How do I find an old 401k that I think I contributed money to at a former employer?
Answer: First, if you did put money into a 401k, your money is protected by federal laws. To find it, you're going to have to do some detective work. Here are five ways to locate information about an old 401k plan:
The first and best method of locating a 401k is to contact your old employers. Ask them to check their plan records to see if you ever participated in their 401k plan. Be sure to have ready your full name, social security number and the dates you worked for them.
Due to mergers, bankruptcies, relocations, etc., it's often not possible to locate a former employer. In these cases, locate an old 401k plan statement to see if it contains any contact information for the firm that administered the plan. If it does, call them and ask if they can check on your account. One other method is to contact several former employees you worked with and see if they still have any records that will help you locate the administrative firm.
Most plans are required to file an annual "Form 5500" with the U.S. Government. You can search these 5500's for the name of your former employer at free websites like www.freeERISA.com. If you can find a Form 5500 on an old plan, it will have contact information.
Check with The National Registry to see if your former employer has listed you as a missing participant. The registry is a nationwide, secure database listing of retirement plan account balances that have been left unclaimed. This website is designed to help match employers with abandoned or forgotten employee retirement account balances with the former employees.
You may also find information in the U.S. Department of Labor's Abandoned Plan Database. This search helps you find out whether a plan is in the process of being, or has been, terminated and the name of the Qualified Termination Administrator, who you can then contact about your account.
But before you go to all this work, you may want to verify that you actually contributed to a 401k. To do so, go back to your previous year tax returns and look at your W-2's. If you made a 401k contribution, the amount will appear in Box 12 of the W-2.
The information provided here is intended to help you understand the general issue and does not constitute any tax, investment or legal advice. Consult your financial, tax or legal advisor regarding your own unique situation and your company's benefits representative for rules specific to your plan.