Where did my retirement go? How to locate lost retirement benefits
For one reason or another, you may find yourself in a situation where you’ve lost track of a retirement account like a 401(k) or pension.
There are several ways this can happen:
- Job change. People change jobs in today’s economy much faster than they did in the past, and that means that retirement accounts like 401(k)s or pensions from a brief job tenure may easily be forgotten.
- A death in the family. Deceased loved ones may have overlooked some retirement assets in their wills, especially if they didn’t organize their estate well before they died.
- Lost access. Records or access to retirement accounts may be compromised by accidents, theft or data losses.
Luckily, there are several handy but little-known ways to retrieve retirement account information:
- Contact employers. Getting in touch with employers who administered a 401(k) or pension plan is one of the easiest ways to retrieve lost retirement benefits. If the account was active from 2009 or later, you can search the Department of Labor’s Form 5500 database (efast.dol.gov/portal/app/disseminatePublic), which collects the annual information submitted by plan administrators. Often the exact person you would need to get in touch with is listed on the form.
- Use the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits. The registry is created by a nonprofit organization that offers a free service to link up employees with their lost retirement benefits. Visit the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits website (unclaimedretirementbenefits.com) and enter the Social Security number of the employee. It will locate any unclaimed accounts and then provide information about getting in contact with the employer maintaining them. Note that accounts will only appear as unclaimed if the employee’s mailing address is out of date, or if the employee didn’t respond to the employer’s attempts to pay out the account.
- Check the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC). The PBGC is a government agency that insures and tracks company pensions, and it keeps a list of unclaimed pensions on its website (pbgc.gov/search/unclaimed-pensions). You can search a person’s name or the name of the company. Note that pensions will continue to exist at the PBGC even if the company that provided it no longer exists.
Once you’ve located a lost retirement account, you can roll it over into an IRA if it’s yours, or you can take several approaches if it is an inherited asset. Reach out if you’d like to discuss your options regarding tax-advantaged retirement accounts.