- It’s not uncommon for people to leave 401(k) plans with former employers, which means you may have an account you’ve forgotten about.
- There are several ways you can find the plan administrator for account details.
- Once you find your old account, you have several options for what to do with the funds.
If you’re like many people, you may still have a retirement plan with a previous employer. If you didn't take action to move your 401(k) retirement plan when you left that job, the money in that old account is likely still there. Your previous employer sets the investing strategy for its 401(k) plan, so you may be missing out on the ability to have a say as to where your investment dollars go.
Knowing how to find old 401(k) accounts may not sound easy, particularly if a plan from years past has slipped your mind or a former employer is no longer on your radar. If you’re wondering how to find an old 401(k), there are several useful methods available to you.
Reach out to past employers
It makes sense in many cases to reach out directly to your former employer. The company’s human resources department should be able to help unearth records concerning your 401(k) participation and whether or not you still have an open account. Once this information is confirmed, you can then choose what you would like to do with the funds in the account.
Find the company’s Form 5500
Every company in the United States that offers a 401(k) plan has to file Form 5500 with the U.S. Department of Labor. You can check the Form 5500 database to search for documents your old employer has on file. This should allow you to find the plan administrator’s contact information. Once you have it, contact the plan administrator to get more information about your account.
Try other databases
The Form 5500 database isn’t the only option out there to find old 401(k) accounts. There are several databases, including:
- National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits: This secure, nationwide database lists unclaimed money in old retirement accounts.
- MissingMoney.com: This database helps people recover lost or unclaimed funds, property or other assets and can connect you to those who can help recover them.
- Abandoned Plan Search: Provided by the U.S. Department of Labor, this site helps you find information about terminated retirement plans in which you may still have funds.
- FreeERISA: This site helps you locate benefit and retirement plan filings based on location. All you need to do is enter a company name, and you can retrieve information about a plan sponsor.
Reach out to your old coworkers
You can also reach out to old coworkers to find information about an old 401(k) account. This approach is less formal than going through a database or HR department but may help steer you on the right path if you’re unsure where to begin or can’t find much information directly.
Former colleagues may have experienced a similar situation and know who to contact — especially if the company has gone out of business since your time there. Still, it's best to focus on contacting a plan administrator, as this may be a more direct or accurate way to track down your account.
Search your files for an old 401(k) statement
If you have old 401(k) statements, you can likely find the plan administrator’s contact information quickly. Both paper and electronic forms usually have this information. This is often the simplest way to find the right people to talk to about your old account if you're having trouble tracking down a former employer.
What should you do with an old 401(k) when you find one?
You have several options for what to do with the money you’ve found in your old 401(k), ranging from leaving it alone to cashing out entirely. You may want to:
- Keep the money where it is: If the account is performing well, you may decide to keep your assets where they are. By doing this, you'll have less authority over where and how the money is invested since these decisions are made by your former employer’s plan administrator.
- Transfer it to your current employer’s 401(k): Transferring funds from an old 401(k) account to your current employer’s 401(k) account can help consolidate your retirement savings, keep track of the money you’ve saved and give you more control over how the money is invested.
- Rollover the funds into an IRA: You may want to consider creating a rollover IRA. These accounts let you move your money into an account that preserves the tax-deferred status you already have and doesn't require you to pay taxes or early-withdrawal penalties when you make the transfer.
- Take distributions: Depending on your age and eligibility, you may be able to take distributions from your old 401(k).
- Cash out: You can cash out your old 401(k) if you need access to funds immediately, but if you're not a certain age and haven't met the eligibility requirements, you may need to pay penalties. There are also income-tax liabilities you may need to consider.
Discuss your options with a financial advisor
Financial advisors can help you determine the best course of action regarding what to do with funds in an old 401(k). When you work with a financial advisor, you can get custom advice based on your retirement strategy, as well as your financial needs. Plus, these professionals can help you assess any tax liabilities or penalties that may come with your preferred course of action.
Careful management of these and other retirement funds is key to fruitful retirement savings. Financial advisors can help you identify an approach that complements your unique situation.
The strategies mentioned in this article may have tax and legal consequences; therefore, you should consult your own attorneys and/or tax advisors to understand the tax and legal consequences of any strategies mentioned in this document. This information is governed by our Terms and Conditions of Use.