The nearly 45 percent of U.S. employees who leave behind their retirement accounts when they move to a new job are creating a multibillion-dollar headache for employers who have to manage these accounts.

According to one of the more reliable estimates, from Charles Schwab, 43 percent of assets held by 401(k) participants who left their jobs in the first quarter of 2008 had not been moved a year later. (The rest of those holdings either were rolled over into IRAs, taken as cash distributions or moved into new employer plans.)

It is estimated that there are 15 million so-called "orphaned" retirement accounts out there. That means that nobody has claimed them, or touched them in years and that plan sponsors have no way of reaching out to their owners.

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