Unclaimed Money: How to Find and Recover Your Lost 401(k) Money

A crisis is looming on the horizon — and it’s not the same old story about workers who haven’t saved enough.

This calamity is affecting would-be retirees who can’t find — or aren’t aware of — retirement benefits owed to them by former employers.

Finding old 401(k) and pension plans is not always as straightforward as you might think.

If companies go bankrupt, pension liabilities might be passed to insurance companies, your personal details lost in the bureaucratic process.

Retirees who sit waiting for a pension check to show up might be waiting a long time. One insurer in the business of taking over pension obligations, Metlife, revealed that it had failed to make payments to around 13,500 people.

The company claims they tried to contact the workers twice before giving up.

When all the dust has settled, the responsibility lies with you to take care of retirement plan — and this means keeping track of all your accounts.

Tracking down transferred or missing 401k plans can be tricky, especially if the account holds less than $5,000.

Federal law allows retirement plans to automatically transfer balances up to $5,000 to Individual Retirement Accounts without needing additional consent.

Contact your previous employers where you had plans. Write down all phone numbers and names. Definitely start with human resources and take notes.

Your old company may have been bought or merged with another. The new firm’s human resources is still the right place to start asking questions.

It might therefore be the case that you are not looking for an old 401(k) but an IRA.

If your old 401(k) was automatically put into an IRA, then the best place to start searching for it is with the investment company, which is something the employer can tell you.

If no luck, then you can look for it online on the Abandoned Plan Search. This is a database of companies that accepts transfers of small balances from 401k plans.


According to the U.S. Labor Department, 1,650 401(k) plans are abandoned each year.

Companies terminate 401k plans for a range of reasons, but law requires the transfer of all accounts to the participants. However, if they cannot locate or contact you, then the money can be sent to an IRA or even to a state’s unclaimed property fund,

If you think your IRA  might have been turned over to the state, search the unclaimed database for the state that you were working in at the time. If you worked for a corporation, it may also be worth checking the state where the retirement plan’s administrator was located.

Here are some resources for finding your possibly lost retirement plan: