How to Find Unclaimed Retirement Benefits

If you’re interested in earning more in your line of work, switching jobs may be your best tactic. The average worker can expect a salary increase of just 3.4% in 2022, according to a Willis Towers Watson survey. With inflation running over 8%, that raise doesn’t feel so rich anymore. So what’s a worker to do?

Change job. A new position can generate an average of 14% higher earnings, and some job changes generate up to 30% more annual salary. But with every job change comes a new benefits package. If you’re not meticulous about rolling over your retirement accounts, you can quickly lose track of various employer-sponsored accounts, like 401(k)s or 403(b)s.

You’re not alone if you’re not sure where your old retirement accounts might be. Although there is no certifiable number of forgotten accounts, the problem has spawned a host of companies willing to track down your lost retirement dollars and help you transfer them to an IRA. While that may seem like the path of least resistance, finding them on your own can also be accomplished. You just need to know where to look.

key takeaways

  • Changing jobs can mean workers have multiple retirement accounts.
  • Some companies will look up your old account for you.
  • You can find the accounts yourself with a little legwork.
  • Transfer your accounts to stable investments once you find them.

Ask your former employer

Most forgotten retirement accounts are tied to a former employer. Because accounts like 401(k)s and 403(b)s are employer-sponsored plans, the company chooses the administrator and keeps records of all accounts. The first step is to call your benefits administrator at your previous employer and ask if they have a history on your account.

If they do, you can contact the account manager to direct your funds to a new account via transfer or withdraw money from the account. However, this may result in penalties and early withdrawal taxes depending on age.

What would happen if your company went under? In this case, you will need to go directly to the source: the plan administrator. Some common account managers are Fidelity, Vanguard, Charles Schwab, and TD Ameritrade. Suppose you don’t remember your username or password. In that case, a customer service representative should be able to verify her identity using other authentication methods, such as her SSN, her mother’s maiden name, or security questions.

If you don’t remember the name of your plan administrator, you can find the information on the US Department of Labor (DOL) website. Every business must file a Form 5500 to report the business plan administrator, its assets, and the participants. You can navigate to the E-Fast system through the DOL website, which will search by company name as long as it was there after 2010.

To find Form 5500, follow these steps:

  1. Visit the DOL website.
  2. Type the name of your old company in the search bar. Be as specific as possible, if it is a common business name.
  3. Once the list appears, choose what year you left the company and hit the download icon.
  4. A new window will open with the company’s Form 5500. Depending on the year and presentation, you may need to search for the admin’s name, but it will be there.

Advice

If you have changed your name since leaving a job, try searching by your old name. Many unclaimed fund search services search by name first, rather than by Social Security number.

Check Unclaimed Property Portals

If the DOL can’t point you in the right direction, you may need to try unclaimed funds portals. When money is left in a 401(k) for an extended period after employment ends, the money is sometimes transferred to a state unclaimed property office. These offices hold unclaimed funds until claimed by the rightful owner.

The good news is that it is quite simple to find your money using one of several database search programs. Sites like MissingMoney.com, Unclaimed.org, or searching the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits at unclaimedretirementbenefits.com can help you find old accounts using your name and state of residence.

Next steps

Once you’ve found your account, transfer it to a new IRA with a company you have an existing relationship with and you’ll continue to control it. You can easily roll over the account to a traditional or Roth IRA.

What happens if I never claim my account?

If an account has been turned over to the unclaimed property department, it will stay there until someone claims it. That person must be the original owner or the heir to the original owner. If you die and your heir does not claim it, it remains in the unclaimed property account in perpetuity.

How long will my money stay in my retirement plan?

This varies by carrier and account balance, and depends on what’s going on with the plan. If the business is winding up, you may need to decide what to do with it or risk turning it into cash very quickly. Otherwise, most plans will convert to cash within three years. If your account is less than $1,000, the company may write you a check for the amount and close your account.

Does my money keep growing even after I leave?

As long as the money is enrolled in the 401(k), it can continue to grow. However, if the fund is converted to cash, you will no longer earn compounded interest. You also won’t be subject to the vagaries of the market, so your cash status could be good or bad. If your account balance is greater than $5,000 and you are satisfied with your asset allocation, you can leave the money where it is.

The bottom line

While changing jobs can help you earn more money over time, you need to tie up any loose ends when you leave a position. If you suspect you have a retirement account going to waste in cyberspace, do a little legwork to return it to its rightful place: your wallet.

Source

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