It happens to the best of us. You’re having a conversation with an old colleague, or a friend is venting about the lack of a 401(k) match at her new company when you suddenly realize, “Wait a second, there was a 401(k) when I worked at <insert first job after college, now a distant, very blurry memory>. How much was there? Did I move it? What ever happened to that money, anyway?”
A lot of us don’t know where to start when it comes to unpleasant financial fact-finding tasks like this. So how do you actually find old retirement accounts?
Your first goal is to find the retirement plan administrator. That’s who will be able to provide information about any remaining balances. Here’s a step-by-step guide to tracking down the plan administrator for your forgotten accounts.
Step 1: Not quite sure if you actually contributed? Check your old W-2s.
If you keep a file of old tax returns and forms, you finally have an opportunity to pat yourself on the back for your enviable organizational prowess. Check the W-2s from your old employers. Box 12 is where you’ll find amounts of any contributions you made to an employer-sponsored retirement plan in that particular year.
Got contributions? Then you know you’re on the right track and there is an account somewhere holding those funds.
Step 2: Contact your former employer.
The HR department of any former employer will probably have access to the record of your retirement plan account. If it’s a smaller company and you’re unsure who to contact, the Office Manager or your former supervisor is the best place to start.
Once your former employer finds your plan, you can ask them to provide you with the forms you’ll need to roll over the old account into your 401(k) with your current employer or to an IRA.
In some cases, your company may not have much information about the plan. But if that’s the case, they should be able to refer you to an outside financial institution overseeing the retirement plan on their behalf. When your account is located, they should be able to provide the forms you need to roll over the funds.
Step 3: Database Check — My Former Employer No Longer Exists!
If your former employer no longer exists, you can search the US Dept of Labor’s Abandoned Plan database. It provides contact information for employer-sponsored retirement plans that have been or will be terminated soon.
Doing a search by company name or EIN will give you the updated contact information for the current administrator of the retirement plan.
Where to find your former employer’s EIN?
Hopefully you have that old W-2, because that’s the easy answer. It may also appear in the supplemental reports alongside your tax returns.
Step 4: Database Check — Search Retirement Plan Annual Filings
Still no luck? Here’s one more option. Unfortunately, it involves wading through IRS filings.
There’s an annual requirement that retirement plans file a Form 5500 with the IRS. That means you can search for the most recent filing of your former employer’s retirement plan which will contain up-to-date contact information for the plan administrator.
Using the name of the former employer (“sponsor”) or EIN, search Form 5500 filings to get contact information. The Department of Labor offers a Form 5500 Filing Search that may help.
Found! What do I do when I’ve found the plan administrator?
- Get account information (account number, most recent statement, balance, etc.).
- Request forms to roll over account. Why? In reality, you can leave the account where it is with the plan administrator (make sure they have your current address and contact information), but it would be prudent to review the holdings and fees on the account, as well as the underlying investments. You might also want to look at how those investments fit into your overall portfolio. If you’ve forgotten about it once, it might make sense to consolidate the number of accounts you have floating in multiple places or roll it to a plan you can manage yourself.
- Fill out required forms and get the roll over going.
- Feeling a little foggy on how the rest of this works? Feel free to schedule an intro session to chat– I can take an objective look and help you determine a course of action that makes sense. Want more info first? Learn more about us here.