If you cant remember every company for which youve worked, it can help to check your old financial paperwork such as retirement account statements or pay stubs. You may be able to find your retirement account number or the contact information of the plan administrator.
Not sure whether youre owed any retirement funds and lacking any old paperwork to rifle through? There are still plenty of online resources you can use to search for your lost retirement accounts.
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.
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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.
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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.
Find Your Retirement Accounts
In order to corral all your accounts, you first must locate all your retirement plans.
If you know you had a plan with certain employers but dont know how to access it, reach out to your former company. They should provide you with the information you need to access the account.
What happens if the company is no longer in business? Well, your retirement account should still be held somewhere. Its your money, after all. You can go to the Abandoned Plan database Opens in new window, hosted by the Department of Labor. There you can search the company, and you will be provided with information on how to locate the lost plan.
You can also search the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits Opens in new window to find plans under your name.
Once you find one account, you can potentially spot a few more, as theres a possibility you have multiple plans hosted by the same company. The other accounts should come up as you log into the management companys website.
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Search The Abandoned Plan Database
If you cant find your lost money by contacting your old employer, searching the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits, or the FreeERISA website, you have one last place to check, the Abandoned Plan Database offered by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Searching is simple, you can search their database by Plan Name or Employer name, and locate the Qualified Termination Administrator responsible for directing the shutdown of the plan.
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How To Find An Old 401 And What To Do With It
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There are billions of dollars sitting unclaimed in ghosted workplace retirement plans. And some of it might be yours if youve ever left a job and forgotten to take your vested retirement savings with you.
But no matter how long the cobwebs have been forming on your old 401, that money is still yours. All you have to do is find it.
Locate An Old 401 Statement
If youâre having trouble getting a hold of your former employerâs HR department, refer to an account statement of your old 401.
If youâre still living at the same address, you should have yearly or quarterly statements mailed to you. Check your statement for information on where your account is held and any contact information.
The information on your statements will come in handy in identifying how much money youâll be transferring over to make sure nothing is left behind.
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How To Find Missing Or Lost Retirement Accounts
Americans have reportedly lost or abandoned more than $1 trillion in retirement benefits from previous employers. Fortunately, if youve misplaced retirement account funds, there are more ways than ever to find and claim your money.
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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What Should You Do With Your Old 401s
Employer-sponsored retirement plans dont travel with you when you switch jobs, meaning its on you to manage those plans during job changes. It can be hectic and confusing.
If you have at least $5,000 in your 401, you’ll generally be allowed to leave your money where it is even after you move on to a new job. . If you’re comfortable with your old plan’s fund selection and fees, it might make sense to leave your 401 alone as long as you don’t forget about it. That’s easier said than done as the decades pass and you accumulate more accounts.
You have a few options if youve lost track of your old accounts. While theres no federally run national database where you can look up all the retirement accounts that are associated with your name, the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits, run by the retirement benefit processor PenChecks, has an extensive catalogue of retirement accounts thats updated weekly. You can also contact your old employer or 401 plan manager.
Once youve gotten a hold of your old accounts, youll want to check how much money they have and how your investments are doing. If youre paying low fees and getting returns that match the market, there may be no reason for you to move the account, at least not right away.
For ease of record-keeping, though, it might be best to roll over your old 401s into your individual retirement account . That way, your money will be in one place as you approach retirement, and it will be easier for you to manage.
Where To Find Unclaimed Money
The kind of unclaimed money may affect the type of database you need to search in or the state agency you need to contact.
Unfortunately, this is a state-by-state issue, says Warren Ward, CFP, founder of WWA Planning and Investments in Columbus, Indiana. I know of no national database.
So for many types of unclaimed money or property, youll need to search your states records.
In Indiana you can visit indianaunclaimed.gov, a site maintained by the Attorney Generals office, says Ward. Its actually something we do every year for our clients, but its very easy to do for an individual if they care.
Ward cautions about treasure hunters contacting you out of the blue and offering to find lost money for you.
The claiming process is now automated, but we still hear of people cruising the database for large amounts of money and trying to get people to pay them to locate the funds, he says.
So if someone contacts you about finding unclaimed money, it may be a tip-off that you have funds out there somewhere. That means you should initiate a search yourself. You can conduct a search for free at any of the state websites and neednt pay anyone to find money for you.
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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.
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
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How Does Money Get Left Behind
Very few people stay at one employer the entire length of their career.
But unlike your bank account which you may have from job to job, a 401 account is linked to your employer. It is up to you to do something about it.
When you leave your employer, the money may stay in the account for an indefinite amount of time.
However, if the company closes the 401 plan, files for bankruptcy, goes out of business or is acquired by another company, you may be forced to decide, within a short period of time.
Its possible that years will go by after you parted ways with your old job, and then youll get a letter notifying you that you need to move your 401 account, or take a distribution.
If this happens, youre much better off rolling the money into an IRA account, or transferring the money into your current companys 401 plan.
Us Department Of Labor Abandoned Plan Search
If your former employer has filed for bankruptcy, gone out of business, or was purchased by another company, your 401 might be in limbo.
In these cases, employers are required to notify you so you can receive your funds. However, if your contact information has changed or you’ve moved, your plan may have been abandoned.
You can use the Department of Labor’s Abandoned Plan Search tool to locate your old 401s. You will need to enter basic information about your former employer then, you can narrow your search using your social security number.
Like the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits, the DOLâs Plan Search tool only located abandoned plan. Thereâs a good chance your old 401s wonât show up in these results.
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What Other Sites Can I Visit To Check For Lost Money
As I mentioned earlier, lost retirement accounts are just one type of unclaimed money. Here are some other resources that can help you find missing money:
- MissingMoney.com: a government database of unclaimed property.
- HUD.gov: If youve ever gotten a Federal Housing Administration loan, you may be due a refund.
- FDIC.gov: Search for unclaimed funds from failed banks and other financial institutions on this site.
- USA.gov: This site is full of resources to search for unclaimed money, including federal money such as tax refunds and bonds.
- FindMyFunds.com: links to the official website of at least 25 states including some not covered by MissingMoney.com.
Search Form 5500 Directory
All employers that provide 401 plans to their employees are required to fill out a 5500 form every year with the DOL. Websites like FreeERISA* allow users to search by company name to locate the correct Form 5500. Another option is to search the DOLs 5500 database. Both simple searches will provide you with additional contact information.
For further assistance in finding lost 401 plans, the U.S. Department of Labor has an Abandoned Plan Search, which helps participants and others find out whether a particular plan is in the process of beingor already has beenterminated. The name of the Qualified Termination Administrator responsible for the termination will be listed as well, giving you a good idea of who to contact .
But beware: some companies, even legitimate ones, can acquire your information about unclaimed retirement accounts and offer to assist you with your search, often with a percentage fee for their services.
When it comes to planning and saving for retirement, its vital to have all your assets accounted for. Locating an old 401 plan is like finding cash in the pocket of an old pair of jeans. Its money you forgot you had but are happy you found. So if you know youve contributed funds to a 401 account but cant figure out where those funds are, the resources listed above may help you find past retirement accounts that may have been lost along your employment journey.
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