How to Find Unclaimed Retirement Benefits

Search public databases, contact old employers and talk to retirement account custodians to learn if you have unclaimed retirement benefits.
Whitney Vandiver
By Whitney Vandiver 
Edited by Holly Carey

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You can look for unclaimed retirement benefits by searching online databases, calling previous employers and contacting retirement plan custodians to see if you have an account with them.

Twenty-five percent of all 401(k) plans are estimated to be left behind with an employer or forgotten by the beneficiaries, according to Capitalize, a company that helps individuals locate and combine their retirement plans

. That comes out to around $1.65 trillion in unclaimed retirement benefits.

If you think you might have unclaimed retirement funds, here’s a quick guide to get you started.

» MORE: See if you’re on track with our retirement calculator

If you’re unsure where to start

National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits

The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits is a database that allows people to search for unclaimed retirement benefits. Companies and financial institutions submit information about these funds to the database when they can’t locate beneficiaries. Benefits can include funds previously contributed to pension plans, 401(k) accounts and individual retirement accounts (IRAs).

When an employee searches the database, they’re matched to any accounts their previous employers or organizations registered with their Social Security number. If you’re matched with an unclaimed account, you’ll need to provide your contact information and work with the former employer or financial institution to receive your benefits. You can elect to have the funds rolled over into a different plan, such as an IRA, receive the full amount as a distribution or a combination of both options.

Department of Labor’s Abandoned Plans Program

The Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) oversees the Abandoned Plan Program to support companies and businesses that can no longer manage a retirement plan. When a company recognizes that it can’t keep the retirement plan going, it can work with EBSA to register all beneficiaries of an abandoned plan.

If you think your company’s retirement plan was abandoned and is no longer being managed by your previous employer, you can search the abandoned plan database by plan name or employer name. You’ll need to select how you will receive your benefits, and the options you have available depend on the type of retirement plan you’re reclaiming.

Paid services

Some companies like will search for existing 401(k) accounts and offer a more tailored service than the free databases. But these companies charge clients for their services and might use the search option as a way to sell clients other services, such as taking loans against their 401(k) accounts. And some of these companies don’t limit their searches to unclaimed accounts and might include your current retirement accounts in their results.

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If you left a retirement account with a previous employer

If you left a retirement account with a previous employer, you have a few options to track it down.

If you receive notifications about the account, look at any communications you’ve received from the employer who sponsored the account or the financial company that is listed as the account custodian. This information can often be found on statements that summarize your account’s value and recent activity.

If your previous employer is still in business, calling your previous employer’s human resources department is the first step. Even if the company no longer works with the account custodian, a representative can track down the information for you and tell you whom to contact or how to access your account information.

If your previous employer is no longer in business, you can go straight to the source and contact the account custodian. Companies like TD Ameritrade and Fidelity manage retirement accounts and provide beneficiaries with access to their accounts through their websites. If you know which company held your retirement account, go to its website or call to get help locating your account.

If your previous employer has closed down and you don’t know the account custodian, you can search the Department of Labor’s EFAST database. Most companies that offer employee benefit plans must file a Form 5500 with the government annually

. If your company filed a Form 5500 on or after Jan. 1, 2010, you can search the Department of Labor’s EFAST database to see which financial company helped manage the account and contact it directly. If your company isn’t listed in the EFAST database, contact former employees and ask if they know which financial company is administering the retirement accounts.

If you worked for the federal government

The federal government provides employees who were hired after 1986 the option to contribute to the Federal Employees Retirement System

Office of Personnel Management. FERS Information. Accessed Aug 15, 2023.
. It includes three benefit plans: Social Security, Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) and Basic Benefit Plan (BBP).

Social Security benefits are set up as with any other job and require you to pay a 6.2% tax. Your contributions will go with you if you leave your job before retiring.

The TSP is a plan that acts similarly to a 401(k)

. The agency you worked for automatically set up a TSP account for you and deposited 1% of your basic pay every pay period. If you contributed to the plan, your agency matched your contributions up to a certain amount as well. You can also take your TSP funds with you if you leave before retiring from the federal government. To see if you have any available funds, you’ll have to set up an account with the Thrift Savings Plan. You’ll need to provide your name, date of birth and the last four digits of your Social Security number.

The BBP is a pension that pays retired employees a portion of their pre-retirement salaries. To qualify, you must have worked with the government for at least five years. How much is available in your pension depends on how much you contributed, but you’ll have some funds available if you qualified for a BBP because contributions were automatically deducted from your paycheck. If you’re unsure if you have a BBP, contact the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the plan. You can contact it through its website, by phone or in person at a local office.

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If you worked for a state or local government

States offer their own retirement programs, and many allow local government agencies to participate. The first step to finding an unclaimed account is to contact the state’s retirement program, which might be its own state department or a division of a different department. Then search online to find the program’s website. You can either try to create an account through the retirement portal, if the program has one, or contact the retirement program to learn how to find your account.

If you served in the military

Some military personnel qualify for the Veterans Pension program, while others qualify for a military retirement plan. Check eligibility for each program to ensure you're looking for the right type of account in the correct system.

If you are separated from the military

If you were a service member but didn’t retire from the military, you might have available funds in the Blended Retirement System. Eligibility depends on when you joined the military. If you enrolled in the BRS, you have two potential sources of retirement funds: a pension, referred to as a defined benefit plan, and the TSP, referred to as a defined contribution plan.

If you retired after 20 years of active-duty service, you qualify for a pension

Office of Financial Readiness. A Guide to the Uniformed Services Blended Retirement System. Accessed Aug 15, 2023.
. If you separated from the military before hitting the 20-year mark, you can take any contributions you’ve made to the TSP with you. How much is available in your TSP depends on how much you contributed. To see if you have any available funds, you’ll need to set up an account with the Thrift Savings Plan. You’ll have to provide your name, date of birth and the last four digits of your Social Security number.

If you are a wartime veteran

If you have a veterans pension, you can find your pension information through the Department of Veterans Affairs website. By creating an account, you’re able to see your compensation, benefits and payment information.

🤓Nerdy Tip

If you can’t access your pension information online, you can visit a Department of Veterans Affairs office to get help. You can search for the closest office on the department’s website. But not every city has an office, and you might have to travel to talk with someone in person.

What to do if you discover unclaimed retirement benefits

What you do with the funds if you claim retirement benefits can have tax implications now and later. If you’re uncertain about what you should do with a retirement account, consider talking with a certified financial planner to compare your options.

Roll the funds into an existing retirement account

A rollover allows you to take the funds from one retirement account and transfer them into another retirement account. This consolidation lets you invest more in one account, potentially save on administrative fees, and simplify your retirement finances. If you roll over the funds into another 401(k), you avoid paying taxes now and will pay taxes on the funds when you begin drawing money from the account. But you will have to pay taxes on the money now if you roll over a 401(k) into an after-tax account such as a Roth IRA.

Open an IRA and roll over the funds

If you want to keep the funds separate from your other accounts but need to take ownership of the account, another option is to open an IRA and move the funds into that account. An IRA offers you more control over the account’s portfolio and may charge lower fees. You’ll have to pay income taxes on the funds if you roll them into a Roth IRA but won’t pay taxes on the money until you take a distribution if you put them into a traditional IRA.

Withdrawing the funds

You can withdraw the funds from a retirement account to make them available to use. But if you withdraw funds before you’re 59½, the IRS could hit you with a penalty: an early distribution tax of 10% on top of regular income tax for the amount


Frequently asked questions

Unclaimed retirement benefits are retirement accounts that have been left behind when someone left a job, classified as having a lost beneficiary that the plan’s custodian can’t locate or abandoned by a company that is shutting down.

Start by calling your previous employer to see if the company still sponsors the plan and can give you information to locate your 401(k) plan. If the company has closed, search free databases to see if the plan has been abandoned or if you’re registered as having unclaimed retirement benefits.

If the sponsoring company still offers the same plan, an unclaimed 401(k) account might be managed in the same place and by the same people as when an employee worked there. However, if the company has closed down, the funds will likely be reported to a database in an attempt to locate the beneficiary. If the beneficiary isn’t found, the account is often taken over by the government until they locate the beneficiary.

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