Contact Your Old Employer About Your Old 401
Employers will try to track down a departed employee who left money behind in an old 401, 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 its been a while since youve heard from your former company, or if youve moved or misplaced the notices they sent, start by contacting your former companys human resources department or find an old 401 account statement and contact the plan administrator, the financial firm that held the account and sent you updates.
You may be allowed to leave your money in your old plan, but you might not want to.
If there was more than $5,000 in your retirement account when you left, theres a good chance that your money is still in your workplace account. You may be allowed to leave it there for as long as you like until youre age 72, when the IRS requires you to start taking distributions, but you might not want to. Heres how to decide whether to keep your money in an old 401.
The good news if a new IRA was opened for the rollover: Your money retains its tax-protected status. The bad: You have to find the new trustee.
Set Your Retirement Goals
How much you need to save depends on how you want to spend your retirement. Think about:
- your travel plans
- your age when you retire
- if you’ll work after you retire
- if you’ll have children or grandchildren to support
- where you want to live
- whether youll have debt to pay, such as a mortgage or a loan
A Special Note For Pennsylvania Residents
If you live in Pennsylvania, you should start your search sooner rather than later.
In most states, lost or abandoned money, including checking and savings accounts, must be turned over to the states unclaimed property fund. Every state has unclaimed property programs that are meant to protect consumers by ensuring that money owed to them is returned to the consumer rather than remaining with financial institutions and other companies. Typically, retirement accounts have been excluded from unclaimed property laws.
However, Pennsylvania recently changed their laws to require that unclaimed IRAs and Roth IRAs be handed over to the states fund if the account has been dormant for three years or more.
If your account is liquidated and turned over to the state before the age of 59.5, you could only learn about the account when you receive a notice from the IRS saying you owe tax on a distribution!
Company 401k plans are excluded from the law unless theyve been converted to an IRA. If you know you have an account in Pennsylvania, be sure to log onto your account online periodically. You can also check the states website at patreasury.gov to see if you have any unclaimed property.
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What Should I Do With My Lost Retirement Account
Once youve tracked down your lost retirement funds, you have some decisions you need to make. You can, of course, withdraw the funds and spend them, but there are a few reasons that might be a bad idea. If youre withdrawing funds from a forgotten 401 or other savings plan, take some time to research the taxes or penalties youll have to pay on any money you take out. Unless you put after-tax funds in, youll be taxed on the funds as you would with any type of income.
If youre 72 years old, though, youll need to pay attention to the Required Minimum Distributions to avoid a penalty. The amount youre required to take each year is based on a calculation that divides your account balance by your life expectancy factor. You can use the IRS Required Minimum Distribution Worksheet to help with that.
For the remainder of the amount, you may choose to leave it alone, withdraw it, or roll it into an IRA. You may find you can save on fees by rolling the amount over, but after retirement, the fees involved in doing that may eat into any cost savings. Weigh your options, including calculating the income taxes youll owe on any amount you withdraw, before making any decisions.
What If Your Employer Goes Out Of Business
Under federal law, your employer must keep your 401 funds separate from their business assets.
This means that even if your employer abruptly shuts their doors overnight, your money is protected. It cannot be used to pay off your companys loans, cover employee payroll, or for any other purpose.
If your company shut down abruptly, it is possible that a portion of money will be at risk. If your money has been withheld, but has not yet been sent to the 401 plan to be invested, the company could in theory, access those funds.
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Next Steps For Your Money
If your old 401 plan is still with a former employer, one option is to leave the money there. But you may not pay as much attention to the account, which could lead to a portfolio thats not appropriate for your age and risk tolerance.
If youre still working and have a 401 at your new job, another option is to roll over the funds into your existing plan, assuming your employer allows it. Another option is to roll the money into an IRA. Having your savings in one place will make it easier to manage your investments.
If youve lost track of a pension, request a pension benefits statement from the plan administrator. Give the administrator your address and phone number so it can reach you to begin payments. You may need to prove your work history and eligibility for the pension you can do so by providing the plan administrator with old W-2 forms or an earnings statement from Social Security, which you can get by filing Form SSA-7050. You can get this form at www.socialsecurity.gov/online/ssa-7050.pdf or by calling Social Security at 800-772-1213.
Why Have You Set The Default Life Expectancy Of The Calculator To 95 Years
For starters, people are living longer. Even though the average life expectancy in Canada is 82 years, many people live past this. It’s better to have more money tucked away for retirement than to run out of savings. Extra savings can always be passed down to your beneficiaries. You can change the default life expectancy if you think you’ll live a longer or shorter life.
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Where Should You Look First For 401 Money
Go through old pay stubs and tax records. If you contributed to a 401 for each paycheck, the amount deducted will be recorded on the pay stub. Go over the pay stubs carefully, since the name or policy number might also be recorded. Don’t forget to check old tax records, because they might have information on the investment company that handled the 401.
According to the brokerage firm Charles Schwab, companies are required to send any abandoned funds to the last known address of the employee. However, if the funds still go unclaimed, the account will be relinquished to the state.
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Looked For Unclaimed Money
“Ghosted” 401 money certainly qualifies as missing money, and it could be uncovered on digital money-funder platforms like missingmoney.com.
The site, run by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, runs free searches for not just retirement funds, but for money in old bank accounts, safe deposit boxes, escrow accounts, and insurance policies. According to the website’s directions, if you get a “hit” on the site, just claim the property and fill out the requested details, then submit and you will receive instructions on the next steps from the state where you made the claim.
Leverage The National Registry
The National Registry, run by Pen Check, a retirement plan distribution firm, is a nationwide, secure database listing of retirement plan account balances that have been left unclaimed by former participants of retirement plans.
The site offers an easy, free-of-charge way to locate lost or forgotten employee retirement accounts. You can conduct as many searches as you want, using just your Social Security number. The site is safe, encrypting any information you input on a secure server.
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Understanding Your Investment Account Options
Now that youve made the right choice in deciding to save for retirement, make sure you are investing that money wisely.
The lineup of retirement accounts is a giant bowl of alphabet soup: 401s, 403s, 457s, I.R.A.s, Roth I.R.A.s, Solo 401s and all the rest. They came into existence over the decades for specific reasons, designed to help people who couldnt get all the benefits of the other accounts. But the result is a system that leaves many confused.
The first thing you need to know is that your account options will depend in large part on where and how you work.
Find The Contact Information And Address Of Your Account Holder
What happens if the company is no longer in business? Well, your retirement account should still be held somewhere. Its your money, after all.
You can go to the Abandoned Plan database Opens in new window, hosted by the Department of Labor. There you can search the company, and you will be provided with information on how to locate the lost plan.
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What If You Don’t Have Enough
Some people don’t want to do any calculating, because they are afraid of the answer. That is the ostrich approach. Don’t do that! It is far less stressful to do the math, face reality, and figure out an answer. Understanding your unique situation will allow you to prepare and adapt more easily than if you try to ignore it.
If you run through the calculations and think you don’t have enough to retire, you can explore many options, such as working a bit longer, finding ways to earn additional money, finding ways to reduce expenses, or moving to a lower-cost area. All of these actions can help bring retirement within reach.
Roll It Over Into An Ira
If youre not moving to a new employer, or if your new employer doesnt offer a retirement plan, you still have a good option. You can roll your old 401 into an IRA. Youll be opening the account on your own, through the financial institution of your choice. The possibilities are pretty much limitless. That is, youre no longer restricted to the options made available by an employer.
The biggest advantage of rolling a 401 into an IRA is the freedom to invest how you want, where you want, and in what you want, says John J. Riley, AIF, founder, and chief investment strategist for Cornerstone Investment Services LLC in Providence, R.I. There are few limits on an IRA rollover.
One item you might want to consider is that in some states, such as California, if you are in the middle of a lawsuit or think there is the potential for a future claim against you, you may want to leave your money in a 401 instead of rolling it into an IRA, says financial advisor Jarrett B. Topel, CFP for Topel & DiStasi Wealth Management LLC in Berkeley, Calif. There is more creditor protection in California with 401s than there is with IRAs. In other words, it is harder for creditors/plaintiffs to get at the money in your 401 than it is to get at the money in your IRA.
If you have an outstanding loan from your 401 and leave your job, youll have to repay it within a specified time period. If you dont, the amount will be treated as a distribution for tax purposes.
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Option : Move The Money To An Ira
If you’re not able to transfer the funds to your current 401 or you don’t want to, you can roll over the funds to an IRA instead. The process is the same as doing a rollover to a new 401, and you still have the choice between a direct or indirect rollover.
You’ll need to set up a new IRA with any broker if you don’t already have one. Make sure you choose an IRA that’s taxed the same way as your old 401 funds. Most 401s are tax-deferred, which means your contributions reduce your taxable income in the year you make them, but you pay taxes on your withdrawals in retirement. You want a traditional IRA in this case because the government taxes these funds the same way.
In most cases, losing track of your old 401 doesn’t mean the money is gone for good. But finding it is only half the challenge. You must also decide where to keep those funds going forward so they’ll be most useful to you. Think the decision through carefully, then follow the steps above.
You May Be Entitled To Share In The Surplus If You Are A Beneficiary Of A Family Member That Previously Belonged To A Retirement Fund
“If you were a member of one or more pension or provident funds during your working career, you may be due for a windfall.
About 67% of beneficiaries who contacted the financial sector regulator about unclaimed benefits are set to receive more than R13.7-billion from the R42bn sitting unclaimed in retirement funds.
Corlia Buitendag, head of the retirement funds supervision department at the Financial Sector Conduct Authority , says to date almost 343,000 inquiries have been received from members of the public about unclaimed benefits. Of these 231,041 possible matches to the value of more than R13.6bn were made to the regulators database.
The database contains information of all active funds which hold unclaimed benefits as well as funds that were cancelled and which transferred the benefits to separate unclaimed benefits retirement funds.
Apart from searching the database electronically via the FSCAs website, you can use the FSCAs call centre, send an SMS and email or ask for a call back to make an inquiry, Buitendag says.
A benefit is considered unclaimed if the benefit has not been paid to, or claimed by a fund member within 24 months from the date it was due to the member.
Unclaimed benefits is a widespread issue in the local retirement fund industry with around R42bn due to approximately 4.7 million former fund members and beneficiaries.
If you were a member of a pension fund you can ask any insurer to check if there is an unclaimed benefit due to you.
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External Resources For Locating Benefits
Have you explored Finding a Lost Pension prior to visiting these external resources?
- The Pension Rights Center is a nonprofit consumer organization that provides information on pension-related topics and hosts PensionHelp America, an online resource for connecting individuals with counseling projects, government agencies, and legal service providers that offer free information and assistance.
- The Pension Action Center provides free legal counseling for workers and retirees who live or worked in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Illinois.
- The American Academy of Actuaries Pension Assistance List is intended to provide professional services to consumers who have questions about their pension plans.
Government and Military Pensions
- Information about federal and military pensions is available from the Office of Personnel Management, Thrift Savings Plan, and Department of Defense.
- For state and local pension plans, visit state government websites or municipality websites and contact the applicable personnel office.
Lost or Abandoned Pensions
Other Retirement Benefits
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Roll It Over To Your New Employer
If youve switched jobs, see if your new employer offers a 401, when you are eligible to participate, and if it allows rollovers. Many employers require new employees to put in a certain number of days of service before they can enroll in a retirement savings plan. Make sure that your new 401 account is active and ready to receive contributions before you roll over your old account.
Once you are enrolled in a plan with your new employer, its simple to roll over your old 401. You can elect to have the administrator of the old plan deposit the balance of your account directly into the new plan by simply filling out some paperwork. This is called a direct transfer, made from custodian to custodian, and it saves you any risk of owing taxes or missing a deadline.
Alternatively, you can elect to have the balance of your old account distributed to you in the form of a check, which is called an indirect rollover. You must deposit the funds into your new 401 within 60 days to avoid paying income tax on the entire balance and an additional 10% penalty for early withdrawal if youre younger than age 59½. A major drawback of an indirect rollover is that your old employer is required to withhold 20% of it for federal income tax purposesand possibly state taxes as well.
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