With the fast paced, information-laden society we live in, it's easy enough to misplace account statements and other important documents. But what happens when we lose access to a retirement account altogether? It may seem unlikely that someone could lose track of a valuable accounts, but it is fairly common. When you consider the 2007 U.S. Census data that shows the average American over age 18 is likely to move residences 9.1 times, it's easy to see employers could lose track of former employees. It's difficult to send retirement statements to someone with no known address on file. When you further contemplate that the average American may have more than six different employers during a lifetime, it's clear to see how it would be difficult to keep up with multiple retirement benefits from numerous former jobs. For anyone who does not know how or where to find information on a lost retirement account, there's good news and bad news. The good news is, you can locate your retirement accounts. The bad news is, it may take some legwork.
The First Stop - Former Employees
There are a number of resources to consider when starting the search for an old retirement account, but the search will take you in different directions depending on whether you are looking for a (k) account or a pension accounts. Regardless of whether you are trying to locate a 401(k) or pension account, the best place to start is the former employer. If the company is large enough, they may have a human resources department that handles retirement plans and will be able to offer guidance. If the company is smaller, calling the company directly and speaking with an office manager or former boss may provide answers. Unfortunately, businesses may change over the years. Some may close or file bankruptcy. Others may be purchased by other companies. In these cases, there are still options available to locate former 401(k) plans and pensions.
Online Resources for Locating 401(k) Plans
Fortunately, 401(k) plans and other many other retirement plans are required to abide by certain guidelines under the Department of Labor. The Department of Labor archives information relating to retirement plans, and there is a search function available on the DOL website where anyone can search for information on retirement plans covered under the DOL guidelines. From these plan filings, names of company contacts, plan administrators, and other important contact information can be found. If no plan information is located through the DOL search, there is a free website devoted to matching employers with former employees searching for lost retirement account information. The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits provides an online search tool allowing employers to post lost accounts for former employees to find and also allowing employees to search for lost accounts in their name.
Like the requirements set forth for 401(k) plans, the Department of Labor also has certain guidelines for pension plans. The Employee Benefits Security Administration within the DOL provides assistance to individuals searching for pension information. In addition, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) insures many pension plans and requires companies to provide them with data on the plans they ensure. Since the PBGC has some oversight, this organization gathers and maintains data on pension plansAs with the Department of Labor, the PBGC also provides a free online search through its website. The PBGC has devoted a significant amount of time and resources to educating individuals on how to find lost pensions and have even created a pamphlet as a help guide to search for lost pension benefits.
Whether you are searching for a 401(k), pension, or other type of retirement account, be prepared to spend some time on this endeavor. Ideally, your search would come to an end after calling a former employer and obtaining the information needed, but if that first step is unsuccessful, move on to additional sources.