How to Find Money in an Old 401(k) Account

401(k) funds are protected by law, even if the employer declared bankruptcy.
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If you need to track down money from an old 401(k) account, no central agency exists with information on all 401(k) plans in the United States. However, the federal Employment Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, protects 401(k) deposits. So relax. Even if you can't find a former employer to retrieve 401(k) funds, you have several free ways to search for old accounts.

Administrator Search

When you can't locate the employer -- either because it changed names, was bought out or is no longer in business -- having contact information for the company that administered the plan for the employer, such as a bank, will help you retrieve 401(k) funds. If you don't have old 401(k) statements with the administrator's name, check the U.S. Department of Labor's free EFast website (see Resources). It's a database with the Forms 5500 that administrators of most 401(k) plans file annually. The site is searchable by the employer's name. You can also search the Labor Department's free Abandoned Plan Search database (see Resources), which provides administrator information for plans terminated or being terminated -- something that occurs after employers stop making contributions to 401(k)s.

Other Options

The National Registry for Unclaimed Retirement Benefits website, which lets you search by Social Security number, is where employers can list names of former employees with unclaimed funds they're entitled to. If the amount in the 401(k) was less than $5,000, the former employer has the option of rolling the funds into an IRA account. You can look for IRA accounts in various online databases, typically for a fee.

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