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How to Find Lost Pension Plans and 401k Accounts

by Kevin Mulligan

Keeping up with all of the benefits and perks you have received at your jobs over the years can be a paperwork hassle. You are constantly sorting out your account statements from your junk mail, hoping you don’t miss one and send it to the shredder. Not to mention keeping all of this old paperwork straight if you have to move. All it takes is one box of important documents going misplaced to really make sorting out everything a big mess.

Yet leaving your 401k account or pension plan information behind can be financially devastating. Even if you intended to roll your old 401k in with your new employer’s plan but never did, leaving it unmanaged can leave you with an asset allocation that isn’t aligned with your personal financial goals.

Tips to Find an Old or Lost Retirement Account

If you’ve lost track of one of your accounts, here are a few tips to help you track it down.

Find a Lost Pension Plan

How to find a lost pension planThankfully, tracking down an old pension is a bit easier than other types of accounts as long as your pension plan paid guaranty premiums to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. The PBGC is very similar to the FDIC in that the pension pays what amount to insurance premiums to the corporation and in return the value of those pension payments is guaranteed.

This also makes the PBGC a handy place to find an old pension you have left behind. The US Agency has a handy search tool to find unclaimed pensions that lets you search by Last Name, by Company, or by State. If you have an old pension left out in the wild, do a thorough search with the tool and hope that your pension was part of the PBGC.

Find an Old 401k

Unfortunately finding an old 401k takes a little bit more work. Here are some steps to take.

First, if your employer still exists then you should be able to reach out directly to the company (probably someone in HR or Benefits Administration) that can put you in contact with the 401k plan administrator. Once you have access to your plan, you may find that it is a good idea to roll it into your current 401k plan, or do an IRA rollover. Do this makes it easier to manage your 401k plan when you have multiple retirement accounts.

Of course not every employer is still in existence, or perhaps the process is convoluted because the company has gone through many mergers, bankruptcies, or other major structure changes. The next place to look is the administrator of the 401k plan. This is the company that would have sent your statements to you. Even if they are no longer the active administrator of the 401k, they could point you to the next firm that took over. The best place to look for the name of the company that administered the account is to find an old account statement. (Hopefully you didn’t lose every single statement.)

After that the work gets a bit more difficult. Each year most 401k plans are required to submit a Form 5500 to the US government. Just like the IRS can provide you with an old tax return your sent in, you can do a search for past Form 5500s at websites like Free ERISA. Search for the name of your former employer to see if you can find the Form 5500; it will have the plan administrator on it.

Lastly you can try doing a search on the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits. The free site is a database of old retirement accounts that have been abandoned with hopes that employees will do a search and find their name on the list.

Final Thoughts

Tracking down an old retirement account is a pain that can take up hours of time. Don’t play games with your retirement. Track your retirement account information closely, and consider scanning copies of statements to another hard drive or service like Dropbox where you can access them wherever you are.


Published or updated November 2, 2012.
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1 Roger @ The Chicago Financial Planner

Great post Kevin and very useful information for all. With folks changing jobs often during the course of a career, this will increasingly be come an issue. This is one reason that people should at least consider either rolling their retirement plan over to an IRA or to their new employer’s plan (if applicable) when leaving a job.

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