If you tally up all your retirement savings and feel like something is missing, you may be right. After a lifetime of changing jobs, moving, and maybe even working for employers with automatic opt-in 401(k) plans, you may have forgotten about accounts or never knew a retirement account existed. While the balance may be small, you can be sure it’s worth a look.
How can you go about finding these orphaned accounts?
Start at Home
List all the jobs you’ve had over the years. For each job, determine if a retirement plan could have existed. Also review old statements or tax returns that will show if you contributed (box 12 on a W2). Determine if those employers are still in business. If so, call their human resources department and be prepared with the approximate dates of your employment and social security number.
If the company no longer exists, determine if they were acquired and by whom. Did the new company merge your old company's retirement plan into their own? If the new company has no record of your account, ask for the contact information for their plan administrator..
In the case where your employer went completely out of business, search for information about their plan administrator. The administrator may be able to tell you what bank was used for the retirement investments or when smaller balances were rolled into personal accounts. If you have a contact or know a former coworker, follow up with them to get firsthand knowledge about their retirement plan and access to contact information.
Take Your Search Online
Still coming up empty? Search for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from your former employer on your old tax returns to continue your search online. You can start with the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA)’s Abandoned Plan Database.
The Abandoned Plan site should be able to help you determine if your plan was terminated and provide contact details for the administrator.
With an EIN, you may also find help from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s (PBGC) Missing Participants Program. This federal agency insures private plans, so corporations are required to file an annual 5500 with the IRS. Starting in 2018, PBGC began accepting missing participant accounts from terminated 401(k)s. They will pay identified funds (with interest) to confirmed owners.
You can continue your search with another free site, www.freeERISA.com.
The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits is another helpful source put together by a private company.
Look for Smaller Accounts
When an employee leaves a company with less than $5,000 in a retirement account, the company has the right to roll that money over into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) in the employee’s name without their permission. This is known as a forced transfer IRA. Although the company should notify the former employee when they take this action, this is another place where retirement money falls through the cracks.
You have a few resources to track down this type of orphaned account:
- If you remember something about the company or the plan administrator, follow up to see what bank they would have likely rolled the account to. For example, if the administrator was Vanguard, they likely would have transferred it to a Vanguard account.
- The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administration at unclaimed.org. If the account is 3-5 years past required distribution, it will often be turned over to the state. In a study with just 17 participating states, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that those states had $35 million transferred to them from these untapped accounts in 2016 alone.
- Check with missingmoney.com,a repository by state for unclaimed funds. You can check in every state where you had prior employment.
If you’re still working and you do change employers before you retire, make sure you transfer your money from your former company plan into a Rollover IRA. This way you won’t have to go scavenging for your money when it’s time to retire.
As you can see, locating orphaned accounts is a treasure hunt that could require some digging. But the chance of finding lost accounts can boost your overall retirement pool and possibly make a significant difference.