How to Find Unclaimed Retirement Benefits

If you are interested in earning more in your line of work, changing jobs may be your best tactic. The average worker can expect a wage increase of only 3.4% in 2022, according to a survey by Willis Towers Watson. With inflation exceeding 8%, that increase doesn’t seem so rich anymore. So what is a worker to do?

Change job. A new position can lead to an average of 14% more earnings, with some job changes bringing up to 30% more annual salary. But with every job change comes a new package of benefits. If you are not meticulous in renewing your retirement accounts, you can quickly lose track of various employer sponsored accounts like 401 (k) s or 403 (b) s.

You’re not alone if you’re not sure where your old retirement accounts might be. While there isn’t a certifiable number of forgotten accounts, the problem has spawned a slew of companies willing to track down your lost retirement dollars and help you transfer them to an IRA. While it may seem like the path of least resistance, finding them on your own may also be achievable. You just need to know where to look.

Key takeaway

  • Changing jobs can mean that workers have different retirement accounts.
  • Some companies will hunt down your old account for you.
  • You can find the accounts on your own with a little work.
  • Transfer your accounts to stable investments once they are found.

Ask your former employer

Most forgotten retirement accounts are linked to a former employer. Because accounts like 401 (k) s and 403 (b) s are employer sponsored plans, the company chooses the administrator and keeps records of all accounts. The first step is to call your benefits manager at your former company and ask if he has a history of your account.

If so, you can contact the account administrator to redirect your funds to a new account via rollover or cash out the account. However, this can result in penalties and early withdrawal fees depending on age.

What if your business fails? In this case, you will need to go directly to the source – the plan administrator. Some common account administrators are Fidelity, Vanguard, Charles Schwab, and TD Ameritrade. Suppose you don’t remember your login or password. If so, a customer service representative should be able to verify your identity using other authentication methods such as your SSN, mother’s maiden name, or security questions.

If you don’t remember the name of your plan administrator, you can find the information on the United States Department of Labor (DOL) website. Each company must submit a 5500 form to report the company’s plan administrator, its resources and participants. You can navigate to the E-Fast system through the DOL website, which will search by company name as long as your position was after 2010.

To find the 5500 module, do the following:

  1. Visit the DOL website.
  2. Type the name of your former company in the search bar. Be as specific as possible if it is a common company name.
  3. Once the list is displayed, choose which year you left the company and hit the download icon.
  4. A new window will open with the company’s 5500 module. Depending on the year and deposit, you may need to search for the admin name, but it will be there.


If you’ve changed your name since leaving a job, try searching by your previous name. Many unclaimed funds search services look for the name first, rather than the Social Security number.

Check out the unclaimed property portals

If the DOL can’t point you in the right direction, you may need to try unclaimed fund portals. When money is left in a 401 (k) for an extended period after the employment relationship ends, the money is sometimes transferred to a state office for unclaimed assets. These offices hold unclaimed funds until the rightful owner claims them.

The good news is that it’s fairly easy to find your money using one of the many database search programs. Sites like,, or the National Register of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits Search at can help you find old accounts using your name and state of residence.

Next steps

Once you find your account, transfer it to a new IRA with a company you have an existing relationship with and you will continue to keep an eye on it. You can easily turn the account into a traditional or Roth IRA.

What happens if I never claim my account?

If an account has been transferred to the Unclaimed Property Department, it will remain there until someone claims it. That person must be the original owner or heir to the original owner. If you die and your heir doesn’t claim it, it stays in the unclaimed property account for perpetuity.

How long will my money stay in my retirement plan?

This varies by company and account balance and depends on what’s going on with the plan. If the company is liquidating, you may have to decide what to do with it or risk it converting into cash very quickly. If not, most plans will be converted to cash within three years. If your account is under $ 1,000, the company can cut you a check for the amount and close your account.

Does my money keep growing even after I leave?

While the money is registered in 401 (k), it can continue to grow. However, if the fund converts to cash, it will no longer earn compound interest. It will also not be subject to the whims of the market, so its cash status could be good or bad. If your account balance is over $ 5,000 and you are happy with how your assets are allocated, you can leave the money where it is.

The bottom line

While changing jobs can help you earn more money over time, you should wrap up when you leave a position. If you suspect you have a retirement account running out in cyberspace, do some work to return it to its rightful home: your wallet.


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