How to find a lost 401(k)

Trace Your Missing 401k

Each year tens of thousands of workers fail to claim or rollover $850 million in 401k retirement plan assets when they change jobs, according to U.S. Department of Labor estimates. A disproportionate share of the unclaimed 401k assets are owed family members of deceased employees who fail to claim benefits stemming from employment that may have ended years earlier.

Participants in defined-contribution retirement plans such as the 401k, by virtue of the fact they own the underlying investments, are entitled to the funds when they switch jobs, and if their employers fail or otherwise cease operations. This differs from accrued benefits of employees with traditional defined-benefit pension plans, which are subject to the solvency of the employer and status of their employment.

401(k) plan assets are further subject to federal protections mandated by ERISA, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. ERISA generally preempts dormant or unclaimed 401k accounts from reporting and remittance requirements under state unclaimed property statues. It’s important to note, however, in some cases 401(k) plan assets can lose their ERISA preemption and become subject to state escheat. See the Special Situations section below.

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401k Plan Special Situations

Other 401(k) Search Resources

Each year, pension and welfare benefit plans generally are required to file an annual report regarding their financial condition, investments, and operations. One way to track down plan administrators is to examine IRS Form 5500 filings, which are submitted annually to the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA).

To obtain a copy of your plan’s Form 5500 contact:  U.S. Department of Labor  |  EBSA Public Disclosure Room  |  200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Suite N-1513  |  Washington, DC 20210

Another way to obtain contact information for a defunct company is to contact the registered agent. This information is available from the Secretary of State where the company does business or is legally domiciled. Search ‘Secretary of State – Corporations’ for your state, or contact NASS – National Association of Secretaries of State.

The EBSA – Employee Benefits Security Administration also maintains a database of abandoned plans, designed to help participants determine whether a particular plan is in the process of being, or has been terminated. If this is indeed the case, the name of the Qualified Termination Administrator (QTA) is provided. The EBSA maintains a database of Abandoned Plans at:   In situations where contact information cannot be obtained, contact EBSA  |  200 Constitution Avenue, NW |  Washington, DC 20210

Penchecks, a provider of qualified plan benefit distribution to 401k plan administrators, maintains The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits. Note this database contains only a small fraction of accounts available for claim.