It’s not that hard to lose track of accounts, especially if you change jobs or move around a lot.
Sometimes companies change their names, or are sold, and people can’t find them. Some people may not even know that they were automatically enrolled in a 401(k) plan, according to the article “Finding lost retirement benefits” from Albany Times Union. There are also employees who leave in a huff and never complete paperwork. How many HR directors have the time or resources to track down former employees?
There’s no exact number for how many unclaimed benefits there are, but a report released by the GAO (Government Accountability Office) reports that more than 25 million people left at least one retirement plan behind, when they left a job in the years between 2004-2013. Could one of those people be you?
Here’s what you need to know to start looking for lost retirement accounts:
Start digging through your old files. Depending on how you keep your records, that may mean cracking open the filing cabinets that have been stored in the basement for the last 20 years, or the stack of the stuff you’ve been meaning to file that just keep growing. You might find some clues in old tax paperwork, employment related documents or the folders you received when you started working in a new job, filed and forgot about. If the company has been bought and sold a few times, this may take a while, even if you do finally locate the original paperwork.
Contact your old employer. If you cannot find the company, then try the Department of Labor website for Form 5500 filings. This form would have contact information for the plan. The DOL also has the EBSA—Employee Benefit Security Administration—that offers help over the phone. On the website, you’ll find a searchable database for abandoned pension plans.
There is a federal agency in charge of insuring private-sector pension benefits; the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. The PBGC has reported that more than 80,000 people who earned a pension have not yet claimed it, and more than $400 million is waiting for them. The pension amounts range from twelve cents to almost a $1 million.
Check your state’s Unclaimed Property division. Each state has its own database, and there’s also a website called missingmoney.com that was created by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.
Contact the Social Security Administration. The SSA might provide a notice alerting you to potential benefits, when you are ready to claim your Social Security benefits. However, this is only a notice, and does not guarantee that the funds are still there.
Another source to contact is the U.S. Administration on Aging’s Pension Counseling and Information Program, which provides legal assistance at no cost.
A word to the wise is to keep track of all accounts through your employer with a system of either paper or digital files. If you leave a job, make sure that you have all the necessary documents about all of the benefits offered. If you don’t get to this task until a few months into a new job, that’s okay too—just as long as you get to it before too much time goes by.
Reference: Albany Times Union (March 30, 2019) “Finding lost retirement benefits”