Keeping on top of your finances, one way or another, can provide a pathway to improving them. A working knowledge of all your accounts – and, where they’re located – can help put you on the path to financial wellness. Checking your 401(k) balance(s) is a big part of creating that knowledge.
We now know that Americans stand to lose up to $700,000 over the course of their investing lives by forgetting about their old, expensive, and dormant retirement plans. Needless to say, this speaks volumes about the need for people to exert greater control over their personal finance – especially if it’s scattered across many different accounts at different financial institutions.
Here, we’ll discuss how to check your 401(k) balance, give some guidance on how to find a missing or lost 401(k), and provide some thoughts on what to do with your old plan once you’ve found it.
Your 401(k) account – either traditional or Roth – is most easily located by logging on to your 401(k) provider’s website. If you don’t know who your 401(k) provider is, you can check with your employer’s human resources department, or previous plan administrator, or by looking it up using your Social Security number (SSN) with Capitalize’s free 401(k) finder.
Even if you’ve left your previous employer, checking your 401(k) provider’s website is still the easiest way to find your retirement savings in your old account. It doesn’t matter if you left by choice or if you were laid off; your 401(k) should still be located in the same place.
Note that if you had a very small balance (less than $1,000), it’s possible that you might have been cashed out from your former plan. If you had a slightly larger balance (less than $5,000), it’s possible that you might have been rolled into an IRA. In either case, you should have received documentation to this effect if either of these happened to you.
Note that checking your 401(k) provider’s website won’t be helpful if you’ve rolled your 401(k) to an IRA at an outside provider after leaving your old job, if you’ve liquidated your account, or if you haven’t contributed any money to the plan (though some employers do provide small amounts of money to 401(k) plans by default, so it’s worthwhile to at least check your account even if you haven’t put any money in yourself.)
Nevertheless, the most common way to check your 401(k) account is to check online through your 401(k) provider’s website. Alternatively, you can check your 401(k) account by phone if you don’t have access to a computer and don’t want to use your phone’s browser.
Finally, if you’ve lost your 401(k) – which can happen if you left an employer many years ago and never took any action – there’s no need to worry. The team at Capitalize has created an interactive tool to help you find it.
You’ll just need the name of your old 401(k) provider to find it, but the more detail you have, the better. If you don’t have the name of your old 401(k) provider, we can help you find it by using your former employer’s name. If you’re still unable to find your 401(k), we can take additional steps to help you locate it.
Once you’ve found your 401(k) account, checking your 401(k) account balance is very simple. There are two main ways: either by logging into your 401(k) provider’s site or by calling your company’s plan administrator and receiving a balance update over the phone.
If you have multiple 401(k)s left from multiple previous jobs, you’ll need to perform these steps for each of the accounts you’ve left behind. You might have different login credentials for each account, even if your previous employer’s HR department used the same 401(k) provider. Be sure to write down the specific information related to each employer and save it to easily access at a later date if needed.
Typically, checking your 401(k) balance online requires nothing more than navigating your browser to your 401(k) provider’s site and providing your login credentials. Even if you haven’t been contributing much or at all to the account, it’s still worth taking a few minutes to explore your retirement plan’s performance, allocation, and fees to make sure you’re fully optimizing your savings. It can also be helpful to work with a qualified financial advisor to get professional guidance once you’ve located your old plans.
Beyond checking your balance, you might also consider taking some time to review how your money is invested and the investment options available to you at your company. From there, take your 401(k) balance in the context of your broader financial picture to determine how much risk is appropriate.
The process looks the same whether you have a traditional, tax-deferred 401(k), or a less-common Roth 401(k). If you have both, you might see the balances broken out by tax status once you locate your account.
From there, you’ll have slightly different options when it comes to moving the accounts (i.e., you’d only be able to roll over a Roth 401(k) into a Roth IRA), but for the purposes of just checking your balance, there’s nothing more to think about.
If you find that you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. You can either reach out to your 401(k) provider directly, or you can seek the help of a qualified fiduciary advisor, like a Certified Financial Planner (CFP(R)) practitioner.
Regardless, be sure that the advice you choose to follow is in your best interests as an investor. Specifically, be sure that you understand – explicitly – all services you’re entitled to receive and all fees you’re expected to pay as a client. Check your 401(k) balance over the phone
This is a bit of an archaic way of checking your 401(k) balance, but it’s definitely still possible to check it by phone. You can usually find contact information, including a phone number, on your 401(k) provider’s website.
Before calling, make sure to have your Social Security number, other key pieces of personal information like your full name and address, and even your Employee ID number or other unique access numbers you may have been given over the course of your employment.
Success! If you’ve found your old employer’s 401(k), you have a few options:
No matter what you decide to do with your nest egg, give it some thought first. Generally, fewer accounts will be easier to maintain and invest optimally, but you might not need to move your 401(k) if it’s serving its purpose in its current location. Always have your retirement goals top of mind before you make a call.
If you think you might have lost your 401(k) – or perhaps you don’t remember if you had one in the first place – Capitalize is here to assist. Using your Social Security number, you can try locating your old 401(k) here, or by using the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits. You can also search the U.S. Department of Labor’s Abandoned Plan Database. Best of all, these tools are free to use.
As mentioned previously, the cost of a forgotten 401(k) can approach $700,000 for an individual over their lifetime. That’s no small sum – which is why we’re here to help.
Get started today to find your lost 401(k).
If you feel you need more advanced investment advice, please consult with a qualified tax advisor or financial planner.