How to Reclaim Your Retirement Plan with a Previous Employer

Millions of Americans accidentally or unknowingly leave money in retirement plans with previous employers. According to a study by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, Americans lost track of more than $7.7 billion in retirement savings in 2015.

If you've left a retirement plan with a previous employer, not to worry. Here are 6 tips you can follow to reclaim your money.

1. Contact Your Old Employer

Your first step should be to contact your former employer.  The human resources department should have a record of your account.  If your account was rolled over to an IRA for your benefit, your former employer should be able to give you information about the institution holding the IRA funds.  If your account is still in the company’s retirement plan, your former employer can provide you with distribution forms to receive your money.

2. Look for an Old Account Statement

If you are having a hard time contacting your former employer, or if they are no longer in business, look for an old account statement. Those statements are commonly issued by the financial institution that held the plan funds.  That institution may be able to help you locate your account.

3. Go on the Department of Labor’s Website

Go to the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) website and try to locate the company’s Form 5500 (the plan’s required tax filing). The Form 5500 should have the plan administrator’s contact information. Then you can contact the responsible party directly and ask about your retirement account.

4. Go Online

The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits' website, the DOL’s Abandoned Plan Database, and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s (PBGC) website may be of assistance.  The National Registry allows you to conduct a search using your Social Security number to see if any employers have a retirement account for you.  The DOL’s Database helps participants and others find out whether a plan is or has been terminated. If so, it will provide the name of the person responsible for terminating the plan.  Lastly, the PBGC has a Missing Participants program that allows plans to transfer funds of missing participants to the PBGC to hold until the participant is found, or plans may send information to the PBGC about the entity that is terminating and how the participant can receive his or her benefit.  

5. Check if Your Former Employer Merged with Another Company

If you believe that your former employer may have merged with or been purchased by another company, do some research online to see what the new name and contact information is for the company. 

6. Contact Friends at Your Old Employer

Contact friends who may still be working for your old employer, and see if they can direct you to the proper contact for the plan’s benefits.

Follow These 2 Tips to Prevent This Issue

  1. Request a Distribution as Soon as You Terminate Employment: when you leave your job, consider requesting a distribution of your benefits right away, so you can roll those funds into your new employer’s plan or an individual retirement account.
  2. Update Your Contact Information with Your Former Employer Every Time You Move: If you left your past retirement account with your previous employer, make sure you contact the company every time you move to update your contact information or request a distribution.  If the employer has your contact information, you should receive benefit statements at least annually. If you wait years to take action, changes may make it hard to locate your account.