How to Find Unclaimed Retirement Benefits

With every job change comes a new benefits package. If you’re not meticulous about rolling over your retirement accounts, you can quickly lose track of various employer-sponsored accounts, such as 401(k)s or 403(b)s.

You’re not alone if you find yourself unsure of where your old retirement accounts may be. Some companies offer a service that tracks down your lost retirement dollars and help you roll them over into an individual retirement account (IRA). While that may seem like the path of least resistance, you can also try to find them on your own. You just need to know where to look.

Key Takeaways

  • Changing jobs might mean that you have several retirement accounts.
  • Some companies offer a service to find the accounts on your behalf.
  • You can find the accounts yourself with a little legwork.
  • You can try to ask your former employer and check unclaimed property websites.
  • Once you find your accounts, roll them over into stable investments.

Ask Your Former Employer

Most forgotten retirement accounts are linked to a former employer. Since accounts like 401(k)s and 403(b)s are employer-sponsored plans, the company chooses the administrator and keeps records of all of the accounts. The first step is calling your benefits manager at your former company and asking if they have a history of your account.

If they do, you can reach out to the account administrator to direct your funds into a new account via a rollover. Cashing out the account is also an option, but this might trigger early withdrawal penalties and taxes, depending on your age.

What if your company went under? In this case, you’ll have to go to the plan administrator, such as Fidelity, Vanguard, Charles Schwab, and TD Ameritrade.

Suppose you don’t remember your log-in or password. In that case, a customer service representative should be able to verify your identity using other authentication methods, such as your Social Security number (SSN), mother’s maiden name, and/or security questions.

If you don’t remember the name of your plan administrator, check the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) website. Every company must file a Form 5500 to report the company’s plan administrator, its assets, and participants. You can navigate to the EFAST system through the DOL website, which searches by company, as long as your tenure was after 2010.

To find Form 5500, follow these steps:

  1. Visit the DOL website.
  2. Click on “Form 5500 Series Search.”
  3. Type your former company’s name in the search bar. Be as specific as possible.
  4. Once the list pops up, choose which year you left the company. Hit the download icon.
  5. A new window will open with the company’s Form 5500. Depending on the year and the filing, you may have to search for the administrator’s name, but it will be there.

Check Unclaimed Property Portals

If the DOL can’t point you in the right direction, you may have to try unclaimed funds portals. When money is left in a 401(k) for an extended period after employment ends, the money is sometimes transferred to a state unclaimed property office. These offices hold unclaimed funds until the rightful owner claims them.

The good news is that it’s fairly simple to find your money using one of several database search programs. Sites like MissingMoney.com, Unclaimed.org, and UnclaimedRetirementBenefits.com can help you find old accounts.

Tip

If you’ve changed your name since leaving a job, try searching by your previous name. Many unclaimed funds portals search by name, rather than by SSN.

Next Steps

Once you’ve found your account, roll it over into a new IRA so you can keep tabs on it. You can easily roll the account into a traditional or Roth IRA.

What Happens If I Never Claim My Account?

If an account has been turned over to the unclaimed property department, it will stay there until someone claims it. That person must be the original owner or the heir of the original owner. If you die and your heir doesn’t claim it, it remains in the unclaimed property account in perpetuity.

How Long Will My Money Stay in My Retirement Plan?

This varies by company and account balance, and it depends on what is happening with the plan. If the company is liquidating, you may have to decide what to do with it or risk having it convert to cash very quickly. If your account has less than $1,000, the firm is allowed to cut you a check for the amount and close your account.

Does My Money Continue to Grow Even After I Leave?

While the money is enrolled in the 401(k), it can continue to grow. However, if the fund converts to cash, it will no longer earn compound interest. It also won’t be subject to the whims of the market, so its cash status could be good or bad. If your account balance is more than $5,000 and you’re content with how your assets are allocated, you can leave the money where it is.

The Bottom Line

While job hopping can help you earn more money over time, you should wrap up loose ends when you leave a position. If you suspect that you have a retirement account wasting away in cyberspace, in most cases, you should do a little legwork to return it to its rightful home: your portfolio.

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