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I’m always shocked and impressed when I hear about people from older generations who worked for the same employer for decades!  These days, that rarely happens.  In fact, did you know that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker today has held an average of 12 jobs by the time they reach their 50’s?

Because people seem to move around from job to job so frequently, it’s easy to understand losing track of a 401(k), or other retirement account, from a former employer, especially if you were not with that employer for long.

Employers terminate 401(k) plans often as a result of economic downturns or for other financial reasons.  By law, the company must notify anyone who had a plan through them, but what happens if they can’t find you?  That’s when your 401(k) ends up transferred to a bank, rolled into an IRA or, possibly, sent to the state’s unclaimed property fund.

If you find yourself needing to increase your retirement savings (who isn’t), you may want to consider whether you might be missing any 401(k) accounts from the past.  With that in mind, here are six ideas on how to track down your missing 401(k)s.

  1. Contact Your Former Employers:  If your old employer is still in business, the easiest way to track down the 401(k) is to contact them.  The HR department or the plan administrator at the company can conduct a search to see if you participated in their plan and whether they still manage your account.  You will need to be able to provide you name, dates of employment and your social security number.
  • Find the Plan Administrator’s Contact Details:  If your former employer is no longer in business or has merged with another company, you can try to contact the plan administrator to see if they still control your 401(k). Old 401(k) statements should contain the administrator’s contact information. If you can’t find an old statement, consider reaching out to former co-workers to ask if they have copies of old statements from the plan.
  • Review the Plan’s Annual Tax Return: If you can’t access your old plan statements, you can try to find the contact information for the plan administrator via the plan’s tax return. Most plans must file an annual tax return, Form 5500, with the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Department of Labor. Search the website www.efast.dol.gov by entering the name of your old employer to find this form.

    The plan administrator’s contact information should be included on the 5500. From there, call the administrator, and ask for him or her to check on your account.

    4. Search Unclaimed Property Databases: If you are unable to track down your account through your former employer or the plan administrator, you still have options. Depending on what happened to the company and how much money was in your account, there are a few different places to search.

    The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits offers a database where employees can register names of former employees who left retirement funds with them. By entering your Social Security number, you can search this database for free to determine if you have any unclaimed retirement account balances.

    Additional online resources, such as missingmoney.com and unclaimed.org, similarly allow you to search for retirement assets in any states in which you’ve lived or worked.

    5. Search for Default IRA Accounts: If your old account had a fairly small balance, it may no longer be in a 401(k). For 401(k) accounts with balances of less than $5,000, a former employer might have rolled the funds into a default IRA account on your behalf. Default IRAs can be created when your former employer is unable to reach you to find out how you want the funds paid to you. You can search for such IRA accounts for free on the FreeERISA website.

    6. Search for Terminated Plans: If your former employer terminated its 401(k) plan, this doesn’t automatically mean your money is lost forever. The Department of Labor maintains a list of plans that have been abandoned or are in the process of being terminated. Search their database to find out whether the plan is in the process of—or has already been—terminated, and learn the contact details for the Qualified Termination Administrator (QTA) responsible for overseeing the plan’s shutdown.

Keep track of your assets

It goes without saying that the best way to keep track of your retirement accounts is to not lose them in the first place. Indeed, one of the most important parts of estate planning is to create a comprehensive inventory of all your assets, not just your retirement funds. By doing so, your family will know exactly what you have and how to find everything if something happens to you and you will avoid your assets being lost to the department of unclaimed property or otherwise.

When you do your Estate Planning with Bromlow Law, we help you create a comprehensive asset inventory and help you make sure it stays regularly updated throughout your lifetime.

Bromlow Law, PLLC and Laura L. Bromlow, are dedicated to the practice of Elder Law and Estate Planning.  Our practice is comprised solely of working with clients in these and closely related legal fields.  Laura L. Bromlow is a Certified Elder Law Attorney with the National Elder Law Foundation.  Bromlow Law, PLLC strives to enhance communication among family members and loved ones and to keep them all out of conflict so they can stay out of court.  We want to help you keep your close circle safe!  You can reach us at (281) 665-3807 or Info@bromlowlaw.com.

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