For most Americans, life can get complicated at times. If you’ve ever left an employer — which most of us have — it’s definitely possible to forget about your old retirement plan.
The good news is that there’s no need to worry: if you’ve lost track of your 401(k) savings account, you’re not out of luck. You can easily look up old employer-sponsored plans associated with your Social Security number (SSN) for free.
Here, we’ve outlined the process to find your missing retirement savings, your options once you’ve found the account, and a number of frequently asked questions about the situation.
Here at Capitalize, we’ve built an easy-to-use 401(k) Finder, which can help you find any outstanding retirement plans associated with previous employers. The Finder is free to use, you’ll only need to provide the following information:
- Legal first and last name
- Date of birth
- Phone number
- Zip code
We use this information to search multiple databases that can help find your old retirement accounts. This is an efficient way to see what might be out there.
If you want to try this yourself you can search some of these on your own, like the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits, which maintains a database of lost and/or forgotten retirement plans. You can search their library by providing your SSN, so it’s a reasonable starting point if you’re really unsure.
You can also search the Department of Labor’s Abandoned Plan site, which can help you access information on any terminated employer plans you might’ve left behind over the course of your career.
Once you’ve found your old 401(k), you usually have the following choices:
- Roll your 401(k) into an IRA. Rolling 401(k) retirement money into an IRA, or Individual Retirement Account, can be a sensible option if you want potentially lower fees and more comprehensive investment options at a financial institution of your choice.
- Merge your old 401(k) into your current 401(k). This is an option if your new employer allows 401(k) transfers in, and if your current employer’s 401(k) is suitable for long-term investment. Clearly, this is only an option if you’ve already found a new job.
- Cash it out. This is a choice that should only be used if you need the money now for a real emergency.
- Depending on the tax status of the account (pre- or post-tax), you may be up against a tax charge, and if you’re younger than 59.5, you’ll also be subject to an early withdrawal penalty. This is how the IRS discourages cash-outs.
- Do nothing. If your old employer’s plan offers you the investment freedom you’d like — and is reasonably priced — there’s nothing obligating you to move the account.
- One exception: This is the case as long as you don’t have a small balance in the account (less than $5,000). If this is the case, your previous 401(k) administrator may simply send you a check for the balance. This happens because at low account levels, it may not be economically feasible to administer the account any longer.
How do I find all my 401(k) accounts?
There are a few different ways you can find old 401(k) accounts:
- Contact your previous employer. You can start by navigating to your former employer’s HR department (Human Resources department) page and finding your 401(k) plan administrator’s contact information.
From there, you can call or email them, letting them know you’re a former employee in search of your old retirement plan. They should be able to help you in locating the old account or confirming its existence.
- Use Capitalize’s 401(k) Finder: Our simple, easy-to-use, and — most importantly — free 401(k) Finder can help you track down any lost retirement plans.
- Search the public databases. With some basic Personal Identifying Information (“PII”), you can search either the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits or the DOL’s (U.S. Department of Labor) Abandoned Plan Database.
- Keep an ongoing, independent list. As you move on from employers in the future, be sure you’re aware of any accounts opened in your name while you were an employee.
Can I find my 401(k) accounts for free?
Fortunately, finding your old 401(k) accounts should be free in the majority of cases. Many 401(k) plans can be found by contacting your previous employer’s HR department or 401(k) plan administrator (if you know who it is). They can provide options for how to proceed from there.
If, on the other hand, you aren’t sure where the old plan is — or if you even have a 401(k) plan — you might try running a search using our free 401(k) Finder or investigating any of the public databases.
What if I have 401(k) accounts with multiple employers?
This may sound like it’s a problem, but it’s actually quite normal — and a good thing! This means you’ve taken active steps at multiple places of employment to put away retirement funds.
You have the option of consolidating the accounts into one, rolling them over into a single or multiple IRAs (traditional and/or Roth IRAs), cashing one or more of them out, or simply letting them sit as they are.
There’s no real issue with having multiple accounts at multiple different institutions, but it does tend to be administratively easier if you have fewer accounts. Less paperwork usually means less headache for everyone involved.
Capitalize can help you roll over your 401(k)
If you find an old 401(k) and need help rolling it over, feel free to contact us for assistance. We can help you find and consolidate all your old 401(k)s into an IRA of your choice.
We also maintain an updated Resources page for you to explore at your leisure.
For extra help, or if you run into any roadblocks, consult a qualified financial advisor or experienced tax planner.