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Our reporters and editors focus on the points consumers care about most how to save for retirement, understanding the types of accounts, how to choose investments and more so you can feel confident when planning for your future.
Contact The 401 Plan Administrator
If your employer is no longer around, try getting in touch with the plan administrator, which may be listed on an old statement.
If youre unable to find an old statement, you still may be able to find the administrator by searching for the retirement plans tax return, known as Form 5500.
You can find a 5500s by the searching the name of your former employer at www.efast.dol.gov.
If you locate a Form 5500 for an old plan, it should have the contact information on it.
What Is A 401 Account
A 401 plan, named for the section of tax code that governs it, is a retirement plan sponsored by an employer, allowing employees to save a portion of their paycheck for retirement.
The advantage to employees of saving with a 401 plan is they are able to save funds they have earned, before taxes are deducted from a paycheck.
Many employers offer a company match meaning whatever the employee contributes, the company matches.
Although 401 plans were originally born as a supplement to pension plans, they are now often the sole retirement plans offered at companies.
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Use Resources To Discover Unclaimed Assets
Once you use these resources to locate your funds, you can use the following resources to get access to your unclaimed assets.
Search The National Registry
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 .
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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.
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.
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How To Find Unclaimed Retirement Benefits
Many employers offer retirement benefits, and some will even match their employees contributions. However, most people leave employers several times throughout their careers. In leaving one job and taking on another, some employees forget to take their 401 or other retirement accounts with them. If theres a chance you have unclaimed retirement benefits but arent sure how to access them, heres how to find your unclaimed retirement benefits. Keep in mind that getting help from a financial advisor might save you a great deal of time in finding that money.
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
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Find Lost 401k: How To Find Out If You Have Lost Or Forgotten Retirement Accounts
Here is a guide for how to find lost money a lost 401k or other unclaimed retirement benefits.
Finding a lost 401k or other retirement account is more tedious than metal detector treasure hunting,but perhaps more rewarding.
A few years ago, I received a strange notice in the mail: a former employer was discontinuing their retirement plan and I had 30 days to either roll my balance into a different account or receive a distribution from the plan. This sort of thing happens quite often when people change jobs and leave their retirement account in the old employers plan. The strange thing about this notice was, I had no idea Id been participating in the plan while I worked there!
Could the same thing have happened to you? If youre looking for ways to increase your retirement savings, you just may want to look for lost or forgotten retirement accounts.
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.
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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.
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.
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Tips To Avoid Losing Retirement Account Funds
Its a great idea to roll over your old 401 funds to an IRA or to the 401 plan at your new company.
If you roll over your funds, you wont have to worry about losing track of your old 401 or remembering to reallocate your portfolio. You also wont have to face the hassles of tracking everything down if your former company goes out of business.
However, if you decide to leave your 401 account with your old company which can sometimes make a lot of sense there are a few best practices.
First, if you change your address or phone number, make sure you update your old company. Second, keep all your retirement plan documents and tax returns together. That will help you track down your money in the future.
Rolling Into An Ira Stay On Top Of The Move
If you decide to roll over your 401 into an IRA not sponsored by your new employer, your IRA sponsor or advisor will help guide you through the process to ensure the money gets to the proper destination in a timely manner.
Be sure your new broker/advisor has experience with rollovers, especially if you have company stock in your 401. Why? Because company stock is liquidated when its rolled into an IRA, and later, when distributed, may be taxed as ordinary income resulting in a higher tax liability.
As recommended above, stay vigilant until your money is safely in its new home and that you have proof typically verified online through the IRA providers website.
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Next Steps For Your Money
If your old 401 plan is still with a former employer, one option is to leave the money there. But you may not pay as much attention to the account, which could lead to a portfolio thats not appropriate for your age and risk tolerance.
If youre still working and have a 401 at your new job, another option is to roll over the funds into your existing plan, assuming your employer allows it. Another option is to roll the money into an IRA. Having your savings in one place will make it easier to manage your investments.
If youve lost track of a pension, request a pension benefits statement from the plan administrator. Give the administrator your address and phone number so it can reach you to begin payments. You may need to prove your work history and eligibility for the pension you can do so by providing the plan administrator with old W-2 forms or an earnings statement from Social Security, which you can get by filing Form SSA-7050. You can get this form at www.socialsecurity.gov/online/ssa-7050.pdf or by calling Social Security at 800-772-1213.
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.
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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.
Follow These 2 Tips To Prevent This Issue
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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:
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.
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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.
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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S To Find Your Old 401
Its not all that uncommon to lose a 401 especially if you didnt have much invested to begin with. Its possible you were automatically enrolled in a 401 by your old employer and didnt know the account existed. Or maybe you got caught up in the process of switching jobs and forgot to tie up loose ends.
Whatever the case, you can rest assured that your retirement funds arent gone, and youre entitled to them. Its a simple matter of tracking them down and you can start by contacting your old employer.
1. Contact your old employer
Start your search by reaching out to the human resources department of your previous employer. If you dont have HRs email address or phone number on hand, reach out to any company employees youre still in touch with to request the information.
In most cases, it shouldnt be too hard to reconnect with your old employer, but if your company merged with another firm or went out of business, you may need to move on to step two.
2. Speak to the plan administrator
Now lets say you havent had much luck reaching your old company. The next point of contact will be the plan administrator, which is the investment company responsible for managing the investments in your old 401 account.
3. Search national databases
If you follow these steps and still come up short, try a national database. There are numerous sites and services designed to connect former employees with lost retirement savings.