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Changing jobs can be hectic. There’s a lot to figure out between switching companies and possibly relocating.

Managing your old 401(k) account may be a low priority. It’s common to leave your retirement savings in your previous plan to sort it out later. But when life happens, you might lose track.

Whether you just changed jobs or are searching for a plan from many years ago, here’s how to find old 401(k) accounts and what you can do after tracking them down.

Reasons to find your old 401(k)

This might sound unbelievable, but there are more than 29 million “forgotten” 401(k)s with over $1.65 trillion in assets.¹

If you left retirement funds behind, understanding how to find old 401(k) accounts should be a priority. You aren’t actively managing the investments if you’ve lost track, so your returns might not be as high as they could be.

Plus, the longer you wait, the harder it could be to find your account. Companies change 401(k) providers, go through mergers, and even shut down through bankruptcy.

All these changes can make it harder to find old 401(k)s, so some people might give up. But you shouldn’t. No matter how long it’s been or what happened to the 401(k) plan and company, the money is still yours and protected by the government.

5 ways to find your 401(k) account

If you know you have an old 401(k) account, you can find it in a few ways. Follow these steps to complete the process.

1. Locate past 401(k) plan statements

Your 401(k) plan statements show your account number, balance, and investments.2 They also list the company’s contact information running the 401(k).

If your past employer still has your email or mailing address, they could still be sending you regular plan statements every quarter.² If not, try searching for a statement through your files and emails. Once you find one, you could use the information to contact the plan administrator about your account.

2. Reach out to your former employer and coworkers

If you can’t find the plan information, call your past employer. Ask to speak to the HR or benefits department for their help in finding your 401(k) plan. They should be able to find your account using your name and Social Security number.

Another option is to contact a former coworker still at the company. Ask them for the contact information of the 401(k) benefits provider.

3. Check government databases

If you can’t reach your employer, maybe because they no longer exist, there are government databases to help people find lost 401(k)s. Here are other ways for how to find old 401(k) accounts:

  • The Department of Labor’s abandoned plan search tool lets you identify workplace retirement plans that no longer exist so that you can find your money. Search using the name of your former employer, their location, and the 401(k) plan’s name if you have it.
  • The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits has the specific mission of helping people find lost 401(k)s and other retirement plans. You can run a free 401(k) search to see if your account still exists or if the employer moved the money to an individual retirement account (IRA) in your name.
  • The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators lets you search for any money or property you legally own that has been declared unclaimed or abandoned. If a financial institution can’t find you, it eventually turns your property over to the government. This includes past 401(k) accounts. You search by state, checking each one where you worked or lived.

4. Use private search tools

Private companies also offer old 401(k) finder tools. FreeERISA lets you search for retirement plan documents for a 401(k), which can help you identify the company to contact. The basic search tool is free, but it costs money for more advanced searches and other features.

Capitalize is another private company. It runs a 401(k) search tool that you can use by providing your SSN and contact information. It provides this service for free, hoping you’ll transfer the 401(k) funds to invest with them.

5. Maintain an ongoing record of old 401(k)s

A little record-keeping goes a long way with 401(k)s. Keep a list of all your old 401(k) plans and the statements going forward. That way, you won’t have to go through this lengthy search again for lost accounts.

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What to do after finding an old 401(k) account

Once you’ve found your 401(k) account and the company in charge, you can decide what to do with your money. You have a few possible ways to go.

Transfer your 401(k) to an IRA

An independent retirement account (IRA) is a retirement account you can have outside of work. It’s not tied to any job. You open an IRA through an investment broker, bank, or online fintech company. An IRA can be easier to track since it won’t change when you switch jobs. It also gives you more flexibility over the investments as you aren’t limited to whatever an employer offers.

You can transfer the money in an old 401(k) to a traditional IRA without paying taxes through a rollover. Or you could pay taxes on your 401(k) balance and convert it to a Roth IRA. Then, your retirement withdrawals from a Roth IRA will be tax-free, starting when you turn 59 ½. You can transfer into a Roth IRA tax-free if you have a Roth 401(k).³

Check out our deep dive on IRAs vs. 401(k) plans.

Consolidate your former 401(k) with your existing one

If your current job offers a 401(k) plan, you might be able to roll over the old 401(k) plans into it. It depends on the plan rules. Most employers allow these transfers. If so, the rollover will again not lead to any taxes. You have all your retirement savings in one place, making tracking, investing, and managing easier.⁴

Keep things as they are

You don’t have to move money out of your old 401(k) plan. Many employers allow former employees to keep their savings in the plan. While you can’t add more money to an old plan or receive more 401(k) matches, you can keep investing what’s already there.⁵

This approach could make sense if you like the plan investments. For example, the old 401(k) offers a cost discount on mutual funds you can’t get on your own. Pay the same attention to old 401(k) investments as your other retirement plans.

Opt for a cash withdrawal

You have the option to cash out your old 401(k). However, you will owe income tax on your pre-tax contributions and investment gains. If you’re younger than 59 ½, you may also owe an additional 10% early withdrawal penalty.³ Finally, cashing out sets back your retirement savings.

A withdrawal might make sense if you need the cash and have no other option. But consider the pros and cons of a 401(k) cash withdrawal carefully.

Put your old 401(k) money to work

If you’ve lost track of an old 401(k) plan, it might seem like that money is gone for good. But it’s not. With a bit of research and the help of online search tools, you can track down your missing account. From there, you can figure out how to best use the money.

As you manage your retirement funds, a financial advisor could help you design your portfolio and give more assistance with how to find old retirement accounts.

FAQs

Does an old 401(k) expire?

No, an old 401(k) does not expire. The money is yours no matter how long you wait to collect.⁵ It’s possible your past employer could move your savings out of the 401(k) into an IRA on your behalf. But you would be able to collect your money from there. Even if your past employer goes bankrupt or shuts down the 401(k), it will still send your retirement savings to a government agency to hold for you.

Can I find my 401(k) accounts for free?

If you’re wondering how to find my 401(k) for free, you have several options. There’s no charge to contact your employer or 401(k) plan administrator for information. If that doesn’t work, the government provides several free search tools through the DOL, the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits, and the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. Finally, there are free private resources for finding old 401(k) accounts. Try all these free methods before paying someone to search for you.

What if I have 401(k) accounts with multiple employers?

You can have 401(k) accounts with multiple employers. There is no law limiting the number of accounts you can have.⁶ You can only add more money to a 401(k) at your current job, but you can keep the old accounts open and still invest through them. However, the more 401(k) accounts you have, the harder it is to track all your money and investments. You may find consolidating everything into one account easier.

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¹ Information from Capitalize's’ "The true cost of forgotten 401(k) accounts (2023)" 401(k) limit increases to $23,000 for 2024, IRA limit rises to $7,000" as of March 8, 2024: https://www.hicapitalize.com/resources/the-true-cost-of-forgotten-401ks/

² Information from Ascensus' "Three things to know about your 401(k) statement" as of March 8, 2024: https://www.ascensus.com/resources/news-and-education/saving-for-retirement/tips-and-resources/three-things-to-know-about-your-401-k-statement/

³ Information from IRS' "Rollovers from retirement plans" as of March 8, 2024: https://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc413

⁴ Information from IRS' "Rollovers of retirement plan and IRA distributions" as of March 8, 2024: https://www.irs.gov/retirement-plans/plan-participant-employee/rollovers-of-retirement-plan-and-ira-distributions

⁵ Information from Ellevest's "What happens to your 401(k) when you quit your job?" as of March 8, 2024: https://www.ellevest.com/magazine/retirement/401k-when-you-quit

⁶ Information from Human Interest's "Why having multiple 401(k) plans is a bad idea" as of March 8, 2024: https://humaninterest.com/learn/articles/why-having-multiple-401k-plans-is-a-bad-idea/

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