If you’ve worked for more than one employer in your lifetime, you may have lost or forgotten retirement benefits just waiting for you to track them down.
Here’s how to find and claim those long-lost accounts.
You may have contributed to a 401(k) for a former employer without even realizing it. Some employers will automatically enroll you in their 401(k) plans at a low contribution level, and if you didn’t fill out the paperwork to decline auto-enrollment, you could have built up a 401(k) balance without your knowledge.
The easiest way to find an old 401(k) is to contact the HR departments of your former employers and ask whether you have an open balance in a 401(k) with them. If you don’t have contact information for an old employer, or if the company has gone out of business, try the Department of Labor’s Form 5500 search. Form 5500 is a tax form that 401(k) plan administrators are generally required to file annually, so if you can track down your plan’s Form 5500, you’ll find the plan administrator’s contact information and can reach out to them. Note that this search only goes back to 2009; if the 401(k) plan you participated in ceased operation before then, you won’t find it here.
Another option is to search the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits. This is a free service to match up former employees with their unclaimed retirement benefits. You’ll need to provide your Social Security number in order to perform the search. If you find a match, the registry will provide contact information for your former employer so that you can claim your account.
If you are fortunate enough to be eligible for a pension from a former employer, you could have guaranteed retirement income that will last as long as you do. Most employers require you to work for the company for a minimum amount of time (often five years) in order to vest in the pension, meaning that you won’t qualify for benefits unless you worked there at least that long.
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) is a federal government agency that maintains and protects pensions. It’s funded through insurance premiums paid by participating employers. If you worked for a company that offered a pension, even if the company is no more, the pension may still exist thanks to the PBGC.
You can search the PBGC website for an unclaimed pension using either your own name or a former employer’s name. Failed pension plans that were rescued by the PBGC will be listed in the Trusteed Pension Plans search by company name.
What to do next
What to do next
If your searches uncover an old 401(k) account in your name, your best bet is to roll the money in that account over to your current retirement savings account, be it another 401(k) or an IRA. Keeping all your retirement savings in one place helps you to keep track of how your investments are doing and whether or not you’re saving enough to meet your retirement goals.
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To claim an old pension, you’ll need to contact the PBGC and prove your identity. After successfully claiming your pension, you’ll be able to start drawing on the benefits once you hit retirement age. If your time with the employer providing the pension was brief, you probably won’t get much — but hey, there’s no point in missing out on free money.
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— Update: 10-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article Find Lost 401k: How to Find Out If You Have Lost or Forgotten Retirement Accounts from the website www.newretirement.com for the keyword national registry of unclaimed retirement benefits legit.
Here is a guide for how to find lost money — a lost 401k or other unclaimed retirement benefits.
Finding a lost 401k or other retirement account is more tedious than metal detector treasure hunting,
but perhaps more rewarding.
A few years ago, I received a strange notice in the mail: a former employer was discontinuing their retirement plan and I had 30 days to either roll my balance into a different account or receive a (taxable) distribution from the plan. This sort of thing happens quite often when people change jobs and leave their retirement account in the old employer’s plan. The strange thing about this notice was, I had no idea I’d been participating in the plan while I worked there!
Could the same thing have happened to you? If you’re looking for ways to increase your retirement savings, you just may want to look for lost or forgotten retirement accounts.
How many lost 401k’s and other retirement accounts are forgotten?
Think lost and forgotten retirement accounts amount to chump change? Although no one keeps data on how much retirement money gets lost or forgotten, in an interview with Bloomberg, Terry Dunne of Millennium Trust Co., made “an educated guess based on government and industry data that more than 900,000 workers lose track of 401k-style, defined-contribution plans each year.”
That figure doesn’t include pensions. According to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, an independent agency of the U.S. government tasked with protecting pension benefits in private-sector defined benefit plans, there are more than 38,000 people in the U.S. who haven’t claimed pension benefits they are owed. Those unclaimed pensions total over $300 million dollars, with one individual being owed almost $1 million dollars!
Could that money belong to you?
Talk to former employers
Here are 3 ideas for tracking down a lost 401k from a former employer:
Contact former employers
The easiest and most effective method for locating an old lost 401k is to contact your former employers. Ask the human resources or accounting department to check their plan records to see if you’ve ever participated in the 401k plan. You’ll need to provide your full name, Social Security number, and the dates you worked for them.
Reference an old statement
Because companies reorganize, merge, get acquired, or go out of business every day, it’s possible that your former employer is no longer around. In that case, try to locate a lost 401k plan statement and look for contact information for the plan administrator. If you don’t have an old statement, reach out to former coworkers and ask if they have an old statement.
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Track down previous employer via the Department of Labor
If you can’t find an old statement, you may still be able to track down contact information for the plan administrator via the plan’s tax return. Many plans are required to file an annual tax return, Form 5500, with the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor (DOL). You can search for these 5500s by the name of your former employer at www.efast.dol.gov. If you can find a Form 5500 for an old plan, it should have contact information on it.
Once you locate contact information for the plan administrator, call them to check on your account. Again, you’ll need to have your personal information available.
Search the national registry and other databases for your lost 401k
If you aren’t successful in contacting your former employer or the plan administrator, unfortunately, there is no central database for searching for old retirement assets. You’ll have to try a few places.
National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits
You may be able to locate your retirement account funds on the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits. This registry is a secure search website designed to help both employers and former employees. Employees can perform a free database search to determine if they may be entitled to any unpaid retirement account money. Employers can register names of former employees who left money with them. You’ll need to provide your Social Security number, but no additional information is required.
If your lost 401k account was worth more than $1,000 but less than $5,000, your former employer might have rolled the funds into a default participant IRA account on your behalf. Default IRAs can be created when a participant fails to respond to a former employer’s request for pay-out instructions. You can search for 401k and IRA accounts for free on the FreeERISA website. Registration is required to perform a search.
U.S. Department of Labor
Even if your former employer abandoned its retirement plan, your money isn’t lost forever. The U.S. Department of Labor maintains records for plans that have been abandoned or are in the process of being terminated. Search their database to find the Qualified Termination Administrator (QTA) responsible for directing the shutdown of the plan.
Lost a Pension?
Think you might be missing a pension? The good news is that even if your former employer declared bankruptcy or went out of business, your pension money is protected by the PBGC and they keep a list of unclaimed pension assets. Pensions are becoming increasingly rare these days, but perhaps your parents or grandparents had one, and your family is owed the balance of an unclaimed pension.
You can contact the PBGC and ask them to look up unclaimed pension benefits by the participant or beneficiary’s last name, or by company or state.
NOTE: California and New York each have $40 million in unclaimed pensions.
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A special note for Pennsylvania residents
If you live in Pennsylvania, you should start your search sooner rather than later.
In most states, lost or abandoned money, including checking and savings accounts, must be turned over to the state’s unclaimed property fund. Every state has unclaimed property programs that are meant to protect consumers by ensuring that money owed to them is returned to the consumer rather than remaining with financial institutions and other companies. Typically, retirement accounts have been excluded from unclaimed property laws.
However, Pennsylvania recently changed their laws to require that unclaimed IRAs and Roth IRAs be handed over to the state’s fund if the account has been dormant for three years or more.
If your account is liquidated and turned over to the state before the age of 59.5, you could only learn about the account when you receive a notice from the IRS saying you owe tax on a distribution!
Company 401k plans are excluded from the law unless they’ve been converted to an IRA. If you know you have an account in Pennsylvania, be sure to log onto your account online periodically. You can also check the state’s website at patreasury.gov to see if you have any unclaimed property.
What to do with a lost retirement account when you find it
Once you’ve found a lost retirement account, what you do with it depends on what type of plan it is and where it’s located.
Old 401k balances can be rolled into your current employer’s plan or rolled into an IRA in a trustee-to-trustee transfer. You can also request a payout of the plan balance, but if you are under the age of 59.5, the payout will be subject to income taxes and a 10% penalty for early withdrawal.
If you find an old pension through the PBGC, you’ll have to go through a process to verify your identity. Once the PBGC has established that you are owed the benefits, you can apply for them at any time once you’ve reached retirement age.
It’s not uncommon for former employees to leave funds in a former employer’s retirement plan, believing they’ll get around to dealing with it later. Years pass by, and maybe you’ve forgotten about a few old accounts. Even if they didn’t amount to much at the time, a few hundred dollars here and there combined with some market growth over the years just might add up to a nice addition to your retirement savings. It’s worth a look!
Other ways to find lost money
If you are hoping to find lost money, you might want to start by creating a comprehensive and detailed retirement plan. This enables you to:
- Document what you have right now.
- Take stock and think about what might be missing.
- Learning about what you need for a secure retirement is a great way organize your financial life.
- Discover opportunities to make more out of what you have. People who use the NewRetirement retirement planner typically improve their plans by thousands of dollars in their first session with the tool.
The NewRetirement retirement planner has been named a best retirement calculator by the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII), Forbes Magazine, The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, MoneyBoss, CanIRetireyet and many more.