How to Search for Forgotten 401(k) Money
If you think you may have lost track of a 401(k) retirement account, you are not alone. As Americans jump from job to job, many leave portions of their company sponsored 401(k) plans behind, believing they will deal with it later but forget about it as time passes. To help you look for an old 401(k), here are some suggestions and some free resources that can help you in your search.
The first way to locate a previous 401(k) account is to contact the prior employer's human resources department. Ask them to check their plan records to see if you ever participated in their 401(k) plan and, if so, how much the plan is worth. You will need to provide your Social Security number and your dates of employment.
Your prior employer should be able to either give you the necessary forms to roll over your retirement money to a different 401(k) or to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or provide you with contact information for the outside financial institution overseeing the plan on your employer's behalf. By following the appropriate instructions, you should be able to move your retirement money where you want.
If you do not have contact information for your previous employer, check your records to see if you kept an old 401(k) statement. Statements will typically have the information you need to get in contact with either your prior employer or a plan administrator.
If you need help tracking down your former employer because it may have moved, changed owners or merged with another company, free help is available from sources like the Labor Department (AskEBSA.dol.gov, 866-444-3272), the Pension Action Center and the Pension Rights Center (PensionRights.org/find-help).
These services can tap into public databases that list incorporations and bankruptcies and may be able to help you dig up a plan's most recently filed Form 5500, the annual report that must be filed with the IRS, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) and the Labor Department. The results contain the plan's contact information and the employer's identification number, which can be used to locate any plan that inherited the assets in a merger, acquisition or sale.
You can also find recently filed 5500s yourself at websites like FreeERISA.com.
Finding a lost 401(k) account can be trickier if it is worth less than $5,000, because your former employer can transfer the money to a default IRA without consent. Your cash may go into an interest-bearing, federally insured bank account or to your state's unclaimed property fund.
To search for a lost plan, use the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits at UnclaimedRetirementBenefits.com. This website matches former employers with past employees who have unclaimed retirement funds. This is a secure and free service, but you will need to provide your Social Security number to search.
It can also be challenging to track down a lost 401(k) account if your former employer goes bankrupt or abandons the plan. In this case, use the U.S. Department of Labor's Abandoned Plan Database at AskEBSA.dol.gov/abandonedplansearch.
Starting in 2018, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC.gov) will start accepting transfers of missing participants' accounts from terminating 401(k) plans. When the participants are found, PBGC will pay the participants their money plus interest. The agency also plans to launch a registry of terminated 401(k) plans that sent money elsewhere so that missing participants can more easily find their accounts.
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.