Lost Track of Your Retirement Account? Here's How to Track It Down

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  • Many people fail to move over their 401(k)s when they switch jobs.
  • There are a couple of steps you can take to track down an old account and roll it into a new one.

Don't let that money go to waste.

Years ago, it was common to get hired by an employer and stick with the same company for 20 years, 30 years, or more. Today's workers tend to jump ship more often, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Switching companies is often a good way to boost wages and grow a career. And it's also a good way to keep things interesting.

But there's a danger to all of that job-switching: It might open the door to lost 401(k) funds. Here's how to track down an old retirement plan you may have neglected to roll over.

Check your statements

When you leave a job that sponsored a 401(k) plan, you'll often get the option to keep your money where it is. But in doing so, you can easily lose track of it. You also might be charged extra fees since you no longer work there.

If you've just realized that you never rolled over an old 401(k), and you're not sure how to access that money, dig up an old statement so you can see which company administered your plan. From there, you can make some calls to see if someone can help you gain access to your account.

If you left the job sponsoring that 401(k) plan on good terms, you can also try reaching out to someone in human resources and seeing if they can help you. Chances are, they'll have a record of your 401(k) and will be able to at least point you in the right direction.

Use a service

If you really can't remember where you had your last 401(k) and calling your old employer isn't an option, you may want to try a service like Capitalize. It will allow you to input your old company's name so it can dig up your old 401(k). And best of all, it's free.

What to do once you find your old 401(k)

Once you've managed to find your old retirement plan, you'll want to move that money into a new plan so you can keep track of it. If your current employer offers a 401(k), you can probably roll the funds into it. If not, you can open an IRA that you manage yourself and roll your money into that account.

In either situation, your best bet is to do a direct rollover, where money moves from your old 401(k) right into a new 401(k) or IRA. If that's not an option, you'll need to do an indirect rollover, where you get a check for your old 401(k) balance and you deposit those funds into a new 401(k) or IRA.

But be careful -- if you don't move that money over within 60 days, it'll be treated as an early withdrawal, which could leave you subject to penalties. And even if you're old enough to take a 401(k) withdrawal without penalty, you could end up owing a lot of taxes on your withdrawal.

Don't let your money go to waste

Capitalize estimates that there are more than 25 million "orphaned" 401(k) plans whose owners have lost track of them. And that's problematic. If you know you have money sitting in an old retirement plan, it's important to do what you can to find it and move it into an account you can actively manage.

Carving out money for retirement savings is not an easy thing to do. So even if your old 401(k) balance is small, that's money you no doubt worked hard to sock away. And you absolutely shouldn't let it go to waste.

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