How To Find Old 401(k)

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Contributor, Benzinga
July 10, 2023

The average person will switch jobs a minimum of three to seven times in their careers. And research on careers suggests that younger people are switching even more often. If you’ve switched jobs, you don’t want to lose track of the 401(k) money you’ve saved from the previous role. Read on to learn how to find old 401(k) information and what to do with it to maximize returns.

How to Search for a 401(k)

Losing a 401(k) means you can’t access the funds you worked hard for. Whether the balance is $1,000 or $50,000, it’s worth taking proactive steps to locate them, as it can grow over time and work for you to build a comfortable retirement. Once you locate old 401(k) accounts, you should be sure to proactively manage the account or transfer it to your new 401(k) to maximize retirement benefits. 

From contacting the company to checking old 401(k) statements, you have several options to find an old 401(k) free of cost. Here are step-by-step instructions for how to find an old 401(k).

1. Review Past Statements and Documentation

You may already have the information you need to find an old 401(k). Start by gathering and organizing old statements, annual reports and related documents. Look for account numbers, plan names and contact information. Check the name of the plan administrator and its website or access details. 

You can also contact the administrator with your account number to get full access details. While checking for current access details, be sure to note any changes in the employer’s name resulting from mergers or acquisitions. 

2. Contact Previous Employers

After double-checking that you don’t have old 401(k) statements available, the first step to find an old 401(k) is to reach out to your former employer’s human resources (HR) or benefits department. You can inquire about any old 401(k) accounts associated with your employment. They will usually ask for your employment dates, full name, legal ID and Social Security number, then provide you access to 401(k) accounts.

3. Use Online Tools and Databases

A number of online resources are available for you to look up your 401(k) benefits. The two main online resources designed to help locate old 401(k) accounts are available from the Department of Labor and the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits.

The National Registry is a secure database listing retirement plan account balances that were left unclaimed by former participants of retirement plans. The nationwide database can help you locate your account in three steps. First, you’ll need to enter your Social Security number and search the database. Second, you’ll review the results to see whether you have unclaimed benefits. Finally, you may need to contact your former employer to transfer the benefits.

You also can find 401(k) information on the Department of Labor’s website. Search for the name of your previous employer, as companies must file a Form 5500 that includes contact information for the plan’s administrator at the time of your employment. 

4. Seek Assistance From the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC) is a U.S. government agency aiming to protect Americans’ retirement security in single-employer and multiemployer pension plans. It offers customer support to help protect workers’ and retirees’ pension benefits. You can access PBGC resources or create a personal account login for support in accessing your benefits. 

While anyone is eligible for PBGC’s assistance programs, the agency will only accept as many applications as it estimates it can process within the required 120-day review period. Then, it will temporarily close the portal. If you’re not able to apply, wait some time and try again. 

5. Use Online Retirement Account-Tracking Services

Online platforms and services specifically designed for tracking and managing retirement accounts also are available. Retirement planning apps are a convenient way to keep track of current and old 401(k) retirement accounts.

These retirement tracking services allow you to consolidate multiple accounts and easily monitor performance.

Popular online retirement account tracking platforms include:

  • Personal Capital
  • Mint
  • Wealthfront
  • Wealthsimple
  • Vanguard

In addition to allowing you to track retirement accounts, some of these apps allow you to link bank accounts and credit cards to build budgets and take control of your finances in a single app. 

6. Consult With a Financial Adviser

A financial adviser can also assist in finding an old 401(k) and managing 401(k) accounts. Seeking guidance from a reputable financial adviser offers significant advantages. Check their credentials and their fiduciary responsibility, and look for fee-only advisers who won’t earn a commission for any specific investments to avoid being pressured into those options. Also check customer reviews and the reputation of the company they work for. 

After selecting a reputable financial adviser, schedule a consultation for help to search for old 401(k) accounts and make further retirement savings plans.

What Are Your Options for Managing an Old 401(k)? 

Once you locate an old 401(k), it’s important to take action and evaluate your options, including rollovers, leaving funds in the account, or cashing out.

Rollover to an Individual Retirement Account

A rollover to an individual retirement account (IRA)  is a simple process to consolidate retirement accounts. You must:

  • Set up your new IRA account
  • Contact your old 401(k) provider to transfer funds to the IRA
  • Deposit your money into the IRA
  • Invest your money

The advantage of a rollover to a traditional IRA is the increased investment options and flexibility. It can also make it easier to manage retirement funds. Find mistakes to avoid when you roll over a 401(k) and the best places to roll over a 401(k).  

Transfer to a New Employer’s Retirement Plan 

You can also transfer funds from the old 401(k) to your new employer’s retirement plan. This is usually called a direct 401(k) rollover. With this option, you transfer funds from your old plan directly into your new employer’s 401(k) plan without taxes or penalties. 

Then, you have the option to work with your new employer’s plan administrator to allocate funds to the investment options.

The benefit of this option is the simplicity of management when you consolidate retirement savings into one place. You can take advantage of the new plan’s features.

Leave the Funds in the Old 401(k) Account 

Another option is to leave the funds in the old 401(k) account and continue to monitor performance. Whether this makes sense depends on investment options, performance, fees and account management. This might be a good solution if the old account has investment options or benefits that aren’t available with the new 401(k). 

Cash Out the 401(k) Balance 

You can always cash out the balance of an old 401(k) account. Of course, you will have to pay taxes on those funds, and there may be penalties associated with early withdrawal. According to the IRS, if you take a plan distribution before you turn 64, you’ll have to pay your standard income tax rate plus an additional income tax of 10% of the amount of the withdrawal.

Final Tips on Finding an Old 401(k)

When you’re worried about how to find your 401(k), there are numerous resources available. Even if you’re unsure whether your previous employer offers a 401(k) plan, it’s worth checking these resources to ensure you don’t miss an account. You don’t want to leave hard-earned funds on the table. Instead, gather information on all previous 401(k)s and then make a retirement plan that accounts for options to transfer old accounts to your new account or maintain multiple retirement accounts.

Frequently Asked Questions


Can I find my old 401(k) online?


Yes, there are a number of resources to find your old 401(k) online, including the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits, the Department of Labor’s website and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.


Are there any fees involved in finding or claiming my old 401(k)?


There are a number of ways to find and claim old 401(k) plans without any fees. You can call your previous employer or use online resources, including the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits, the Department of Labor’s website and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.


How do I find out whether I have an old 401K?


The easiest way to find out whether you have an old 401(k) is to check the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits. You can also contact the HR department of your previous employer and inquire about your 401(k) benefits.

Alison Plaut

About Alison Plaut

Alison Plaut is a personal finance writer with a sustainable MBA, passionate about helping people learn more about financial basics for wealth building and financial freedom. She has more than 17 years of writing experience, focused on real estate and mortgage, business, personal finance, and investing. Her work has been published in The Motley Fool, MoneyLion, and she is a regular contributor for Benzinga.