Financial Education

How To Find Lost 401k Money & Unclaimed Retirement Accounts5 min read

Jul 23, 2021 4 min
How To Find Lost 401k Accounts

How To Find Lost 401k Money & Unclaimed Retirement Accounts5 min read

Reading Time: 4 minutes

When people change employers and leave their retirement accounts with the old employer’s plan, it is not uncommon for this to slip your mind, and you completely forget about it. It is not that uncommon as one may think, as many people are often unaware that they’re participating in a retirement plan in the first place.

Now, this will not include gold ira accounts, but instead, more often the traditional 401k accounts. Either way, I suggest that you follow the advice provided below to check if you have any forgotten retirement accounts. If you do, then finding said accounts is a way to instantly increase your retirement savings.

Unclaimed 401k Accounts

How Many 401k’s Are Forgotten: More Than You Think!

There is no way to check how much retirement money gets lost or forgotten; some estimate that close to a million US employees lose track of their 401k plans each year. These people don’t lose the entirety of their retirement savings but a portion of their retirements.

The independent agency tasked by the US government to protect pension benefits in the private sector, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, estimates that close to 40,000 people in the US have not claimed the pension benefits they are owed. In a bulk estimate, this amounts to over 300 million dollars in unclaimed pension benefits.

How To Check If You Have Forgotten Retirement Benefits

If you have changed employers several times over your professional career, then here are three things you can do if you suspect you have a lost 401k from one of your former employees:

Contact All Former Employers

This is a no-brainer. It’s the first thing you should do when tracking down a lost 401k. Contact the HR departments or accounting departments of all your previous employers. As them to check retirement plan records for any information.

You’ll need them to check to confirm if and when you’ve participated in the 401k plan. After providing your personal information, you should also have the dates of employment. After all, then need to know when you worked for the company to do research.

Reference An Old Statement

Your previous employer may often be out of business, so there would be no company to contact. In that case, search your documents and find a 401k plan statement.

From here, you should contact the plan administrator and have them check the records for any missing or lost 401k parts.

Use the Department Of Labor Database

Each retirement plan administrator must file an annual tax return known as Form 5500 with both the IRS and the DOL.

There is an online database where you can search through the Form 5500 filings and search for the name of your former employer. In doing so, you’ll be able to find info on the plan administrator and contact them to check your account.

Search the National Registry for Lost 401k

If you fail to contact your former employer or plan administrator for your lost 401k plan, you are in an unpleasant situation. There are other things you can do, but these involve plenty of research of different registries and databases:

National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits

The first thing to do is to search the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits. It’s a registry where employers register names of former employees that have left money with them.

The employees can then do a free search through the database by providing their Social Security number and will find out if they are entitled to any unpaid retirement account money.

FreeERISA

For the people whose 401k accounts are between $1,000 and $5,000, their lost retirement funds may be rolled into a default participant IRA account.

These are usually created when a participant fails to respond to an employee’s request for payout instructions. The search for the 401k and IRA accounts should be done on the FreeERISA website, but you’ll need to register to search.

US Department of Labor

As a last resort, the US Department of Labor keeps records of all abandoned retirement plans and plans in the process of termination.

You can search the database to find the Qualified Termination Administrator responsible for directing the plan’s closing and getting info on further action.

What Should I Do If I Lost A Pension?

The PBGC protects all pension money, so in the case of missing or losing a pension, you can take action. Even if the employer declares bankruptcy or goes out of business, you can search for the lost funds.

Contact the PBGC and ask them to look for any unclaimed pension benefits under the participant’s name, or search by state or company. Keep in mind that New York and California each have over $40 million in unclaimed pensions.

What To Do After Finding Your Lost 401k

In the happy chance that you find a lost retirement account, your following action depends on the type of plan and its location. For the most part, an old 401k account can be rolled over into your current employer’s plan or be rolled in a trustee-to-trustee transfer.

In some cases, you can request a payout of the plan balance. Please note that if you are under 59.5 years old, the payout is subjected to income tax and a 10% penalty for early withdrawal.

If the pension fund is found through the PBGC, you need to verify your identity, and after everything is confirmed, you’ll be eligible to get the funds when you reach retirement age.

How To Handle Your Lost Money

If you’re the unfortunate individual who’s lost a part of your pension, then the first thing to do is get organized. You should organize everything and create a comprehensive retirement plan that should involve the following at a minimum:

  • All current documents
  • Find out what is missing
  • Find out what you need for a secure retirement
  • Understand your financial state
  • Discover opportunities to make more of what you have

To Wrap Up: Don’t Leave Essential Things For Later

People find themselves in such a predicament because they always think that “There is time to deal with this later.”

Well, I’m here to tell you that years will pass, and you are likely to forget about some old accounts and miss out on money you’ve put for retirement.

Even if the sum is only several hundred dollars, with time and market growth, it can grow and be applied to your retirement savings, so it is worth the look, just to be sure. Worse case, you check and lose a little bit of time, but time well spent.

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