If you forgot about an old 401k plan, you’re not alone. According to a study by Capitalize, there were over 25 million lost 401k accounts totalling $1.35 trillion in value in 2021.
Finding a lost 401k account is actually quite easy. In most cases, it’ll be right where you left it – at your old company. However, depending on the amount you had in your account, the money may have been moved to another retirement account like an IRA.
The good news is that you’re still entitled to the full amount. Just because you lost access, doesn’t mean you lose control over the funds.
This guide will explain step-by-step how to track down a lost 401k account, and what to do with it once you find it.
How do I find a lost 401k plan?
Your old 401k is likely to be found in one of three places:
- Still at the old company you departed from.
- Moved to a new retirement account.
- Your state’s unclaimed property division.
It largely depends on the status of your old company, their process for handling 401k plans of departed employees, and the amount you had in your account.
- If the company is still around, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find your old 401k. In fact, there’s a good chance it’s still sitting there and earning interest from investments.
- If you had more than $5,000 in your account, it’s likely still sitting with your old company. Once you find it, you can even choose to leave it there until you reach the 401k RMD age of 72.
- If your balance was between $1,000 and $5,000, your company is allowed to rollover the funds into an IRA without requiring your consent. In that case, you’ll need to get the plan provider’s contact information and reach out to them.
- If your balance was under $1,000 they may have just sent you a check to the address they had on file.
- If the company was acquired, went bankrupt, or relocated, you may have a more difficult time tracking it down and may even need to search through government databases.
Wherever it may be, here are the 3 most effective methods to find your old 401k plan.
Method #1: Contact your former employer
The first step is to contact the HR department of your former employer.
Before you contact them, make sure you have the following information prepared:
- Your dates of employment.
- Social Security Number.
- Any old documents that you might have referring to your old 401k plan.
In most cases, the HR department should be able to give you the information you need to access your account. They may even help you take the proper steps into rolling over your old 401k funds and assets into a new retirement plan.
Method #2: Find an old 401k plan statement
Most companies send out 401k plan statements, by mail or electronically, once per year or per quarter. Unless the company had an incorrect mailing address, you’ll likely have received some sort of plan statement while you were working there.
If your old HR department is unable to help you, you can try locating any old plan statements that you may have received. Check to see if there is any information about how to get in touch with the plan administrator.
If you can’t find anything, you can also try asking former colleagues to see if they can give you any details about the plan provider.
Method #3: Search databases
If you’ve contacted your old HR department and looked through old plan statements and still cannot find your old 401k plan, the next step is to search through a few databases. In most cases, you should be able to locate your old 401k plan in one of the four databases shared below.
Databases you can try searching for lost 401k plans:
- Missing Money – Run a multi-state search for unclaimed property to your name. If you have a lost 401k that your old company is not able to help you find, there’s a good chance you’ll find it using this database by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.
- Department of Labor’s abandoned plan database – If your old company shuts down, they may have abandoned their 401k program. If that’s the case, you may be able to find the administrator’s contact information in this database..
- FreeErisa – Most 401k plans will file a Form 5500 with the IRS each year. You can search the FreeErisa database to see if you can find one for your old plan provider. If you do, you should be able to see their contact information on the form.
- Nation Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits – If your company tried to contact you when you left, but weren’t able to get in touch, they may have listed you as a missing participant in this nationwide database. If you don’t see your name here, it doesn’t mean your plan is gone for good; it just means your old company never registered you in the database.
If nothing comes up, check old W-2 forms
If nothing comes up using all three of the methods above, you may want to check if you actually contributed to a 401k plan at your company.
Check your old W-2 forms that you filled out while you were working there. If you contributed to a 401k plan, the amount you contributed should be listed in Box 12 of the W-2 form.
What to do with your old 401k plan
When you regain access to your old 401k account, there are several options you can take.
- Leave it alone. Let it stay in the old 401k account.
- Rollover the funds to an IRA.
- Rollover the funds to your new company 401k.
- Rollover the funds to a solo 401k.
If you discovered that the 401k is still sitting at your old company, you can choose to leave it alone if you’re happy with how it’s invested. However, you won’t be able to contribute anymore since you’re no longer an employee there.
The more popular option is to rollover the funds into a Roth IRA, the 401k plan of your new employer, or a solo 401k. If you have self-employment activity and no full-time employees, you’re eligible for a solo 401k. Rollovers to the solo 401k are desirable because it gives you total freedom in what you can invest in, a Roth account, and tax-free compounding.
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