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How to Find an Old 401(k): 7 Ways

Retirement Funding

Old 401(k)s - and the money they hold - go missing all of the time.

Here's how to solve the mystery

People prone to leaving things behind usually don't lose a 401(k) account, but it happens more often than you think - especially if you don't have a great deal of cash stashed away in a 401(k). Life Happens, things change, you move, you forget things, your life goes in another direction, I get that, it is understandable.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office states that over 25 million Americans left funds in a 401(k) or other employer retirement plan left that money behind.

People leave old 401(k) accounts behind for many reasons. The account holder may have engaged in a string of job-hopping experiences and lost track of an old retirement account. Or, the 401(k) account holder's company merged with another firm, was bought out or went bankrupt.

7 Ways to Dig Up an Old 401(k) Account

1. Be Suspect

Call your old employer if you suspect you have missing 401(k) funds or even if you're not sure, it's still a good idea to contact old employers and ask them to check if they have any of your old accounts.

2. Scooby-Doo where are you?

Use an Old 401(k) Plan Statement. With that document, the plan administrator (the investment/financial company that managed your 401(k) investments) can point you to where your money wound up - and who holds it now.

3. Alibis matter

If that company has gone out of business, merged with another business, or relocated, former work associates, either still with the firm, or know people who are, can go to bat for you and ask about your old 401(k).

4. Follow the clues

Be a Private Detective. You may need to channel your inner CSI Crime Scene Investigation if you still can't find an old 401(k) account. One shortcut is to leverage "Form 5500". This form, required by the U.S. government, is used by the I.R.S. to help track plan information and to satisfy annual reporting requirements under ERISA and the IRS code. Visit FreeERISA.com, which can help you track down your old 401(k).

5. Visit the Morgue

Use Additional Document Recovery Tools The U.S. Department of Labor's Abandoned Plan Database. The database can tell you if your company's old 401(k) plan is still up and running, has been deep-sixed, or is being held by an outside administrator who can steer you to your old 401(k) account. When using the website, the more information you can provide, the better.

6. File a Missing Persons Report

The National Registry, is a retirement plan distribution firm, is a nationwide, secure database listing of retirement plan account balances that have been left unclaimed by former participants of retirement plans.

7. Casper the Friendly Ghost

Looked for Unclaimed Money, "Ghosted" 401(k) money, certainly qualifies as missing money, and it could be uncovered on digital money-funder platforms like missingmoney.com.

The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators runs free searches for not just 401(k)s, but for money in old bank accounts, safe deposit boxes, escrow accounts, and insurance policies. According to the website's directions, if you get a "hit" on the site, just claim the property and fill out the requested details, then submit and you will receive instructions on the next steps from the state where you made the claim. I found a refund from Walmart, who knew.

* Remember if any of these cases the more "clues" (information) you have the easier it is to find the funds you are looking for.

If You Solve The Case!

What to do with your 401(k) funds when you find the account largely depends on where you find it. I recently posted this article, Is Your Old 401(k) Being Used to Pay for a Plan You're No Longer a Part of?

I hope you found this as much fun as I did, but it is a serious concern when you are talking about your money. Would you leave a $20 bill lying on the street if you walked by? Especially if it fell out of your pocket?

Todd Pouliot AIF® may be reached at tpouliot@mygatewaymoney.com or mygatewaymoney.com.

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