I recently got a letter from the Social Security Administration saying I might have some money in a 401(k) plan at an employer I worked for 20 years ago. I was intrigued—but not hopeful. I thought I’d rolled over everything, but old advice is still good advice—don’t leave money on the table. When I got through the process with the plan administrator, they said the money had been moved a long time ago and there was a zero balance.
It’s not often you get notified about money in an old employer retirement plan. Most of the time, the responsibility is on you to keep track of it. That can be an issue since workers change jobs an average of 12 times during their lifetime. So, how do you find retirement money you’ve forgotten about, or money you’re entitled to but the sponsor of the plan is out of business?
Call the Company
Usually, a 401(k) plan is administered by a third party hired by the company. But calling your old company is a great place to start. Talk to the HR department. They should be able to give you a telephone number and email address for the administrator. They may still have information about your retirement account that will speed things up when you talk to the administrator.
Call the Administrator
When you call the administrator, you’ll be asked for enough information for them to know it’s you, all the things you’d expect—name, social security number, date of birth and the address they have on file.
In my case, I gave the address I thought they had on file, which wasn’t correct. I mean, it’s been 20 years. But they waited patiently while I went through a box of old tax returns and found the correct one. I learned that things go more smoothly if you have the old address before you make the call.
Once the administrator is sure it’s you, they’ll lead you through a process of setting up a password or PIN in case you have to call again. And if they can’t find the answer you’re looking for right then, they may open a research ticket to find the information. In some cases, your money may have been transferred to an unmanaged account when they lost track of you.
Where’s My Money
If no one can tell you where the money is, the Department of Labor is the next stop. DOL has an abandoned plan database. You can search for the plan using your name and identifying information about the employer. If you find some of your money there the program can help get the money to you.
The Department of Labor can also help you find lost money through its Form 5500 search.
The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits is another source for tracking down retirement money you may have forgotten about.
But what if your previous employer provided a traditional pension rather than a 401(k) and you don’t know if it still exists. In that case, you can search the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation database of unclaimed pensions. PBGC is an agency of the U.S. government.
If you’ve ever been employed by the U.S. military, some positions provide pensions to veterans and their survivors. You can find that information at the Department of Veterans Affairs pension website. Other government employees and military personnel can find pension information at the websites for the Thrift Savings Plan, the Department of Defense or the Office of Personnel Management websites.
Lastly, if you’ve ever been an employee of a state government you can check for any funds you may have on the website of the state for which you worked.
None of us wants to think we’ve forgotten some of our money, but hey, it can happen. These are resources to help you find out.