How to find missing money from an old 401(k) you forgot about

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For years, money expert Clark Howard has talked about ways to find missing money from forgotten bank accounts, insurance policies, rental and utility deposits, safe deposit boxes, old pensions and other places.

Well, now you can add forgotten 401(k)s to that list!

RELATED: Why you shouldn’t cash out your 401(k) when changing jobs

Search for forgotten 401(k) money with this tool

There’s an little-known federal organization called the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) that acts as a safety net when a company goes bust and can’t honor its pension obligations to current and former employees.

(Editor’s note: You can read about a more in-depth explanation about how PBGC works here.)

Part of what PBGC does through its Missing Participants Program is track down employees and connect them with retirement savings they may have forgotten about.

For many years, the PBGC only concerned itself with picking up the pieces and paying out obligations for terminated private pension plans. But a recent change has expanded the PBGC’s scope to include 401(k) plans that have been terminated by failing employers.

So now a failing employer has the option to transfer the 401(k) assets of past employees it can’t track down to the PBGC. The organization will then begin the search and hold the money until the rightful owner can be found.

In the past, it was common practice for an employer that was about to go out of business to simply set up an IRA in the missing employee’s name at any old financial institution. But those IRAs often came with heavy management or maintenance fees and costly distribution charges.

Now the PBGC is offering to step in to pay out benefits from terminated 401(k) plans — with interest — when the employees to whom the money is due can finally be tracked down.

According to Kiplinger magazine, some 25 million of us have at least one dormant retirement account that we’ve left behind with an old employer and forgotten all about.

Now with the help of the PBGC, you can check to see if you have money in a forgotten 401(k) here.

Another organization that can help you track down a lost 401(k) or pension benefit is the federal Employee Benefits Security Administration, a division of the United States Department of Labor.

If you’re having difficulty getting a pension you’re rightfully owed, you can reach out to the U.S. Administration on Aging’s Pension Counseling and Information Program for free legal advice. Thirty states are within a service area of one of the counseling projects they’ll refer you to.

But the best advice of all is this perhaps…

Keep any former employers where you may have a 401(k) or pension plan updated with your current address. That way they always know how to get in touch with you.

Kiplinger also recommends keeping all plan documents, tax returns and other paperwork together so you have a paper trail to follow and can more easily track down the money you’re due.

Other ways to find unclaimed funds in your name

While you’re on the hunt for missing money, be sure to check these sites. It’s free to search and claim any money that may be out there in your name!

  1. MissingMoney.com – Database of governmental unclaimed property records
  2. Unclaimed.org – National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators
  3. HUD.gov – You could be due a refund if you ever had an FHA loan
  4. FDIC.gov – Unclaimed funds search from failed banks and financial institutions

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