Planning for retirement? Trying to figure out how to save more? Make sure you haven’t lost track of 401(k) money you already saved at a former employer. And if you have lost track, it’s time to play detective and find it.
A Chicago Tribune report offers suggestions on just how to go about it. Problems can arise if companies have been taken over or have gone out of business, since the plan administrator will likely have changed—and you may not even know the name of the surviving company.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t persevere.
Although there isn’t one central place you can go to see if there’s a stray 401(k) lurking out there somewhere, rules have been proposed by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Trust to hold orphaned 401(k) money from plans that have closed.
Even if those rules are approved, however, they wouldn’t take effect till 2018.
Another potential solution for down the road might be a proposal from by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), which would direct the IRS to set up an online database so workers could find pension and 401(k) benefits from open or closed plans.
But before you get excited about that one, bear in mind that Congress hasn’t taken any action on it yet.
Small accounts, with balances of less than $5,000 (and if you forgot about it, it’s likely to be small—maybe as a result of the Great Recession) could have been the target of an employer-approved forced IRA transfer. So your money could be parked at a financial services firm that accepts small accounts.
If your employer closed the plan and couldn’t find you, the money might have been transferred to an IRA, a bank account or a state escheat office.
State escheat offices can be checked at Unclaimed.org, but you might need some help if what you’re looking for is an IRA or bank account.
If the employer still exists, you should call and try to track down the money that way. But if the company is out of business, two good resources that offer free help in finding the money are the U.S. Department of Labor (at askebsa.dol.gov or (866) 444-3272) and the Pension Rights Center, a nonprofit pension counseling center (pensionrights.org/find-help).
Last but not least, you can check with the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits, a subsidiary of PenChecks, a private company, that processes retirement checks. They’re at www.unclaimedretirementbenefits.com.
If your former employer or a plan administrator says you already collected that money at some point in the past, dig out old tax returns to prove otherwise; they should show any distributions you may have received and can prove your case.
But remember that it’s a lot easier if you just keep track of accounts to begin with. Start now.