If you’ve worked for more than one employer during your career, you could be one of many Americans who have an old 401(k) account. According to USA Today, more than $7.7 billion in retirement savings went unclaimed in 2015 because owners lost access to their account or forgot about them altogether. Fortunately, there are several easy steps you can take to locate and reclaim a 401(k) from a past employer.
Contact Previous Employer
One of the quickest ways to find an old 401(k) is by contacting your former employer. Find current company contact information online and call or send an email or letter explaining who you are and asking about possible retirement funds in your name. If the company no longer exists, there are still options. You may be able to remember former co-workers who can tell you about possible retirement accounts. If that path doesn’t yield results, it’s time to widen your search.
Research Company History
If a company you once worked for no longer exists, it may have been part of a takeover or merger. Research the history of the company online to find out if your 401(k) account is now being managed by a company with a different name.
Check Unclaimed Benefits Websites
There are several online resources that can help you find a lost 401(k). The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits is a database of lost retirement accounts maintained by PenChecks Trust, a retirement benefit distribution company. The service, which allows you to enter your social security number to securely search for lost accounts, is free. In some cases, a 401(k) has been terminated by the employer, and plan participants paid out. The U.S. Department of Labor maintains a database of terminated 401(k) plans that you can search by employer name.
Avoiding Lost Retirement Accounts
Keeping track of 401(k) and pension accounts is the best way to avoid the hassle of trying to find lost accounts. Financial advisers recommend rolling over your old 401(k) to a traditional IRA or to a new 401(k) account when you change jobs. You can maintain your tax benefits if you transfer the funds directly from an old 401(k) to a new one, while an IRA will require that you pay taxes when you deposit money from your old 401(k) but not when you withdraw it later. Cashing out your 401(k) when you leave a job is generally not advised since you will owe income tax and a 10 percent withdrawal penalty if you are under age 59 ½.
- If you worked for a labor union, you may be able to request information about your old 401(k) from a union representative.
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