Do you have an old 401(k)? You probably won't find it under the couch cushions. Learn tips on how to find an old 401(k) from a previous employer and what you could do with it once you've found it.
When you switch jobs, one of the things that can get lost in the shuffle is your 401(k). It’s usually kept separate from your other financial accounts, so it might be out of sight, out of mind. Eventually, though, you might remember that it exists—and you’ll probably want that money under your control. Do you know how to find an old 401(k)?
“It’s your money, so it makes sense to go looking for it,” said Dara Luber, senior manager, retirement product at TD Ameritrade. “There are some simple steps you can take to find the money and reclaim it.” Let’s look at how to find an old 401(k).
The first step, according to Luber, is to review old retirement account statements. Plan administrators should still be sending them to you. However, if you’ve moved and haven’t provided a forwarding address, more recent statements might not be reaching you.
“If you have old statements, you can look at them to see who the plan administrator is,” said Luber. “Call the old providers to see if you still have an account.”
Once you find that old 401(k), you can decide whether it makes sense to keep the existing plan, put it in an IRA, or roll it into your current 401(k) plan.
Another approach is to find out whether there’s an unclaimed 401(k) or other money in your name floating around in any states where you used to live.
“Every state has unclaimed property laws, and there are websites like unclaimed.org and missingmoney.com where you can look for money that’s unclaimed,” said Luber. “You can usually fill out the paperwork with the state to get that money back.”
Finally, it’s also possible to look for a plan using the U.S. Department of Labor website. Perhaps your plan has been terminated or is being shut down. Maybe the employer no longer exists because of a merger or buyout.
“With this resource, you can see who is in charge of the plan now, and contact them to find out how to proceed with getting your money,” Luber explained.
Figuring out what to do with old 401(k)s can be tricky. Luber recommended considering your current situation and taking a look at what might work best for you. Should you consolidate everything into your current 401(k)? Or does it make more sense to move the money into an IRA, where you might have more choices and flexibility? You might also want to continue to keep it in the old plan if you can, she pointed out. She said there are some cases, such as if you have company stock that has grown in value, where it might still make sense.
At the very least, it’s a good idea to look at the assets in all of the accounts and determine whether there is overlap and whether some overall portfolio rebalancing is in order.
“There might be times when you don’t roll it over, for whatever reason,” said Luber. “If you can, make sure the statements are coming to you and log in to the account once in a while to check on it.”
What about money that has been turned over to the state?
“There’s a good chance that the money has been cashed, meaning it goes to the state,” Luber said. “There might be tax consequences that you don’t know about. So you might not be able to just put it into an IRA.”
The process by which unclaimed money is turned over to the state is called escheatment, and each state has its own laws for determining when this happens. Depending on how long ago the distribution was made from your account, you might need to go through a lengthy process with the IRS to get the money put back into a retirement account. If a taxable distribution has already been made during the process of escheatment, your tax advisor can help you determine the best strategy.
“Speak with a tax professional who understands escheatment to get an idea of what your choices are,” said Luber. “It’s important to move very carefully when dealing with retirement funds that have been turned over to the state.”
“When you change jobs, it can be a good idea to roll your account over into your new 401(k), or even put it into a rollover IRA, depending on your situation,” said Luber. “Thinking this through might be low on your list of priorities, but bringing your money with you can help you keep everything together.”
Keep a list of your accounts, including retirement accounts, and regularly review whether you’re still getting statements from them. All of the account administrators should send statements at tax time, so comparing the paperwork to your comprehensive list can help you avoid losing track of accounts. When you move, contact plan administrators and custodians to let them know your new address.
“It’s possible to find old 401(k)s and recover that money,” concluded Luber, “but your best bet is to stay on top of it as you go along so you don’t lose track.”
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