How to Find an Old 401(k): 3 Ways to Track Down Lost Retirement Funds

Wondering how to find your old 401(k)? There are three places to look: in the old account, in a new one or with the state’s unclaimed property department.
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There is a ton of money sitting unclaimed in ghosted workplace retirement plans — potentially up to $1.65 trillion, according to Capitalize, a company that helps people find and transfer retirement accounts

. Some of it might be yours if you’ve ever left a job and forgotten to take your vested retirement savings with you.

How to find your old 401(k)

If you’re not sure where an old 401(k) plan is, there are steps you can take to locate it. It might take some effort, but the result is worth it — every little bit helps when it comes to maximizing your retirement savings.

Starting with your former employer is usually best, but you can also search for your old 401(k) using your Social Security number or by taking a spin through the unclaimed property database.

1. Contact your ex-employer about the old 401(k)

Employers will try to track down a departed employee who left money behind in an old 401(k), but their efforts are only as good as the information they have on file. Beyond providing 30 to 60 days' notice of their intentions, there are no laws that say how hard they have to look or for how long.

If it’s been a while since you’ve heard from your former company, or if you’ve moved or misplaced the notices it sent, start by contacting your old company’s human resources department. If you're able to find an old 401(k) account statement, you can also contact the plan administrator, the financial firm that held the account.

If there was more than $7,000 in your retirement account when you left, there’s a good chance that your money is still in your workplace account. While you could leave the money there, another alternative is a 401(k) rollover to move that money into another retirement account.

Plan administrators have more leeway with abandoned amounts up to $7,000. If the balance is $1,000 or less, they can simply cut a check for the total and send it to your last known address, leaving you to deal with any tax consequences. For amounts more than $1,000 up to $7,000, they're allowed to move funds into an individual retirement account without your consent. These specialty IRAs are set up at a financial institution that has been federally authorized to manage the account


2. Find your 401(k) with your Social Security number

If the old plan administrator cannot tell you where your 401(k) funds went, there are several databases that can assist. You can use your Social Security number to find your lost 401(k) by popping it into some of the databases below.

National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits

The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits works like a “missed connections” service, where companies register with the site to help facilitate a reunion between ex-employees and their retirement money. Not every company is registered with this site, so if none of these searches yields results, move on to the next step

National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits . Find My Funds. Accessed Mar 14, 2024.

Department of Labor's abandoned plan database

Another good place to start is with the Department of Labor’s abandoned plan database. It's provided by the Employee Benefits Security Administration. The tool helps you find out if you have a plan that's been terminated, or is in the process of being terminated. You can also figure out who is doing the terminating in case you need to contact them directly

Employee Benefits Security Administration. Abandoned Plan Search. Accessed Mar 14, 2024.

U.S. Pension Guaranty Corp. database of unclaimed pensions

If you were covered under a traditional pension plan that was disbanded, search the U.S. Pension Guaranty Corp. database of unclaimed pensions. You'll need to provide your name, address, Social Security number, the employer’s name, and the dates you worked for the company, as well as your phone number

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. Find Unclaimed Retirement Benefits. Accessed Mar 14, 2024.


FreeErisa, an employee benefit data resource, maintains a rundown of employee benefit plan paperwork. Users can sign up for free but may have to pay for advanced search tools.


Capitalize is a service that helps people find old 401(k)s with major employers and companies. The search is free, but users will have to pay for premium services such as rollovers and account management.

3. Search unclaimed property databases

If a company terminates its retirement plan, it has more options on what it’s allowed to do with the unclaimed money, no matter what the account balance.

It might be rolled into an IRA set up on your behalf, deposited at a bank, or left with the state’s unclaimed property fund. Hit up, run in part by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, to do a multistate search of state unclaimed property divisions Missing Money. Accessed Mar 21, 2023.

Note that if a plan administrator cashed out and transferred your money to a bank account or the state, a portion of your savings may have been withheld to pay the IRS.

That’s because this kind of transfer is considered a distribution (aka cashing out) and is subject to income taxes and penalties. Some 401(k) plan administrators withhold a portion of the balance to cover any potential taxes and send you and the IRS tax form 1099-R to report the income. Others don’t, which could leave you with a surprise IRS IOU to pay.

Find and move all your old 401(k)s — for free.
401(k)s left behind often get lost, forgotten, or depleted by high fees. Capitalize will move them into one IRA you control.
start consolidating

on Capitalize's website

What to do with an old 401(k)

You might be able to leave your old 401(k) money where it is if it’s in your former employer’s plan. One reason to do so is if you have access to certain mutual funds with lower management fees that aren’t available to individual investors. But you won't be allowed to contribute to the plan anymore since you no longer work there.

Reasons to move your money to an IRA or to roll it into a current employer’s plan include access to a broader range of investments, such as individual stocks, a wider selection of mutual funds, and more control over account fees, including plan administration fees.

If your money was moved into an IRA on your behalf, you don’t have to leave it there. Once you find your money, it’s easy to switch brokers and move your investments into a new IRA without triggering any taxes.

» Ready to get started? See the best IRA providers for a 401(k) rollover.

Find and move all your old 401(k)s — for free.
401(k)s left behind often get lost, forgotten, or depleted by high fees. Capitalize will move them into one IRA you control.
start consolidating

on Capitalize's website

Bottom line

No matter how long the cobwebs have been forming on your old 401(k), that money is still yours. All you have to do is find it.

The next time you switch jobs, consider rolling it into your new employer's plan, or an IRA. You could also leave it where it is, but weigh the benefits carefully and keep track of the account details.

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