People might change jobs and relocate several times over their lifetime. Unfortunately, if a person had a retirement plan or 401(k) with a company, he or she might have neglected to roll over the fund into a new employer's 401(k) plan or individual retirement arrangement (IRA). The money in a 401(k) account doesn't disappear; it will be waiting for you to claim it. But if it's been a while and you no longer have information on the 401(k), a little detective work might be needed to find the money.
It is also a good idea to rollover retirement accounts when you separate from an employer in order to avoid these types of situations in the future.
Where Should You Look First for 401(k) Money?
Go through old pay stubs and tax records. If you contributed to a 401(k) for each paycheck, the amount deducted will be recorded on the pay stub. Go over the pay stubs carefully, since the name or policy number might also be recorded. Don't forget to check old tax records, because they might have information on the investment company that handled the 401(k).
According to the brokerage firm Charles Schwab, companies are required to send any abandoned funds to the last known address of the employee. However, if the funds still go unclaimed, the account will be relinquished to the state.
How Should You Contact an Employer About a 401(k)?
Call the human resources department at your former place of employment. It will have records of your 401(k) or information on how to contact the investment firm that handles the company's 401(k) plan. If the company changed hands, check to see if the new company has contact information for the previous owners or whether it is using the same investment firm. You can also contact former co-workers to find out if they remember any information on 401(k) programs with the company.
What if an Employer's No Longer in Business?
Find out if the company filed for bankruptcy. If you run into dead ends looking for a company that went out of business, check with the National Archives, because it might have bankruptcy records dating back decades. If you do find out that the company filed for bankruptcy, check to see if a fiduciary (a partner or firm that handles investments for a company or individual) was listed in the bankruptcy records. This most likely is the firm used for retirement plans.
What Are Your Other Options to Find 401(k) Money?
Check with the U.S. Department of Labor. It has a database of terminated and abandoned 401(k) plans that is searchable by employer name, plan name and location. Ideally, the employer or investment firm contacted employers or former employers when the plan was terminated. If you were not contacted about the plan's termination, the plan will automatically roll over into an IRA until you claim it.
Another option is to search for funds owed to you at your state treasurer's unclaimed property website. If a 401(k) appears to be abandoned, the firm that handles it will try to find the person to whom it belongs. If the company cannot find the person, it may turn over the money to the state treasurer's office for disbursement. The money will stay there until claimed by the rightful owner.
- Contact former co-workers to find out if they remember any information on 401(k) programs with the company.
- Check into agencies that offer to find missing 401(k) or retirement plans for a fee, before signing with them.
Jeannie Knudson is an avid traveler with a love for the written word. She has been a freelance writer for over 15 years and holds a Bachelor's Degree in English from the University of Northern Iowa. She enjoys sharing her knowledge and experiences on eHow and Travels.com.