How to Locate Past 401(k) Accounts
If you think you may have lost track of a 401(k) retirement account, you are not alone. As Americans move from job to job, many leave company sponsored 401(k) plans behind, believing they will deal with it later, but never do.
According to a recent study, Americans have left behind approximately $1.35 trillion in retirement accounts that are connected to previous employers. To help find an old 401(k) account, here are some suggestions to help with your search.
Call Your Former Employer
If you need help tracking down your former employer because it may have moved, changed owners or merged with another firm, help is available from the Labor Department (AskEBSA.dol.gov) and the Pension Rights Center and Pension Action Center (PensionRights.org/find-help).
You may want to contact your former employer's human resources department regarding a forgotten 401(k) account. Ask to see if you ever participated in their 401(k) plan, and if so, how much it is worth. You may obtain the name of the financial institution that manages the 401(k) plan. The human resources department may be able to check for you if you provide them with your Social Security number and the dates you worked for them.
If more than $5,000 was left in your 401(k) account, the money is likely still in your workplace account. Your former employer can provide the forms necessary to roll over your retirement money to a different 401(k) or to an individual retirement account (IRA) through your employer or the financial institution. You may be directed to the contact information for any outside financial institution overseeing the plan on your employer's behalf. By following the appropriate instructions, you will be able to move your retirement money where you want.
However, if your old 401(k) account was under $5,000, your former employer may have transferred the money to a default IRA. Your cash may have been moved to an interest-bearing, federally insured bank account or to your state's unclaimed property fund. If this is the case, you will need to track down the account yourself, because your employer will not have access to those records.
While there is no federally run national database where you can look for all the retirement accounts that are associated with your name, a good place to start your search is with the Department of Labor's abandoned plan database (AskEBSA.dol.gov/AbandonedPlanSearch).
You can also search online for the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits. Many companies register with the site to help facilitate a reunion between former employees and their retirement money.
To see if your 401(k) money was turned over to the state's unclaimed property fund, use the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators website to search. If you believe you were covered under a traditional pension plan that was disbanded, call the U.S. Pension Guaranty Corp. at 800-326-5678, or use the trusteed plan search tool at PBGC.gov/search-trusteed-plans.
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.