Tracking Down a Lost 401(k)

Senior couple enjoying a walk on the beach and discussing a possible lost 401(k)

Key Takeaways

  • Contact former employer: To find your lost 401(k), contact your former employer's HR or accounting department with your name, Social Security number, and dates of employment. They may assist you in locating the plan provider.
  • Reach out to old coworkers: If the company you worked for no longer exists or cannot be found, consider using social media to reconnect with former coworkers, who might have retained information about their plan participation, helping you gather relevant details.
  • Research the plan's Form 5500: To find your unclaimed 401(k), search for your plan's Form 5500 on the Department of Labor's website using your former employer's name, as it may include the plan provider's contact information.
  • Use the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits: Use services like the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits as a starting point to check for any unclaimed retirement accounts if you're uncertain about having a lost 401(k) or retirement account.

The average worker will change their careers three to seven times during their life span.1 A lost 401(k) could easily be accidentally left behind through so many employment changes. Here are ways to find a lost 401(k).

How to Find a Lost 401(k)

If you know you have a retirement account that you have simply lost track of, you'll likely need to get in touch with the plan provider. This could be tough to do if you can't remember who the provider was. Here are a couple of methods to consider:

Contact Your Former Employer

Consider giving your old employer a call and asking to speak to either the human resources or accounting department. Provide them the following and they might be able to provide you with the contact information for the plan provider: 

  • Your name
  • Social Security number
  • Dates of employment

Get in Touch With Old Coworkers

Companies change names, move locations, merge with other companies, and even shut their doors.

If the company you worked for no longer exists or can't be found, try reaching out to former coworkers to see if anyone from your old network held onto their plan participation information. In the age of social media, this may be a quick and easy way to remind yourself who your plan provider was.

Research the Plan's Form 5500

Many retirement plans are required to file taxes using a Form 5500. You could do a search for your plan's Form 5500 using your former employer's name on the Department of Labor's website.2 The form will likely have the plan provider's contact information, and then you can call them directly to check on your unclaimed 401(k).

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If You're Unsure Whether You Have a Lost 401(k)

Locating an unclaimed 401(k) account that you know about is relatively simple. It becomes a little more difficult than if you're unaware of a retirement account, whether you misplaced your own, or are unsure whether a deceased loved one left an account behind. Several databases can help check for unclaimed retirement accounts.

The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits is a free service powered by a private company that helps match former employees with unclaimed retirement funds.3 Though not all employers appear on this database, it could be a good place to start if you suspect you may have an unclaimed retirement account out there.

What to Do With Your Lost 401(k) Funds

When you've tracked down a misplaced 401(k), keep in mind that this money is still governed by tax-advantaged retirement account rules. Any account holder will owe income taxes, and if you're under age 59 1/2, you may owe an additional 10% early withdrawal penalty.

For more information, consult with a tax professional. There are options if you decide to keep this money in a retirement account. If your current employer offers a 401(k) plan, consider rolling over your lost 401(k) or into an IRA

A little homework may help you identify any lost 401(k) or other retirement accounts that have slipped your mind, and considering your choices with your found account(s) might help you feel a little more prepared for retirement.

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  1. What Is The Average Number of Career Changes in a Person's Lifetime?
  2. EFAST.
  3. National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits.

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Information provided is general and educational in nature, and all products or services discussed may not be provided by Western & Southern Financial Group or its member companies (“the Company”). The information is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legal or tax advice. The Company does not provide legal or tax advice. Laws of a specific state or laws relevant to a particular situation may affect the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of this information. Federal and state laws and regulations are complex and are subject to change. The Company makes no warranties with regard to the information or results obtained by its use. The Company disclaims any liability arising out of your use of, or reliance on, the information. Consult an attorney or tax advisor regarding your specific legal or tax situation.