Life in the 21st century for most of us is neither linear nor unchanging. This can be especially true for Colorado caregivers, whose responsibilities can trigger changes in any number of activities, including their employment. This in turn can lead to divided attention and distractions, even overlooking something like 401(k) retirement accounts created through one’s place of work.
Bankrate.com has reported that workers in general change jobs every 4.2 years on average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Younger employees are far more likely to switch jobs than older generations, with workers 25 to 34 years old staying at a job for just under 3 years on average, compared with 9.8 years on average for workers ages 55 to 64. As new flexibilities in work arrangements, such as remote work, continue to expand, and as caregiving situations dictate their own flexibilities, hopping from job to job can make it challenging to keep track of your retirement accounts.
Bankrate says there were about 29.2 million forgotten 401(k) accounts as of May 2023, with assets worth $1.65 trillion. This actually equaled about 25% of all 401(k) assets in existence. The question arises: How can you make sure you don’t lose track of any of your assets held in forgotten accounts? Here are steps Bankrate advises you to take:
• Track down old 401(k) plan statements as the first thing to do to find money held in forgotten accounts. These statements could have come in the mail, or you may have received them electronically. These statements will tell you which employers you were with during the period when you had a 401(k) plan and can help you determine whom to contact to access your account. You might also check with former co-workers who are still with the company to see who you should get in touch with.
• If you don’t have your old plan statements, the next best option is to reach out to your former employers directly, either through the human resources department or whoever handles benefits like retirement accounts. By providing your personal information, such as your name and Social Security number, they should be able to look up whether you participated in the 401(k) plan during your employment.
• You can also find 401(k) plan information through the website of the U.S. Labor Department. By looking up a company’s Form 5500, an annual report required to be filed for employee benefit plans, you should be able to find contact information and who the plan’s administrator was during your employment. See https://www.efast.dol.gov/5500Search/.
• You may be able to find information on lost accounts through FreeERISA (https://freeerisa.benefitspro.com/). You must register to use the site, but it is free to search once you’ve set up your account.
• If you still can’t find your 401(k), you can try searching one of the publicly available databases for unclaimed assets. The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits (https://unclaimedretirementbenefits.com/) is one such option. By entering your Social Security number, you can quickly see if there are any unclaimed 401(k) funds that belong to you. The money may still be held in the employer’s plan, or the company may have opened a special IRA account in your name to hold the funds.
• You can also search using the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators site (https://unclaimed.org/), which will help you track down unclaimed money you may be owed. This is not limited to retirement assets. Be sure to check in each state you have lived or worked. The site processes tens of millions of requests each year and has helped return more than $4 billion in unclaimed assets annually.
Should you locate any forgotten retirement assets, you can then roll over the account into your current employer’s plan, if that is an option for you. Or you might roll over the old account into your own IRA. Especially if your work situation is fluid, this may be the best option because the IRA is attached to you instead of your employer, making it less likely that you’ll lose track of the account again. In any event, you would be wise to consult with a trusted financial advisor to learn more about your options and what works best for you and your circumstances.