4 Ways To Find an Old 401(K) Account
6 MIN READ
Published September 29, 2023 | Updated October 28, 2023
If you’re wondering how to find old 401(k) accounts, you’re not alone. As of May 2023, Americans had 29.2 million forgotten 401(k) accounts, holding $1.65 trillion in assets. If you’ve lost track of an old 401(k) account, don’t panic. There are several ways to find the account. Start by searching your documents and emails, get in touch with your previous employers, and look through the unclaimed property websites in your state.
4 Ways to Find an Old 401(K) Account
It's common for employees to resign from a workplace and leave behind their retirement funds when they start a new job, thinking they’ll deal with it later. Years later, you may remember the account and wonder if your nest egg has grown and if you can find it again. Fortunately, it is possible to find an old 401(k) account even after years.
1. Check With Previous Employers
In most cases, employers will try to track down former employees and send them notices if they’ve left behind money in their 401(k). If it’s been years since you moved and don’t have the notices they send, you can contact the company’s HR department to help find the account. They may be able to give you information about the plan administrator.
If you find your account, you have a few options, such as leaving it with the former employer, rolling over your account into your current 401(k), rolling it over into an individual retirement account (IRA), or cashing it out.
If your former employer is not in business any longer or if you’re not able to contact them, consider looking through government databases to find your old 401(k) account.
2. Search for Statements in Email or Documents
Try looking for documents related to your old 401(k) account manually or digitally. Look through your email to see if you can find any information related to the account. If you used your personal email address when you enrolled in the retirement plan, you may still have documentation related to the account in your emails.
You can also look through all your physical documents, which may have old statements. These statements may have important information that can help you find the account, such as the account number and name of the plan administrator.
3. Search 401(K) Websites and Databases
If you haven’t been able to find any information through your documents or your employers, you may be able to find information through national databases. It may take some research, but you may be able to track down your old account through these databases:
- The Department of Labor’s Abandoned Plan Database is a good resource to help you find your old account and information about the plan administrator.
- Use the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits to conduct a free search. You can use your Social Security Number to find unclaimed retirement money you may have in your old 401(k) account.
- If you’re looking for information about your previous employer, you may be able to find it on the Security and Exchange Commission’s website.
4. Try FreeERISA
FreeERISA is another search database website that can help you find out if your former employer rolled over your 401(k) into an IRA account on your behalf. You can register on the website for free to conduct a search. You can conduct a search on the website to find your plan details and the contact information for the current plan administrator.
What To Do After You Find an Old 401(K) Account
Once you follow the steps listed above and locate your old 401(k) account, several options are available. The first thing you should do is verify the ownership of your account and its current value. Next, you’ll need to determine what to do with the old account. You can leave the account as it is, roll it into your current 401(k) plan or into an IRA, or cancel your 401(k) and cash out. There may be early withdrawal penalties, depending on your age, along with income tax implications for cashing out your account and pocketing the money.
Brad Reichert, Founder and Managing Director of Reichert Asset Management, shares more details about what happens when you discover a lost 401(k). “Once you locate your long-lost 401k account, the plan’s custodian or administrator will send you one or more forms to complete and return to tell them what you'd like to do with your account,” Reichert explains.
“These forms can be somewhat complex, depending on the firm that holds your account,” Reichert adds. If you have any concerns or questions about how to fill them out, it’s important to consult a trusted, licensed financial advisor, a CFP professional, or your old employer’s HR or benefits department for assistance. This ensures you don’t inadvertently trigger a taxable withdrawal or transfer from your 401k when you meant to do a tax-free rollover,” says Reichert.
Consolidate Multiple 401(K) Accounts
Over the years, you may have accumulated several different retirement accounts with different employers. Consolidating your 401(k) accounts can simplify your financial situation and make it easier for you to keep track of your retirement savings.
You have two main options for consolidating multiple 401(k) accounts. You can either roll all old 401(k) accounts into the current employer’s plan or in a rollover IRA. Weigh the pros and cons and compare fees and investment options before consolidating so you can ensure you get the best possible rate of return on your 401(k).
Consolidating 401(k) accounts may help you:
- Simplify your finances.
- Make it easy to prepare taxes.
- Monitor your investments efficiently.
- Lower fees.
To combine multiple 401(k) accounts, gather your recent statements. Contact your previous employer or brokerage company to get contact information and transfer or rollover forms for the benefit plans. Speak to a personal finance professional or an investment management expert to ensure that you can roll over the account directly. If you don’t, you may need to pay income tax to the IRS.
The Bottom Line on Finding Old 401(K) Accounts
If you’ve lost an old 401(k) account, there are several steps to find it. You can reach out to your former employer, search through your emails and documents for old statements, or search through online databases and your state’s unclaimed property website.
Once you find the account, you’ll need to decide what to do with the account. Consult a tax professional or a financial advisor to learn more about the tax consequences of all your options and to avoid expensive mistakes that may jeopardize your financial freedom in the future.