You can find out your 401(k) balance through traditional means by checking your paper statements, or get the data on demand through Internet and telephone technology that's available at any time of the day or night. Knowing your balance is essential to determine whether or not you're on track for your retirement goals.
Check Your Paper Statement
Contents and Frequency
Your most recent paper statement shows your total account balance and the amounts allocated to each investment. However, plans vary in how often they provide 401(k) statements, and in what form. The law requires provision of a statement at least quarterly for participant-directed plans and at least annually for others, according to the Department of Labor. Some plans send paper statements more often, but electronic statements also can fulfill the legal requirements.
Requesting a Statement
If you didn't receive a paper statement, phone your plan administrator to request one. In most cases the administrator is an investment company, insurance company or brokerage. You can ask your employer's human resources department for contact information if you don't have it.
Plan administrators such as Fidelity typically allow you to access your 401(k) account online. If you don't already have online access, register on the administrator's website. You'll typically enter personal data, including your name, date of birth and Social Security number, and select a username and password. In many cases, you'll also assign security questions to be used for future logins as an extra layer of authentication. Then select your 401(k) account or accounts and click on the tab for the information you desire.
Use the Automated Phone System
Major plan administrators also allow you to check your 401(k) account balance through automated phone services. Some plans set up your automated telephone account when you register for online services. You'll typically need the administrator's toll-free number from its website, your Social Security number and a pin number. Follow the recorded instructions to select your account and request your balance.
When to Check
CNN Money recommends checking on your 401(k) plans and other retirement assets once per year to review your asset allocation and make sure you're on schedule with your retirement savings. For example, you might change your mix of stocks and bonds if the percentages have skewed from your plan or if your goals have changed.
Phyllis Borzi of the Employee Benefits Security Administration recommends checking your pay stubs more regularly against your statement balance to catch fraud or mistakes in how your 401(k) money is allocated. If you have online access, it's simple to check your balances that often.
You'll also need to check your 401(k) balance at major life events when you may want to transfer accounts or withdraw money -- for example, when you divorce, change employers or retire. In addition, you must take required minimum distributions to comply with federal law after age 70 1/2.