Where, oh where did my retirement go?
September 13, 2011 3:32 PM   Subscribe

How do I find my old retirement account?

I left a job involuntarily (fired on the day of the corporate Christmas party, no less) and forgot to do the paperwork to roll over my retirement account. This was in 2005. Recently I became a real adult and decided to transfer it. Problem? They have no record of me having an account. Two problems in finding out why:

1. I have no info from that time that I know of -- I might have some W-2s or a tax file, but pay stubs or notices from the retirement account are just not around anymore.
2. I have no access to the email that I once had with that job (or the alternate email I had at the time), where any electronic statements may have gone.

It is (highly highly im-) possible that I didn't put money in there, but I distinctly recall doing so and putting in the maximum amount so the company would match it.

Other special snowflake details:
* Yes, I was fired.
* I was fired by a director who was subsequently fired for improper management.
* This director really hated me (I was told later that this was because I wouldn't sleep with him, but that's not super important nor is it legally actionable) and was not above screwing with people's stuffs.
* This happened in December 2005.
* I was only a full-time employee for six months, so the money is not a huge amount. It is less than lawyer's fees, so bear that in mind. I'm guessing it should be around $3-4000.

I feel like I'm being stolen from. What options do I have before this goes to a lawyer (and also bear in mind that I have no proof anywhere that I invested money, so a lawyer can't help me thus far).
posted by mrfuga0 to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Check with your state's escheat office. Also known as an unclaimed property office.
posted by dfriedman at 3:33 PM on September 13, 2011

Are you still friendly with anyone else who works there who might be able to put you in touch with someone in HR who could look up your old paperwork?
posted by decathecting at 3:51 PM on September 13, 2011

As dfriedman noted, you should be able to search by your name in the unclaimed property records.
posted by resurrexit at 3:56 PM on September 13, 2011

dfriedman: I have searched the state unclaimed property office and no luck.
decathecting: I actually called the HR office and they are the ones who told me there was no record. They even spoke to the third-party account holders. These HR people were not even around when the crazy boss was there,so I assume they are on the up and up.
posted by mrfuga0 at 4:04 PM on September 13, 2011

Can HR confirm who managed the retirement accounts at that time (e.g. Fidelity, Schwab, etc), and you contact them directly?
posted by misterbrandt at 4:08 PM on September 13, 2011

I'm unclear why you would want to contact your old company. Retirement accounts are generally held by custodians (e.g., Schwab, Fidelity, mentioned above). You should either be contacting your state's unclaimed property office or else the firm who had custody of your retirement accounts.

All the ancillary details about having been fired/propositioned are irrelevant to your question, unless you're trying to imply that you think your old company or else your old boss stole your money. Which, again, is unlikely because of custodial accounts.

So, with which firm did your retiremend funds reside? Answering that question will tell you who you need to contact. If your answer is "I don't know" or "I don't remember" no one here is going to be able to help you. Sorry.
posted by dfriedman at 4:18 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your W-2 should list amounts you contributed to a 401(k) or similar plan in box 12. I'd start there if you think you can find it. If not, you can request a copy from the IRS. I imagine that the free transcript of your W-2 would include the filed information but you may need to pay $57 for a copy.
posted by grouse at 5:31 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you made a contribution to a 401k in 2005, the amount should appear in box 12 of the Tax Year 2005 W-2 form sent to you by your former employer. This would certainly be evidence that you did belong to a 401k program at the time, and this might be enough to encourage your former employer's payroll department to track down where the money was sent. If you no longer have a copy of your 2005 W-2 form, you can either use IRS Form 4506-T (check box 8) to request a transcript which lists the values for a old W-2 form (but not an actual copy of the form). To get an actual copy of an old Form W-2 from the IRS you'll have to order a copy of your entire 2005 return using Form 4506 (but this costs $57.00).
posted by RichardP at 5:32 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you only worked there for six months, then you may not have actually started paying into the system (despite completing the paperwork when hired): the plan may have required a full year's service before kicking in.

I agree that the provider (e.g., Fidelity) should still have your cash: they like their Annual Service Fees, so they will happily sit on your shrinking pile of cash as long as possible. GRRRR
posted by wenestvedt at 6:37 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with wenestvedt, since you only worked there six months, you probably didn't actually pay into your retirement account. Generally, you need to work 1 year / 1,000 hours before you actually begin contributing.

That said, if you did make contributions - I am seconding others that you need to check with the 3rd party administrator. Another thing that might have happened is that your company switched 3rd party administrators - there are many small such companies besides the large ones (like Schwab and Fidelity), regional ones, branches of Schwab / Fidelity / whatever that operate under different or local names, and so on. A time that I've heard of people getting lost in the shuffle like this is if a company switched 3rd party administrators.

One other thing that might have happened if you did make contributions - in many cases, it is not worth it for the administrator of a retirement plan to keep your account if it is less than $1,000, so if this is the case, they may have already sent you a distribution check (which you may have thrown away, thinking it was junk mail, especially if you didn't recognize the institution that sent it to you, or they may have had an incorrect address). Some administrators will even create a separate IRA in your name and roll over the account to that. That said, if either of those things happened, the 3rd party administrator should have a record of it.

/ has worked at a 3rd party administrator of retirement plans
posted by fireflies at 8:00 AM on September 14, 2011

Just poking in to disagree with some of the comments above... It's absolutely possible that you contributed to a 401k. My last couple jobs let people contribute after a month.

Good luck, and try to track down the financial group or administrator.
posted by Maarika at 11:51 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

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