Personal Finance | September 2, 2021

Tracking Down a Lost 401(k)

Impossible as it may seem, Americans misplace billions of dollars every year.1 How? By switching jobs or financial institutions and unwittingly leaving assets behind.

What happens if I have unclaimed 401(k) funds from a previous job?

The majority of unclaimed money comes from brokerage, checking, and savings accounts, along with annuities, 401(k)s, and Individual Retirement Accounts. Once an account is considered inactive or dormant for a period of time (three years or longer depending on the state), companies are required by law to mail abandoned funds to the owner’s last known address. If they’re returned, or the owner can’t be reached, the assets must be relinquished to the state.

How can I find my old 401(k) account?

Ask previous employers whether they’re maintaining any accounts in your name. If the company no longer exists, contact the plan administrator. If you don’t know the name of the plan administrator, search the Department of Labor website for the company’s Form 5500 (5500search.dol.gov), which will list their contact information. You might also check the state’s unclaimed property database via the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (unclaimed.org).

Darin Bostic, a Schwab financial planner, points out that the best way to keep track of your funds is not to lose them in the first place. “Consolidating similar accounts, such as old and new brokerage or IRAs, can help you keep track of your savings,” says Darin.

What’s more, consolidation helps ensure your assets are working in harmony toward your long-term goals. It’s difficult to follow a comprehensive investment strategy when your money is spread out all over the place.

The bottom line

Consolidating your accounts can help ensure none of your hard-earned money goes missing. The next time you switch jobs, make it a priority to consider your different 401(k) options: 1) leave it, but don’t forget it, 2) roll it into the new company’s 401(k), if allowed, 3) roll it over to an IRA. After all, when you’re saving for a decades-long retirement, every dollar counts.

1National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.

What you can do next

  • Creating and maintaining a financial plan can help you keep tabs on all your money. If you need help, visit a Schwab Financial Consultant at your local branch—or call us at 800-355-2162.