Lost track of an old 401(k)? Here are 5 ways to find it

Trying to locate an old 401(k) plan from a previous job? According to the website missingassets.com. About 2% of 401(k) plan assets – roughly $850 million owned by 33,000 workers – are “orphaned” each year; held by a financial institution without an employer to oversee the plan. [i] The good news is that the Department of Labor has established rules for protecting money put into a 401(k).  So the money may not be “lost,” just waiting for someone to claim it. However, that doesn’t mean it will always be easy to track down. It may take some digging. Here are 5 ways to find that old 401(k) plan.

1.  Contact previous employers.
It might seem obvious, but going directly to the source is one of the quickest ways to track down an old 401(k) plan. The person who handled company benefits, or the human resources department of a previous employer, should be able to provide you with your 401(k) plan account information.

2.  Review past W-2 tax forms.
If you can’t remember your past employer or their contact information, but you know you participated in a retirement plan with them, look at your old W-2 tax forms. This will list the employer with which you had a retirement plan and you can contact them directly to get your account information.

3.  Check your mail.
It’s possible you’ve been receiving updates on your old 401(k) and didn’t even realize it. Even after leaving a job, companies will often mail out quarterly or yearly statements to participant. You can use the information on these documents to contact them directly for information about your 401(k) plan.

4.  Search The National Registry.
Past employers may list you as a missing participant if you no longer work for the company and left your 401(k) behind. The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits is a nationwide, secure database listing of retirement plan account balances that have been left unclaimed.[ii]

5.  Search Form 5500 directory.
All employers that provide 401(k) plans to their employees must fill out a 5500 form yearly with the DOL.  Websites like FreeERISA* allow users to search by company name to locate the correct Form 5500. Another option is to search the DOL’s 5500 data base Both simple searches will provide you with additional contact information. 

Locating an old 401(k) plan is like finding cash in the pocket of an old pair of jeans. It’s money you forgot you had but happy you found. The resources listed above could help you find past retirement funds that may have been “lost” along your employment journey. When it comes to planning and saving for retirement, it’s important to make sure you have all your assets accounted for.

For further assistance in finding lost 401(k) plans, the U.S. Department of Labor has an Abandoned Plan Search that helps participants and others find out whether a particular plan is in the process of being, or has been terminated, and the name of the Qualified Termination Administrator (QTA) responsible for the termination.[iii]

A caution: Some companies, even legitimate ones, can acquire your information about unclaimed retirement accounts and offer to assist you with your search, often with a percentage fee for their services.


[i] Retrieved from: http://www.missingassets.com/401k.htm

[ii] National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits. https://www.unclaimedretirementbenefits.com/

[iii] www.askebsa.dol.gov. U.S. Department of Labor Abandoned Plan Search. https://www.askebsa.dol.gov/abandonedplansearch/

* FreeERISA (link http://freeerisa.benefitspro.com) is free resource, however you will need to register and then login to search their database.

Ryan Voss - Digital Marketing Manager - rpvoss@pai.com - 800-236-7400 X3345

Ryan is a subject matter expert on data and analysis within the retirement savings industry.