If you’re interested in earning more in your line of work, changing jobs may be your best tactic. The average worker can expect a salary increase of only 3.4% in 2022, according to a survey by WTW (formerly Willis Towers Watson). With inflation topping 8%, that raise doesn’t feel so rich anymore. So what’s a worker to do?
Switch jobs. A new position can lead to an average of 14% higher earnings, with some job changes netting up to 30% more annual pay. But with every job change comes a new benefits package. If you’re not meticulous about rolling over your retirement accounts, you can quickly lose track of various employer-sponsored accounts such as 401(k)s or 403(b)s.
You’re not alone if you find yourself unsure of where your old retirement accounts may be. Although there is no certifiable number of accounts forgotten, the problem has spawned a slew of companies willing to track down your lost retirement dollars and help you roll them over into an individual retirement account (IRA). While that may seem like the path of least resistance, finding them on your own can also be achievable. You just need to know where to look.
- Changing jobs can mean that workers have several retirement accounts.
- Some companies will hunt down your old account for you.
- You can find the accounts yourself with a little legwork.
- Once you find your accounts, roll them over into stable investments.
Ask Your Former Employer
Most forgotten retirement accounts are linked to a former employer. Since accounts like 401(k)s and 403(b)s are employer-sponsored plans, the company chooses the administrator and keeps records of all the accounts. The first step is calling your benefits manager at your former company and asking if they have a history of your account.
If they do, you can reach out to the account administrator to direct your funds into a new account via rollover or cash out the account. However, this can trigger early withdrawal penalties and taxes depending on age.
What if your company went under? In this case, you’ll have to go straight to the source: the plan administrator. Some common account administrators are Fidelity, Vanguard, Charles Schwab, and TD Ameritrade. Suppose you don’t remember your log-in or password. In that case, a customer service representative should be able to verify your identity using other authentication methods such as your Social Security number (SSN), mother’s maiden name, or security questions.
If you don’t remember the name of your plan administrator, you can find the information on the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) website. Every company must file a Form 5500 to report the company’s plan administrator, its assets, and participants. You can navigate to the EFAST system through the DOL website, which will search by company name as long as your tenure there was after 2010.
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To find the Form 5500, take these steps:
- Visit the DOL website.
- Type your former company’s name in the search bar. Be as specific as possible, if it is a common company name.
- Once the list pops up, choose which year you left the company and hit the download icon.
- A new window will open with the company’s Form 5500. Depending on the year and the filing, you may have to search for the administrator’s name, but it will be there.
If you’ve changed your name since leaving a job, try searching by your previous name. Many unclaimed funds’ search services search by name first, rather than by Social Security number.
Check Unclaimed Property Portals
If the DOL can’t point you in the right direction, you may have to try unclaimed funds portals. When money is left in a 401(k) for an extended period after employment ends, the money is sometimes transferred to a state unclaimed property office. These offices hold unclaimed funds until the rightful owner claims them.
The good news is that it’s fairly simple to find your money using one of several database search programs. Sites like MissingMoney.com, Unclaimed.org, or searching the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits at unclaimedretirementbenefits.com can help you find old accounts using your name and state of residence.
Once you’ve found your account, roll it over into a new IRA with a firm where you have an existing relationship and will continue to keep tabs on it. You can easily roll the account into a traditional or Roth IRA.
What happens if I never claim my account?
If an account has been turned over to the unclaimed property department, it will stay there until someone claims it. That person must be the original owner or the heir of the original owner. If you die and your heir doesn’t claim it, it remains in the unclaimed property account in perpetuity.
How long will my money stay in my retirement plan?
This varies by company and account balance, and it depends on what is happening with the plan. If the company is liquidating, you may have to decide what to do with it or risk having it convert to cash very quickly. Otherwise, most plans will convert to cash within three years. If your account has less than $1,000, the firm is allowed to cut you a check for the amount and close your account.
Does my money continue to grow even after I leave?
While the money is enrolled in the 401(k), it can continue to grow. However, if the fund converts to cash, it will no longer earn compound interest. It also won’t be subject to the whims of the market, so its cash status could be good or bad. If your account balance is more than $5,000 and you’re content with how your assets are allocated, you can leave the money where it is.
The Bottom Line
While job hopping can help you earn more money over time, you should wrap up loose ends when you leave a position. If you suspect that you have a retirement account wasting away in cyberspace, do a little legwork to return it to its rightful home: your portfolio.