How to Find a Lost or Unclaimed 401k Retirement Plan?

Many companies today offer their employees certain benefits that include retirement savings plans such as a 401k account. However, the average boomer now approaching retirement may have worked an average of 12 jobs through the years. Worse still, these individuals might have relocated one or more times.

In addition, some of these companies might have gone out of business taking their past employees secrets with them. The good news is that these individuals can find a lost or unclaimed 401k retirement plan using the following helpful strategies to track this valuable information down.

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Why It Is Easier Today to Find Unclaimed or Lost Income Like 401K Plans

If you are now approaching your retirement years and would like to find old retirement accounts and other related income sources, there are some terrific advantages in the way of technology and recent government assistance programs to help you do just that. This type of information is easier to find using a computer or smartphone.

Some Helpful Information on Tracking Down Unclaimed or Lost Retirement Funds

  • Make use of the Internet
  • Try some of the many online income tracking websites
  • Learn about the new 2023 Spending Bill already passed by Congress and approved by President Biden
  • Sort old papers you may have at home, in storage or in a lawyer's office

How Much Retirement Account Money Is Currently Sitting Unclaimed in the U.S.?

Some financial experts estimate that over 25 million retirement accounts are currently being held as unclaimed funds right here in the United States. Of these, there are now trillions of dollars sitting unused waiting for someone to claim it.

Why You Should Learn How the Recent Spending Bill Can Help Your Find Your Money

SECURE 2.0 Act consists of helpful federal mandates and provisions designed to aid individuals in finding lost IRA and other retirement accounts. This is a database used as a lost-and-found online tool that will match individual's data information with their unclaimed accounts.

There are over 90 detailed provisions that will list workforce retirement plans in a program operated by the U.S. Department of Labor and set to be up and running by the end of 2024.

This bill also will require companies to share their past employee information to this database making it easier for those past employees to transfer any accrued retirement account income into new IRAs or other accounts.

How Do Retirement Account Funds Get Lost?

Retirement income held in accounts, like a 401k plan, can become lost due to employees changing jobs, relocating, retiring early, changing of names and other personal information along with lax record upkeep behavior from companies that offer these benefits.

Other reasons include changes to the account itself such as a new sponsor taking over at some point and human resource departments being unable to find their past employees.

Why This Should Matter to Everyone

Some employees that have left one or more jobs where they had a retirement account could be in for a very pleasant surprise. Many of these unclaimed and lost accounts have increased in funds substantially as the years have gone by. Some individuals mistakenly believe that any accrued funds are not worth the time and effort to track it down.

This could be a grave financial mistake, and the government wants it to be easier than ever before to roll over any old retirement accounts into new ones so that the monies can continue to grow over time. In short, there could be a sizeable financial nest egg waiting for you to claim it. These are assets that can be used to fund your retirement years.

Tracking Down Your Old 401K Retirement Plan – Where to Start

Begin your search by locating any saved account receipts or other paperwork. These are often misplaced and may be hard to find. Next, make a list of old employers especially those ones where you are certain that you signed up for this kind of account.

What if You No Longer Have Old Employer Addresses?

This information can be found online by searching for the company name or location. Often, employers have this money but no longer have old employee details like a current address. Try contacting old co-workers who you may still have contact details for already in your address book.

Who Should You Contact When You Find an Old Employer Address or Phone Number

Typically, you will want to get in touch with someone from the human resource department at your old workplace. Inquire who handles these accounts and keep track of all your conversations and contact person so you can follow-up if you need to later.

What to Do if Your Old Employer Does Not Have a Human Resource Department

Some smaller businesses do not have a human resource department. Usually, finances and employee benefit accounts are then handled by a bookkeeper, accountant or other person. Someone in the company should know who handles this type of request.

Visit the Company's Website to Gather More Details

Most companies today now have websites where employee matters may be researched. This is generally the case for larger businesses, but many small companies have also realized the benefits of having an online presence, so it is worth a shot.

What to Do if an Old Employer Is Now Out of Business

If you past employer has shut down their doors, there is still hope. Try using some of the many online search tools.

These sites include:

  • Check your state's Unclaimed Property website
  • DOL’s EFAST tool – holds info from 2010 and later
  • Try reaching National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators or another related site
  • Get in touch with your state's treasurer department

Consider Contacting the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits

This website may have details on any unclaimed retirement benefit accounts that you may have had. You will need your Social Security number and other personal ID information. There is a connected free tool that updates information each week.

What to Do Once You Find Your Lost Retirement Account

Most 401k retirement plans charge a hefty fee if the money is withdrawn early. However, new government rules are making it easier for individuals to roll over their accounts and to consolidate more than one retirement account for easier money management and upkeep. Rolling over your retirement funds may also increase your savings allowing the funds to grow faster over time.

How to Roll Over a Retirement Account Directly

There are some regulations to be aware of prior to attempting a rollover of one or more retirement accounts such as a 401k plan. The funds will need to be directly deposited into the new IRA account. You might want to read this 401k plan to gold IRA guide if you're interested in investing in alternative assets. If those funds end up hitting your personal bank account, even for a short time, the government will treat those monies as being an early withdrawal with the associated early withdrawal fees then due.

So, you will need to obtain the financial account details of the institution or company that is handling the account prior to moving forward with this process. Those rates could be as high as 20% of the funds or higher if the rates increase in the future.

Some Key Advantages of Rolling Over a Retirement Account Explained

Along with being charged a high fee as a penalty of withdrawing money intended for retirement at an earlier date, there are other advantages of rolling over your retirement finance accounts. The first benefit is the simplicity of having all your accounts in one place.

Why You Should Seriously Consider Account Consolidation of Retirement Income

Again, simply having all your retirement funds located in one easy to find place helps the process of keeping track of your retirement funds easy to handle. Most will roll over their accounts into one where they already have an account set up. However, it is also possible to open a brand-new retirement IRA account with one of the many larger retirement brokers that offer higher growth rates and other benefits.

Taking advantage of the key benefits that a larger brokerage firm offers allows the account holder to maintain greater control of their funds. If the funds were left in an account held by a former employer, this would limit the growth options, and that could seriously decrease the total amount when you reach retirement age.

Some Other Enticing Reasons to Switch to a Larger Brokerage Company

  • Greater growth savings options – thousands sometimes
  • Mutual funds
  • Individual stocks
  • Index funds and other options

Is It Possible to Find Old IRA Retirement Accounts if You Didn't Sign Up?

Many individuals may have existing 401k accounts with a previous employer even if they do not remember signing up for one. Lots of companies will automatically enroll their employees for this program by withdrawing a small amount from the employee's check and putting it into a retirement plan.

Since the amounts are small on the employee side, they may never realize that they have additional money being held until they check for themselves.

If Your Spouse Died, You Might Be Eligible to Claim Their Lost IRA Assets

Sometimes, the main breadwinner of the family has retirement account funds unknown to their spouse. If the spouse holding the account dies, the surviving spouse may not be made aware of these funds. If this has happened to you, take some time to check this possibility out just in case.

A Few Times When You Should Investigate Whether You Have Unclaimed IRA Assets

  • If your spouse died
  • When you remarry, divorce or change your name
  • If you have worked for more than one employer
  • If you have relocated

What to Do if You Plan on Moving or Changing Jobs

Maybe you have plans in the future to relocate or change jobs. It is smart to consolidate or otherwise rollover any older account benefits to help ensure that you get all you are eligible for when you finally reach your retirement age. Remember, that money is yours, and you have rights and options on investing your retirement funds to allow it to reach its highest potential.

When to Work with a Qualified Financial Advisor

There are times when it is wise to work with a qualified financial advisor to help you better plan for your upcoming retirement date. These experts can assist you in your search for any potential unclaimed or lost 401k retirement accounts or other related retirement income.

They can also help you invest your money wisely to gain more funds over the years until your retirement arrives. If Your Efforts Fail to Locate Missing or Unclaimed Retirement Funds, Consider Contacting an Attorney

Final Thoughts

Take steps to locate retirement funds that may be languishing somewhere. There are many new online tools and research resources available today. If your retirement accounts are confusing or do not seem to be growing as you expected, get in touch with a local financial advisor who is familiar with locating these types of retirement plans or to inquire about other financial matters prior to retirement.