BABY BOOMERS HAVE worked an average of 12 jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. During each job change, a retirement account can get lost in the shuffle.
Some people lose track of a retirement plan and need to find a lost 401(k) later. “Life gets in the way. You move on and forget,” says David Curry, principal and co-founder of East Paces Group in Atlanta.
Here is how to find lost retirement savings:
- Contact your former employer.
- Search for unclaimed retirement benefits.
- Work with a financial advisor.
Contact Your Former Employer
Some workers leave their pension, 401(k) account or other retirement benefit in the care of their former company when they change jobs. Sometimes people forget about retirement plans from a previous employer.
If you think you left money behind at a former employer, call that company’s human resources department. Ask for the name and phone number of the plan administrator. “Reach out to the benefits folks. Stay on the phone with them until you get your answers,” Curry says. “You’ve got to ask the right questions. Find out where it is.”
If your former company went out of business or was bought or merged with another company, it may take some research to figure out who to contact, but funds may still be available to you. A pension plan can be significantly more money and require more financial guidance. “Pensions can be much more complex,” Curry says. “Lots of times they don’t know the pension’s payout or what their options are, but finding it is step No. 1.”
Search for Unclaimed Retirement Benefits
Use the resources of the internet to find a missing retirement account. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, a federal agency that insures private sector pensions, has a database of unclaimed pensions. “Take a look at the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators website at Unclaimed.org and the MissingAssets.com website,” says Harvey Bezozi, a financial planner and accountant in Boca Raton, Florida. “Both are informative resources in searching for your unclaimed assets.”
Most unclaimed 401(k) accounts are small, but sometimes someone leaves behind a significant amount of money. Kristian Finfrock, founder and financial advisor with Retirement Income Strategies in Evansville, Wisconsin, says one client discovered $190,000 that was lost. “She knew it was lost, she just couldn’t find it,” Finfrock says. “The company changed recordkeepers. They sent notices to client homes, but she never responded to the mail. It was a little complicated, but we found the property.”
Work With a Financial Advisor
A financial advisor can help you manage various retirement accounts or track down retirement benefits. Curry says lost or forgotten accounts come up through his initial information gathering meeting with a client. “What we do is start with a financial plan and start gathering data,” Curry says. “We find out about them and their employers. We ask them, ‘After you left this company, did you roll this into another plan?’ During the exercise we find buckets they have forgotten about or that need attention.”
Make a list of each job you held and what you did with the funds in the 401(k) plan or other retirement benefits when you left the company. Some employers automatically enroll workers in a 401(k) plan, withhold a small amount from employee paychecks and deposit that money in a 401(k) account. You could have been enrolled in a 401(k) plan even if you never actively signed up for an account.
It’s a good idea to be proactive and consolidate retirement accounts each time you switch jobs to make them easier to keep track of. “When you change jobs, there are few reasons to leave behind money at an old company,” Finfrock says. “You should roll it into the new company plan or roll it into your own IRA.”