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How to find your old 401(k)
3 steps to uncovering your old 401(k) — and what to do once you’ve found it.
Switching jobs can be hectic, and it’s not uncommon for things to get lost in the shuffle — including your old 401(k). If you need to know how to find your old 401(k), don’t fret. There are many strategies and databases to help you recover forgotten retirement funds.
3 steps to find your old 401(k)
It’s not all that uncommon to lose a 401(k) — especially if you didn’t have much invested to begin with. It’s possible you were automatically enrolled in a 401(k) by your old employer and didn’t 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 aren’t gone, and you’re entitled to them. It’s 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 don’t have HR’s email address or phone number on hand, reach out to any company employees you’re still in touch with to request the information.
In most cases, it shouldn’t 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 let’s say you haven’t 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(k) account.
Do you have any old account statements lying around? It might be time to dig through the filing cabinet for the last 401(k) statement you received from your past employer. This statement should have the plan administrator’s name and contact information on it. And they should be able to reconnect you with your missing account — or at least tell you where the funds are.
During this step, you may discover your old 401(k) was liquidated or moved. If your account had less than $1,000 in it, plan administrators are permitted to mail you a check, transfer the funds to a federally insured bank account or send the funds to your state’s unclaimed property fund. If the account had more than $1,000 but less than $5,000, the administrator may have rolled your old 401(k) into an individual retirement account (IRA) — a process known as an involuntary cash-out — which they can do without your consent.
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.
Most are free to use with the exception of FreeERISA. Its Basic service doesn’t cost anything to use, but its Deluxe service tier is $14.95 monthly. The difference between the two? The Basic plan offers access to FreeERISA’s Form 5500 data, allowing you to search for plans by company name, state and ZIP code. The Deluxe plan gives you more search options, including plan type, total assets and total participants. It also lets you look up Non-Qualified Deferred Compensation Plans.
|Database||How to get started|
|The National Registry of Unclaimed Benefits|
|The DOL’s Abandoned Plan Search|
|Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation|
What to do when you find an old 401(k)
Once you’ve reconnected with your old 401(k), it’s 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(k), 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, it’ll be yet another account to keep track of come retirement, and you may be better off rolling it over.
- New 401(k) rollover. Has your new employer offered you a 401(k)? Consider consolidating your retirement funds by rolling your old retirement account into a new 401(k).
- IRA rollover. If you don’t have a new 401(k) 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(k) ahead of schedule can result in major penalties.
- If you’re older than 59 ½, you can access funds without penalty.
- If you’re under 59 ½, withdrawals are subject to a 10% tax penalty and other fees.
Compare retirement accounts
Your 401(k) options are generally determined by your employer, unless you’re self-employed with a solo 401(k). If you don’t like the plan or want a supplement, consider these and other brokers offering retirement accounts.
Losing an old 401(k) isn’t the end of the world — just make sure you have a game plan in place for the funds once you uncover them. Without a new 401(k) to roll funds into, consider opening an IRA to help your retirement savings retain their tax-advantaged status. And for more on 401(k)s and how they work, check out our comprehensive 401(k) beginner’s guide.
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