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How to Find Lost 401(k)s and Retirement Funds

Jun 17, 2021 5 min read

Key takeaways

  • Company go under before you could roll over? Check the Abandoned Plan database.
  • An online tracking service can help with your rebalancing act.
  • Weigh the pros and cons before you roll over.


How we work can dictate how we save. But how our careers progress has become drastically different than in past eras. That’s because, by and large, we no longer work for just one or two companies for 40 years before retiring.



Now, many employees end up in multiple jobs and careers by the time they quit the workforce. According to LinkedIn Opens in new window, by age 32, U.S. workers have had an average of four jobs in the 10 years following college. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics Opens in new window reports that a younger baby boomer, during the time period between the ages of 18 and 48, held 11 jobs on average.

Americans often become “job hoppers” because they are looking for advancement or want to work in new industries. This can, however, leave retirement savings scattered across many different 401(k)s, 403(b)s or other tax-deferred savings plans. This can also make it difficult to know what needs to be tweaked in your accounts, and how much more you need to save before retirement.

If you have several scattered retirement accounts, you may want to consider corralling your savings. Here are some steps to think about:


How to find old 401(k) accounts

To corral all your accounts, you first must locate all your retirement plans. This is often the most time-consuming step in the process of organizing and streamlining your retirement portfolio, as you’ll sometimes have to do a bit of legwork to identify and find your old plans. The more jobs you’ve held, the more work you’ll need to do if you haven’t already rolled over those plans into other retirement accounts.

These suggestions can help you figure out how to find your 401k.


Contact former employers

If you know you had a plan with a certain employer but don’t know how to access it, reach out to your former company. They should provide you with the information you need to access the account.

While you can continue to keep your account with that company, if you want more control over your plan, you can roll it over into an IRA or your current company’s account.


Find the contact information and address of your account holder

What happens if the company is no longer in business? Well, your retirement account should still be held somewhere. It’s your money, after all.

You can go to the Abandoned Plan database Opens in new window, hosted by the Department of Labor. There you can search the company, and you will be provided with information on how to locate the lost plan.


Look through unclaimed property databases

You can also search the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits Opens in new window to find plans under your name.

Once you find one account, you can potentially spot a few more, as there’s a possibility you have multiple plans hosted by the same company. The other accounts should come up as you log into the management company’s website.


Organize and rebalance your accounts

Now that you’ve found your old 401k plans, it’s time for a review. After years of neglect, your forgotten retirement accounts may not be properly balanced. This means there may be too much emphasis on one type of investment, or not enough on another.

If you plan to keep the IRA or company plan open, you may want to consider diversification, so there’s the right amount in stocks, bonds, U.S. investments or international exposure that’s appropriate for your investment goals and risk tolerance.

You’ll need to check each account individually at first. However, if you can list them all in one place, you’ll see how your combined investment diversification stands up. An online tracking service can continue to monitor your accounts, possibly flagging you if you need to consider rebalancing again. (Please remember, application of asset allocation and diversification concepts do not assure a profit or protect against loss in a declining market. It is possible to lose money by investing in securities.)

Online tracking services can’t do the rebalancing for you, you’ll have to go to each individual account to manage the rebalancing. And if the diversification seems off but it’s not time for you to rebalance, you’ll have to look at each individual account to determine which one may be out of balance the most.


Decide if you should roll over

While you might want to roll over your company retirement accounts into one IRA, this is not always the best option. Often, if you’ve worked at larger firms, you will have the opportunity to keep your funds in the company retirement plan without penalty, even after you’ve left. And the fees could be lower Opens in new window, because so many people within the company opt into the plan.

In these situations, it could be advantageous to keep the funds where they are, at least in the short term. But as a word of warning, you likely won’t be able to add more money to the plan, and you won’t have as many options for investing the money as you could in an IRA.

There are times where a company will automatically roll over your 401(k) into an IRA, particularly if you don’t have a large enough amount in the account (typically, this will mean having less than $5,000) at the time of your departure. The company may not choose the best IRA for your needs, so you may want to select a better one.

You can also typically roll the money over into a new company’s retirement plan.

Whatever you decide to do, please note that Prudential does not provide tax advice and you should consult with a qualified professional who can explain each step of the process. Incorrectly rolling over retirement funds can create a tax nightmare. If you cash out your company retirement plan, you’ll likely need to pay taxes on the total amount, plus potentially pay a 10% early withdrawal fee.

This could also increase your current income tax rate because it’s taxed as regular income.


What you can do next

To keep track of your retirement accounts, you first must know where they all are. Once you gather all your old accounts in one place and make sure they are properly balanced, it’s about sticking to the same investment principles—ensuring your money is in diversified, low-cost funds—that you would follow for your current company retirement plan.

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