How to Find an Old 401(k) Account


Here’s the scenario: You worked for a company sometime in the past and contributed to the 401(k) or 403(b) plan.  When you left the company, you left the funds in the plan, forgot about it, but recently came across an old statement. Excited, you call the plan administrator, assuming that you can figure out who the current administrator is. You’re lucky enough to reach someone and are told that the company’s accounts had been transferred to another plan administrator years ago. You then call the new administrator and are told they also could not find your 401(k) using your social security number or other identifying information. How do you proceed?  What are your options?

A recent Q&A by personal finance columnist Liz Weston tackles this very question.

First off, prepare to make a lot more phone calls.

There’s no central repository for missing 401(k) funds — at least not yet. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which safeguards traditional pensions, has proposed rules that would allow it to hold orphaned 401(k) money from plans that have closed. However, that won’t start until 2018. Another proposal, by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), would direct the IRS to set up an online database so workers could find pension and 401(k) benefits from open or closed plans, but Congress has yet to take action on that.

If your balance was less than $5,000 (or was more than that when you left your employer, but the funds somehow declined below that balance due to market performance or fees), your employer could have approved a forced IRA transfer, and the money could be sitting with a financial services firm that accepts small accounts. If the plan was closed and your employer couldn’t find you, the money could have been transferred to an IRA, a bank account or a state escheat office. You can check state escheat offices at Unclaimed.org, the official site of the National Assn. of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA). NAUPA also endorses the site MissingMoney.com.  Searching for an IRA or bank account may require some additional help.

If your employer still exists, call to find out if anyone knows what happened to your money. If the company is out of business, you may be able to get free help tracking down your money from the U.S. Department of Labor (at askebsa.dol.gov or (866) 444-3272) or from the Pension Rights Center, a nonprofit pension counseling center (pensionrights.org/find-help).  Another place to check is the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits, a subsidiary of a private company, called PenChecks, that processes retirement checks, at www.unclaimedretirementbenefits.com.

Your employer or a plan administrator could insist that you cashed in your account at some point. You may be able to prove otherwise if you’ve kept old tax returns, since those typically would show any distributions. Ultimately, you may have to seek legal help if you’re sure that your money is out there somewhere and you’re not getting any results.

If you do find your money, understand that you may still have missed out on a lot of growth. Your investments may have been converted to cash, which has earned next to nothing over the past decade or so, particularly after inflation.

Leaving a 401(k) account in an old employer’s plan can be a convenient option, but only if you’re willing to keep track of the money — and let the administrator know each time you change your address. Your retirement success depends on it.

This shows why it’s important not to lose track of old retirement accounts. Ultimately, your current employer may allow you to transfer old accounts into its plan, or, more preferable, you can roll the money into an IRA. Either way, it’s much better to keep on top of your retirement money than to try to find it years later.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

Source: How to track down an old retirement account by Liz Weston

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